Statist India-Pakistan Dialogue

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 26 Jul 2010

Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

India-Pakistan dialogue at foreign ministers level in Islamabad can be justly called statist as it added nothing substantial to bilateral relations except meetings and press conferences bordering acrimony. Anyone who viewed the joint press conference of the ministers on 16 July 2010 could conclude nothing but precisely this: the post-Mumbai terror attack relations are surviving on a vague optimism that relations will get better in due course.  Despite this optimism expressed opulently by the political leaders of both the countries, the fact remain unless some substance is added to the relations, South Asia will further plunge into another bout of crisis. In international politics diplomacy and dialogue are good things to salvage bad relations, but these can not sustain long in a vacuum.

Since February 2010 when direct official talks started between India and Pakistan after a gap of about one and a half year, hopes have gathered momentum among the civil society members who love peace and stability that something positive will come out gradually. While the constituent of peace is squeezed after the Mumbai attack, nonetheless this constituent has never dithered in advocating peace at whatever cost. India-Pakistan relations have to be guided by the principles of peace and co-existence, and no matter how furious and degenerating the extremist elements with extremist agenda, India and Pakistan with nuclear weapons can not but promote dialogue and deliberation to arrive at any amicable solution to the vexed issues including the issue of Kashmir. The hard line elements in both the countries are not interested in peace as they promote hatred and animosity, in which there interest is served at the cost of peace loving citizens of both the countries.

The meeting of prime ministers of both the countries in the Bhutanese capital Thimpu in April 2010 further increased the peace constituency and raised the hope that something positive will come out. Both the prime ministers emphasized on the initiatives to bridge ‘trust deficit’ between the two countries. Prime Minister Singh of India, known for his peace overtures to Pakistan despite criticism from sections at home, has promised to ‘walk extra mile’ to promote friendly relations with Pakistan. The radical elements do not like these overtures. They call the prime minister ‘evil’ and want to punish India by promoting terrorist violence for its positions on contentious issues. While the civil society of India and Pakistan want peace and stability, the extremist elements always want to see both the country at loggerheads. Whether it is Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammad, they are pronounced opponents of India-Pakistan dialogue.

The point that needs emphasis that both the countries need to come out of rigid frameworks of policy making and think in broader terms. Two particular issues that drag the peace process in South Asia are the following. While India insists that Pakistan must punish the culprits of Mumbai attack, Pakistan demands that the issue of terrorism has to be dealt separately and India has to bring to table other contentious issues like Kashmir. In fact after the revelations of David Coleman Headley India’s demand for action from Pakistan has become further emboldened. The recent foreign ministers’ meeting discussed all the contentious issues including that of terrorism and Kashmir but without any conclusive outcome. Both the parties did not issue any joint statement and as the joint press conference showed, both the ministers disagree on a bitter note on various issues. On a question to Pakistan foreign minister about the hate speech of the Lashkar chief, Hafeez Saeed, the foreign minister delivered elusive statements with overtones implicating India for the similar activities.

Despite allegations and counter allegations, complains and counter complains, the overall agreement that could come out is that both the countries will meet again in near future. Pakistan foreign minister alleged that his Indian counterpart did not come fully prepared and that he will not be going to India for some picnic, referring to India’s unpreparedness. Indian foreign minister countered by saying that he was not in Pakistan for sightseeing and did not invite his Pak counterpart for any such activities but some serious engagements. The only succor was that the Pakistan leadership took the dialogue in a positive note and expressed hope that dialogue and deliberation is the only way forward. It remains to be seen how far this resolve will be supported by the army, which plays a decisive role in the decision making process in Pakistan. The Indian leadership too is optimistic that peace and dialogue is the only way forward to resolve the contentious issues.

The point that needs emphasis is: how far the dialogue will continue without any substantive outcome? Mere exercise in dialogue without breaking the trust deficit will lead nowhere but ensconce the radical spirit that all these exercises are niceties in vain and these are ploys to divert attention from core issues, and the only way to solve the issues is war and violence. Besides, the patience of the civil society in both the countries may wear thin in passing days, which may give rise to pessimism that nothing positive will happen in bilateral relations and the political leaders are at best can fix dates for dialogue, but without any substantial result. Such a development will be precarious as it will put the framework and the spirit behind the composite dialogue into jeopardy, and goad extremist elements into action.

On a wider front the India-Pakistan relations are more complex as these are not confined to the issues of terrorism or Kashmir, but also issue of strategic rivalry, sphere of influence in Afghanistan, and also the issue of control over natural resources like water. Both the foreign ministers attended the Kabul conference on 20 July 2010, but again the bilateral differences and more so the inherent distrust and acrimony pulled back the leaders towards achieving any concrete result, and thus weakening the constituent of peace and dialogue in South Asia.

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Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is part of the research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Jul 2010.

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