India-Pakistan Peace Process: Dialogue to Nowhere
If someone asked me to describe a circular motion, the course of Indo-Pak peace process would instantly come to mind. Most analysis on India-Pakistan through this week had referred to the resumption of peace talks; I would refer to it as the resumption of the ‘dialogue ritual’. Unlike most Indians and Pakistanis, I neither support nor condemn the recent efforts at resuming the dialogue between India and Pakistan. Meaningful dialogue is meant to be progressive rather than repetitive. More than five years after the Composite Dialogue was initiated between India and Pakistan, the two sides are still undecided about what and how to discuss. Though both sides claim to be open to dialogue, every item on the list is tied to fulfillment of preconditions. Dialogue is about these preconditions rather than the real issues. Sharm el Sheikh is merely another addition to list rather than a major breakthrough.
Both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and co-operate with each other in the Joint Statement issued at Sharm el Sheikh. There was also agreement to share real-time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threat. The Joint Statement further added that “action on terror should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed” and that “terrorism is the main threat to both countries.” These assurances instantly raised spirits on both sides of the LOC. However, it didn’t take much time for the euphoria to die down. A day after returning from Sharm el Sheikh, P.M. Singh stated in the Parliament that there was no dilution in India’s stand. According to the P.M. meaningful dialogue with Pakistan will depend on Islamabad fulfilling its promise of acting against the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. To me the entire episode is marked by several inconsistencies.
Firstly, why did the Indian side convey an impression that pre-talks before the Prime Ministerial meeting did not make much headway? After External affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the sidelines of the G8 summit, the former communicated that to Pakistan that bilateral ties were under considerable strain due to terrorism emanating from its soil. Barely a month ago, P.M. Singh had told President Zardari (though much of it was interpreted as a diplomatic faux pas) at the SCO Summit that “I am extremely happy to meet you, but my mandate is limited to telling you that the territory of Pakistan must not be allowed to be used for terrorism against India.” Why was the resumption of dialogue made to appear like a one-meeting outcome rather than a gradual process of mutual understanding?
Secondly, Is India really serious about conducting a dialogue? Well the precondition that Pakistan ‘visibly’ acts against terrorism does not make it seem so. Does the Indian political leadership not realize the complexities faced by Pakistan in dealing with the challenge of terrorism? The official agencies in Pakistan may have shown the seeds of terrorism, but cross-pollination has given rise to varieties of terrorist outfits beyond the comprehension and control of the Pakistani Government. In the vocabulary of international negotiations, there is term referred to as the ‘joker clause’. The ‘joker clause’ is a particular demand that one side cannot concede and is used by the other side to communicate the inflexibility/unwillingness of the former. India’s demand that dialogue is contingent on Pakistan’s decisive action against terrorists is nothing but a joker clause.
At the same time India should continue to pressure Pakistan to stop supporting terrorists. But is the linkage of bilateral dialogue to the issue of terrorism really forcing Pakistan to act? The success of a pressure tactic in international politics is measured only by results. The manner which the Haffes Saed case is being handled by Pakistan clearly shows that India’s pressure tactic has been an utter failure.
Thirdly, the timing of this diplomatic gesture is confusing. Many had expected that after the General Elections, the Government of India would exert more pressure on Pakistan. The domestic political dynamics favored a more un-comprising stand on the part of the Indian P.M. There is no mention of Kashmir in the Joint Statement of India and Pakistan. Even though no major terrorist attack has occurred post 26/11, the situation on the ground is far from normal. Pakistan has constructed several fortified bunkers and observation posts along the Indo-Pak border after the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike, according to the BSF. “Pakistan has been strengthening its defense infrastructure after 26/11. They have constructed fortified bunkers, observation posts along borderline, some of them highly objectionable,” Special Director General Border Security Force UK Bansal told reporters on the sidelines of a passing out parade at Subsidiary Training Centre(STC) BSF in Udhampur. “We have raised objection with Pakistan counterparts several times, but nothing has been done in this direction,” Bansal said adding, “We want these objectionable structure to be removed”.
Finally, there seems to be no credible reason for India to resume dialogue apart from the up-coming visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to the region. India has been pushed to the periphery on President Obama’s global radar. Easing pressure on Pakistan was the best way to gain favor of the Obama Administration. Moreover, Obama Administration views relations with India in a multi-dimensional paradigm rather than merely the Pakistan-terrorism nexus. Secretary Clinton’s piece in the July 17 edition of Times of India refers to the issue of terrorism in only three lines: Our countries have experienced searing terrorist attacks. We both seek a more secure world for our citizens. We should intensify our defense and law enforcement cooperation to that end. And we should encourage Pakistan as that nation confronts the challenge of violent extremism.
The sudden unexplained resumption of dialogue is as harmful as any freeze on dialogue. Every terrorist attack on Indian soil is followed by a halt in the dialogue process; the thaw eventually follows a few ministerial meetings. The structure and format of dialogue between India and Pakistan is not working. Politicians on both sides proudly claim to re-start the dialogue process from where it was left; but it unfortunately also ends at the same point – random disruption.
Before anything else India and Pakistan will have to agree on how make the dialogue process partially immune. It needs to be decided when and to what extent dialogue will be stalled if undesirable events occur. It is wishful to think that the bilateral relations will free from strains. So the most sensible approach is to discuss what strains can break the dialogue process. India, more than Pakistan, needs the structural disciple for conducting the dialogue. India needs to realize that the dialogue process can be made contingent on other aspects bilateral relations beyond visible acts of terrorism. India will have to shift focus from ‘conducting dialogue’ to ‘conducting result-oriented dialogue’. Celebrating India-Pakistan dialogue is one thing; reaping dialogue outcomes is quite another.
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