By Rajeev Sharma
5 May 2016
It is incomprehensible indeed why after nearly 69 years and three and a half wars — three full-blown wars in 1947-48, 1965 and 1971 and the “half war” in 1999 in Kargil — India and Pakistan are still nursing mutual distrust and hostilities.
Earlier, it may not have mattered much to the world but now it definitely does, particularly since 1998 when the two South Asian contiguous neighbors and rivals declared themselves as nuclear states. That is why the international community takes a serious and immediate note of any important bilateral development between them.
One such development took place on April 26 when the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan held a bilateral meeting for 90 minutes in New Delhi on the sidelines of a meeting of senior officials of 34 countries and international organizations for Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan.
While the two engaging sides officially described the foreign secretaries level talks as positive, the Indian and Pakistani media outlets were much less charitable and their description of the high-voltage event ranged from “a dialogue of the deaf” to “a failure.”
However, all countries know that they cannot run their foreign policy through the media or on the basis of media reports. Thankfully, the diplomatic and political establishments of India and Pakistan are aware of the fact that they have to keep up with their bilateral engagement process irrespective of hawkish media.
The biggest take away from the talks between Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry was the very fact that they met in the first place. This meeting belied a rather sensational comment of Abdul Basit, Pakistani envoy in India, wherein he recently described the India-Pakistan peace process as “currently suspended.”
It’s indeed a good thing that the two estranged neighbors are staying engaged at the level of senior officials. It doesn’t matter much that they talk and differ as long as they talk. And this is what happened at the April 26 event.
Both sides stuck to their respectively stated positions and raised their own issues with which the other side sharply disagreed. For example, the Indians laid a laser beam focus on the terror issue and demanded credible action against the perpetrators of terror attacks on Indian soil, including the recent one on the Pathankot airbase. India demanded that Pakistan allows a reciprocal visit by its investigation team to Pakistan after it had allowed a Pakistani investigation team to visit India, including the Pathankot base.
On its part, Pakistan would have none of it. Instead the Pakistanis accused India of carrying out terrorist and subversive activities on its soil and cited the recent case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, a retired Indian Navy Commander who was allegedly arrested by Pakistan from Balochistan recently on terror charges. Pakistan has accused Jadhav of being an agent of Indian external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which India has vehemently denied.
It’s time that the leadership of India and Pakistan find out some effective solution to tackling the perennial problem of their mutual distrust and insulate the dialogue process from the machinations of non-state actors. It has been seen that every time the two sides embark on a peace process approved at the highest levels, the whole effort comes unstuck with a high-profile terror attack in India.
This is what happened immediately after the then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s historic bus journey to Lahore and his talks with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif as the Kargil War took place. This is what is happening now also after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden visit to Lahore on Dec. 25 last — interestingly the Pakistani prime minister this time also happens to be Nawaz Sharif. A week after Modi’s Lahore visit, the Pathankot airbase came under terror attack for four days.
The net impact was the same. The peace talks were derailed by terror. The two sides need to come up with a permanent institutionalized mechanism that the peace process between India and Pakistan does not get derailed after a terror attack. There are bright chances that the two countries’ leaderships are trying to forge such a mechanism.
Last week six former Pakistani envoys to India and nine former Indian envoys to Pakistan met in New Delhi and deliberated on many issues, including the need to have an institutionalized mechanism, which insulates the peace process from terror attacks. These envoys met top Indian officials like Vice President Hamid Ansari, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Jaishankar also, signifying the importance the Modi government attaches to this Track Two process.
There is a strong possibility that when PM Modi visits Pakistan in November to attend SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) he and his Pakistani counterpart may release a Vision Document giving details of the permanent mechanism mentioned above. If it happens it will indeed be a red-letter day in the bilateral relationship of India and Pakistan.