Prospects of Pak-India dialogue

Air Cdre Khalid Iqbal (R)
Pak Observer
Pakistan and India have agreed on a roadmap to resume composite dialogue suspended in 2008 over the issue of Mumbai terrorist attacks. “The two sides have agreed to resume dialogue on all issues following the spirit of the Thimphu meeting between the two prime ministers,” a statement issued by the foreign office said. A similar statement was issued by India’s external affairs ministry. Foreign minister of Pakistan will visit India in July to review progress in the dialogue process with his Indian counterpart. Issues on the agenda include counter-terrorism, humanitarian issues, peace and security including CBMs, Jammu and Kashmir, promotion of friendly exchanges, Siachen, economic issues, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, and Sir Creek.

Earlier, on the heels of ‘International Kashmir Solidarity Day’ the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan met in Thimphu. Pakistan raised the new issue regarding involvement of Hindu terrorists in the Samjhauta Express blast. Indian foreign secretary reiterated that India would share new details of its investigations into the attack as and when they become available.

In addition, last month a group of senior opinion makers from India and Pakistan conducted a comprehensive two-day dialogue on a range of issues impacting the bilateral relationship. Terrorism, extremism, Jammu and Kashmir, nuclear stability, security, safety and crisis management were some of the issues discussed at the ‘Chaophraya Dialogue’ in Bangkok.

Participants of this interaction agreed that absence of a formal and sustained engagement on the full range of issues confronting India and Pakistan is unhealthy, counterproductive and dangerous. They expressed the hope that the two sides will be able to prepare the ground for resumption of a comprehensive and sustained dialogue leading to a productive summit. Delegates opined that a dialogue between the two countries should include discussions on Jammu and Kashmir; and the formal bilateral dialogue should be complemented by back-channel contacts and the people of J&K should be appropriately consulted in this process.

Though Track II is a legitimate instrument of diplomacy, there are few buyers in Islamabad. Palestinians harmed their cause because of concessions through backchannel diplomacy and by abandoning principles of justice and international law. Now Pakistanis and Kashmiris do not wish to repeat the mistake, especially in view of the fate of Musharraf era Track II contacts.

Due to its unrealistic rigidity in the wake of Mumbai episode, India has lost on an important count that is public goodwill in Pakistan. Constituency supporting the necessity of comprehensive and sustained bilateral engagement has shrunk considerably. Now the centre stage is taken by those who advocate only purpose oriented and a focused formal dialogue.

As a consequence to India’s non-tenable stance on Kashmir, the strategic concessions doled out by the former president Pervez Musharraf stand rolled back. Those concessions were too generous and damaged Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. He abandoned Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir based on United Nations resolutions accepted by India. Former Pakistani ministers and officials in the know of Track II keep claiming that India had agreed to certain framework but no Indian official has ever confirmed it. Indeed, at the end of these talks Indians hardly ceded any strategic space, while Pakistan ended up eroding its stance. Recently, an Arab diplomat confronted Pakistani delegates as to why they should demand that India should respect UN resolutions on Kashmir when Pakistan has itself publicly ditched those resolutions.

However, younger generation of Kashmiris came to Pakistan’s timely rescue. An uprising erupted against Indian occupation in 2008 and 2009 with such intensity that it embarrassed India worldwide. Now Pakistani public opinion stands mobilized, yet once again, to support the Kashmiri cause by demanding resolution of the conflict in accordance with the United Nations resolutions. This year Pakistan marked the ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ with a renewed vigour.

In the meanwhile real facet of Hindu terrorism has become a common knowledge. Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram has admitted that ‘saffron terrorism’ is a fact in India and that it should be faced squarely. Initial reaction to Hindu terrorism in India was that of disbelief. “It’s not Muslims, but RSS activists who planned and executed the bomb blasts at Malegaon in 2006, on the Samjhauta Express in 2007, in Ajmer Sharif in 2007 and Mecca Masjid in 2007,” confessed Swami Aseemanand.

This confession has substantially bolstered Pakistan’s point of view that Hindu extremist outfits carry out false flag terrorist acts for which Muslim entities of India and neighbouring countries are promptly blamed under a well thought out scheme.

India seems to be lacking courage to unearth culpability of Hindu extremists and their links with Indian Army personnel. National Investigation Agency of India has recovered some tapes from the RSS accused. According to these tapes, more than eight army officers are directly involved in the Samjhota Express blasts. At least four of them have intelligence background; two are serving Brigadiers, three Colonels and two Majors. Of all these army officers, only one colonel is under investigation and NIA is yet to initiate investigations against the rest. Swami’s confession has opened new avenues of possible revelations regarding the Mumbai attacks as well.

While militancy is on retreat in Pakistan, it is on the rise in India. Hindu fundamentalism and related incidents of terrorism alongside the ongoing class struggle have the potential of tearing apart the fabric of Indian polity.

Pakistan needs to follow the investigations of major terrorist events in India on scientific basis. As the tentacles of Hindu terrorism get demystified, it might provide necessary clues to Mumbai incident that may change the entire complexion of the matter.

The possibility of the two sides resuming the erstwhile composite dialogue appears rather remote. Ironically, though both sides keep making identical declarations about their shared desire to keep talking in pursuit of finding solution to the host of problems affecting their bilateral relationship, Indian side has been persistently scuttling each opportunity for forward motion.

Under the existing strategic environment it does not suit India to soften its stance. While Pakistan is enduring various pressures in the context of presence of foreign occupation forces in Afghanistan, India is poised to squeeze Pakistan to the maximum by maintaining untenably rough stance at all regional and international forums ranging from sports to fissile material management. Mumbai incident has provided necessary cover for this approach.

To a great extent the future course of dialogue shall be shaped by the compulsions of domestic politics in India and Pakistan. Political and numerical fragility of both regimes tends to inhibit the possibility of any meaningful initiative. Backchannel engagements are also not expected to cross showcasing threshhold. ‘To be resumed dialogue’ is expected to move at snail’s speed, it will remain liable to disruption on slightest pretext. The two neighbours are so near and yet so far!

—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.

Feb 14-2011-