Back from Bangkok

War with Pakistan is not an option. So said external Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Parliament the other day. Not that the Sultans in Delhi don’t know it. Nor do the hawks in Islamabad think otherwise. Yet under slightest provocation they resort to ‘War of Words’ generating in both societies strong passion of intolerance and hatred for each other. In truth the situation has reached such a pass that they cannot start—or restart—the much touted peace process in their own countries. They now need a neutral third country to initiate the all important dialogue that has been elusive for decades. Following Modi’s conversation with Shariff on 30 November on the sidelines of climate summit in Paris and in line with the Ufa understanding between them the National Security Advisers of the two countries met in Bangkok on 6 December. As it was a parley in complete secrecy without media glare, Pakistan’s NSA had no chance to talk to Kashmir’s Hurriyat leaders before proceeding to the negotiating table. Not that all factions of Hurriyat were happy about the idea of dialogue diplomacy in a third country and that too in secrecy. But moderate hurriyat conference leaders welcomed the recent Indo-Pak initiatives for normalising bilateral relations. They hope, somewhat against hope, that leaders on both sides of the fence would rise above their ‘‘traditional stances’’ in resolving all outstanding issues including the core question of Kashmir.

Unlike the Chinese leadership, the rulers in Pakistan are in no mood to improve bilateral economic ties while shelving ‘border disputes’. Not that the Chinese have changed their perception of boundary line in the Himalayas even by a fraction and yet they talk business without making rigid preconditions for such talks to continue. Over the past one year Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met 5 times including their mutual visits. In terms of business cooperation, the two big markets of India and China, have much to offer each other. Chinese accumulative investment in India almost tripled to $2.7 billion last year. Such economic ties are not flowing, putting the overall bilateral relations on a solid footing, between India and Pakistan. They need the Kashmir problem to be addressed first.

Both India and Pakistan know very well that they cannot resolve the vexed issue of Kashmir by sticking to their respective positions. In all fairness they are not interested in making the Line of Control (LoC) as the International Border (IB) though the international community—particularly America, that matters in Indo-Pak relations is not averse to it. Of late even the redoubtable Abdullahs of Kashmir are openly talking about it. Not that Kashmir is the only contentious issue that defies solution. Afghanistan is now another bone of contention between India and Pakistan as India has made huge investments in that strife-torn country.

During Ms Swaraj’s recent trip to Pakistan on 8-9 December, both sides agreed to continue terror-related dialogue at NSA level. Perhaps Washington was instrumental in paving the way for dialogue on terror. Not very long ago the Pakistan’s army chief Raheel Sharif visited America because the military in Pakistan is the final word on foreign policy matters, irrespective of who has been the civilian head of state.  Ms Swaraj was in Pakistan actually to participate in a multilateral meet on Afghanistan, where America is doing a kind of balancing act between India and Pakistan. The current NSA of Pakistan Nasir Janjua is a recently retired General and a close confidant of the Pakistani army chief. Washington wants the sub-continentals to talk ‘terror’. In truth the American administration itself is talking ‘terror’ with Pakistan’s military for its own strategic interests in Afghanistan.

Whether dialogue for the sake of dialogue can improve Indo-Pakistan mutual trust is anybody’s guess. Every government of India in yester years reportedly ‘tried to seek peace’ through dialogue but none succeeded. If NSA-level exercise can make way forward, it would be an achievement.

One reason they are now talking about comprehensive dialogue is the forthcoming SAARC Summit in September 2016 in Pakistan. SAARC has been a hostage of India-Pakistan antagonism right from the beginning. After India’s recent big brotherly role in Nepal’s internal affairs, the prospects of SAARC taking some really positive steps for enhancing regional cooperation seem remote.

The tragedy is they cannot leave the bitter past behind and look forward. As a result they are continually promoting a vicious arms race in the region while occasionally talking about ‘peace dividends’ and all that. The huge terror industry that has developed in Pakistan over the years because of active patronisation of the Pakistani administration cannot be dismantled so easily even if the Pakistani military bends under pressure from the Uncle Sam.

The dialogue process, rather the peace process, as they are somewhat euphoric about it after the ‘‘success’’ of NSA-level meeting in Bangkok, is rooted in hypocrisy. If Islamabad is showing a little bit of soft posture it is because the Pakistani military cannot bargain with America without such flexibility. As for India they are counting on business opportunities they are opening to American multinationals. Even a status quo, not hot exchanges, along LoC and IB is not disadvantageous to them.

The point at issue is Delhi rulers are in no hurry to see any kind of radical transition in Kashmir even if it means rise in militancy. But it is not really the case with their Islamabad counterparts. The ‘Islamic States’ including Pakistan, are said to have formed a grand alliance under the leadership of Saudi Arabia and tacit approval of America, to fight terrorism, more precisely IS terrorism in the Middle East. Russian involvement in favour of Assad has totally changed the face of war in Syria. As America and its western allies won’t commit ground troops in the on-going conflict, the Islamic military alliance is going to send cannon fodders. For all practical purposes, Pakistan and Turkey will supply, as media reports suggest, foot soldiers. In that event peace dialogue with India suits Pakistan’s regional ambition which they can ill-afford to lose by antagonising America.

In reality Kashmir reflects crisis of humanity. Both India and Pakistan are responsible for it. The idea of dialogue in a third country is not that bad but it is not that good to bring in lasting peace and democracy in the region. The moot question is whether they are really interested in giving peace a chance.

Vol. 48, No. 25, Dec 27, 2015 - Jan 2, 2016