Second Opinion: Resetting India-Pakistan Ties
Date: December 15, 2015
In the wake of a renewed bout of diplomatic activity in India-Pakistan relations following a tense summer of stalemate, Jinnah Institute asked a select panel of policy experts from Pakistan to weigh in on the recent meeting between the two Prime Ministers in Paris, and New Delhi’s recently announced decision to restart bilateral dialogue with Islamabad.
Salman Bashir, former Foreign Secretary and High Commissioner to India, was of the opinion that India’s ‘No dialogue’ policy was not a tenable position anymore. New Delhi had realised that Pakistan would not accept altered terms of engagement, that Indian aspirations for global status could not be realised if its relations with its neighbors were strained, and that the United States and other countries favored dialogue. On the domestic front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image was being tarnished by right-wing intolerance. The lack of an economic turnaround in India, together with a defeat in Bihar, had likely compelled a rethink on the limits of extremist posturing. It was also clear that regional energy and economic cooperation on mega-projects will not mature without improving relations with Pakistan. On the subject of the newly announced Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, Mr. Bashir felt that substantive positions are likely to remain divergent on key issues. The ‘easier things to do’ list included firming up the 2003 ceasefire agreement, addressing humanitarian issues of prisoners and detained fishermen, easing travel restrictions vis-à-vis visas and increased air service, and normailsing trade relations. However, it was equally important that the issues of Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek be addressed; the issue of Kashmir in particular could be addressed by Special Representatives appointed by the two Prime Ministers. In this regard, cross-border CBMs might also be possible if both sides demonstrated the necessary political will to make this happen. Similarly, both sides might also be able to meaningfully address issues relating to conventional and strategic forces in a bid to enhance strategic stability in the coming months.
Lt. Gen. (retd) Talat Masood, defense and security analyst, maintained that the proactive and offensive strategy taken by Prime Minister Modi on his assumption of office had been designed to confront Pakistan at strategic, conventional and sub-conventional (i.e. asymmetric) levels. This strategy had also relied heavily on the Indian media to whip up hostile anti-Pakistan sentiment. The Indian leadership had believed that the international community would not be responsive to Pakistan’s concerns, and that their economic and strategic interests would dictate policy. New Delhi’s aim in this regard had been to build pressure on Pakistan by refusing to engage with it. Simultaneously, India had activated the Line of Control (LoC) to supposedly bleed Pakistan, while taking other measures to isolate it so as to prevent Islamabad from supporting Kashmiri resistance to Indian occupation. This policy, however, had failed to make an impact. The situation on the LoC and Working Boundary spiraled out of control, and the tense situation between the two neighbors was also having negative fallout in Afghanistan. The international community, for its part, was concerned that this escalation could lead to unintended consequences, and the United States, Britain and Germany had all played an important role in persuading India to engage with Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi was also facing new domestic hurdles following his party’s defeat in the state election in Bihar. There was now a realisation in both countries that the advantages of economic and political cooperation far outweighed those of continued confrontation and hostility. Peaceful coexistence would open up expanded avenues for trade and commerce, and bring about increased connectivity within South Asia and beyond to Central Asia. The Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, meanwhile, provided an opportunity to institutionalise the relationship and carrying forward the process of bilateral engagement. For India and the Western powers, Pakistan’s handling of the Mumbai trail would be crucial. It is in Pakistan’s own national interest to bring the Mumbai trial to a close. India would similarly have to expedite the prosecution of those involved in the Samjohata Express bombing. A more human approach towards fishermen languishing in each other’s jails could be another welcome gesture. Recent positive developments have contributed to reducing tensions and stablising the situation on the LoC. In time, this could also lead to an easing of visa restrictions and increased trade and cultural contact. To prevent the relationship from falling hostage to acts carried out by militants, CBMs would have to be accordingly devised to place the relationship on a more sound and durable footing.
AVM (retd) Shahzad A. Chaudhry, senior political and security analyst, and a former Ambassador, felt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had run the course of his anti-Pakistan policy. This policy had secured him victories in the 2013 general election, and the BJP had held onto it as their strategy plank for most of the state elections in the hope that it might serve their cause of gaining the party control of legislatures in critical Northern and North-Eastern states too. At some point this morphed into Cow-Belt sensitivities based on communalism, giving rise to anti-Muslim vitriol that saw Indian society reverberate with unnatural violence dangerously damaging India’s secular core. The strategy, therefore, did not serve the Indian Prime Minister well. Bihar almost confirmed the irrelevance of this approach with a dismalelectoral performance. When a strategy has run its course, holding on to it makes no sense. Talking to Pakistan thus became a useful diversion with the promise of political dividends. Commenting on the subject of the new Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue format, AVM Chaudhry was of the opinion that dialogue by any name was better than no dialogue at all. New nomenclature suggested that the two sides could go beyond the few basket items that had previously held them back. A comprehensive list could permit the imagination of both governments to include what might just transform into a cooperative relationship from one confrontational. One such avenue was climate-change and water conservation: it was now more important than ever to keep South Asia’s glaciers and rivers alive through cooperative watershed management and glacial preservation. Equally important was enhancing education and health, alleviating poverty and disease and, in general, keeping social stability supreme over all other impacts to ensure a stable sociopolitical continuity. This would not be possible, however, without the political will, belief and vision needed to overcome the proverbial vested interests that sought relevance in an air of competitive zero-sum existence. Such manifestation of political will could enable the 1.5 billion dispossessed of South Asia to realise their eminence as the centerpiece of all political play.
Dr. Khalida Ghaus, Professor and Managing Director of the Social Policy & Development Centre, took the view that several factors had contributed to India’s softened stance towards Pakistan. These included international pressure exerted by the US and UK to establish peace amongst the hostile neighbours, and in Afghanistan where a Taliban insurgency was on the rise. In this context, the Bangkok meeting held between the National Security Advisors and Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan was crucial in breaking the impasse that obstructed the goodwill and conciliatory gestures of the previous year. Discussions in Bangkok helped bring down political temperatures especially after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s UN speech, and the handing of terrorism-related dossiers to UN representatives. The meeting also provided the two sides a platform to discuss security-related concerns, and agree on the transformation of the suspended dialogue to a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. Furthermore, international media had increasingly begun to highlight incidences of violence based on political and social disharmony within India. This realisation, along, with the voices raised by saner segments of the civil society, had also played a role in making the Modi government realise the costs of the existing ‘disconnect’, and simultaneously the value of bilateral rapprochement. On the subject of resumed negotiations between Pakistan and India, Dr. Ghaus felt that the new structure of dialogue has allowed more components to be added. Although modalities and interlocutors are yet to be decided, she was of the opinion that this process was likely to progress very differently from previous rounds of engagement. In the short-term, peace can be expected on the LoC and the Working Boundary, followed by initial CBMs such as cultural exchanges. However, it is important that the process revive some of the more important and difficult CBMs – such as those on Kashmir. Dr. Ghaus concluded by noting that a single terror-related incident could still derail and jeopardise the peace process, and that both sides should take steps to consolidate and strengthen peace constituencies on either side of the border. In this regard, it was more imperative than ever that Track II diplomacy continue, and that hot-lines between the two NSAs be established immediately to avert any untoward escalation.
The views in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Jinnah Institute, its Board of Directors, Board of Advisors or management. Unless noted otherwise, all material is property of the Institute. Copyright © Jinnah Institute 2015