Continuing Conflict

So ‘Ufa’ is dead. They are now back to square one. The 5-point understanding reached between Narandra Modi and Nawaz Sharif
at the sidelines of the UFA summit in Russia in July seems to have lost its relevance once and for all. The proposed meeting in New Delhi between National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan as envisaged at the Modi-Sharif parley, was mainly aimed at discussing terrorism. Also, they agreed not to disagree on the process of expediting the Mumbai blast case trial, including exchange of additional information on voice samples. In truth, what was agreed upon in UFA during the unofficial Prime Minister level talk was plain and simple: creating an atmosphere free from terrorism and tranquillity on the LoC. But   hard-liners in the Pakistani administration, more precisely the military, saw in it how India was gaining upper-hand by excluding the ‘core issue’—Kashmir. It’s now the business as usual blame game for diplomats in New Delhi and Islamabad.

The ground reality is that Nawaz Sharif’s soft stance towards India has not many takers in Pakistan’s decision making machinery. And hawks in Islamabad are deadly against it. Sharif’s statement, otherwise innocuous and realistic, that ‘there was no point in talking about Kashmir, but there was a point in talking to India’, actually alienated him from the hard-core foreign policy strategists in his own establishment. Pakistan’s attempt to include the third party—the Hurriyat—in peace talks or terror talks is a time-tested ploy of Pakistani Generals, to stall the peace process and internationalise the Kashmir issue. Pakistan called off the NSA-level talks because of India’s tough stand on Kashmir. Diplomacy is an art of turning sense into non-sense. And when it is the question of Indo-Pak diplomacy it is always an exercise in escapism. Lack of political will on both sides is the crux of the matter.

Whatever may be the official position of Pakistan on Kashmir, the international community has, of late, recognised the Kashmir reality with a spirit of pragmatism. For all practical purposes—PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir)—is now a province of Pakistan though technically it shows a semblance of autonomy which is not really the case with Indian Kashmir, notwithstanding special status of J&K under Article 370. In other words a divided Kashmir is a fait accompli. China doesn’t need permission from PoK to do business there. China is reportedly building a 2000-mile economic corridor between Gwador, on the south-west corner of Baluchistan, and North-West China, connecting roads, rails and pipe-lines. The proposed trade route will pass through Pakistan occupied Kashmir, as per agreement between Islamabad and Beijing. PoK has no role to play in it. And India too has no role in the land silk route. One reason Pakistan is too keen to give concessions to China is to keep pressure on India. They would like to show Indian Kashmir as a disputed area, not PoK.

That NSA-level talks would not take off became clear when 3 or 4 days before the scheduled date of meeting—August 24—LoC became hot. Both sides began to exchange fires, killing and wounding dozens of civilians while blaming each other for escalation of tensions and war hysteria as well.

Peace in the sub-continent has been elusive for the last 69 years. And no major breakthrough is possible by way of arranging one or two diplomatic dinners every now and then. Whether they can improve the situation before Modi visits Pakistan next year is anybody’s guess. Pakistan uses terrorism as a part of state policy and India replies in a different way only to achieve the same objective—more violence and bloodshed across the line of control.

Despite so much change in geo-political equation since the demise of Soviet Union, only South Asia has not witnessed much change in respect of Indo-Pak bilateral relations. The stand- off between India and Pakistan is unlikely to go in another 69 years. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows the very word Pakistan resonates amongst a certain generation as a quintessential event of the 1940s communal award. It creates a living memory of communal riots, manifested in a manner that is generally unknown to the average person of present age. But they refuse to acknowledge it. Even the Koreans can talk peace meaningfully despite border clashes but the sub-continentals cannot. Recently North Korea and South Korea ended a military mobilisation that sparked an exchange of artillery fire and ratcheted up tension on one of the world’s most heavily fortified border.

Talking peace in the sub-continent is meaningless. The ruling elites of both countries have vested interests in perennially maintaining a semi-state of war. In Pakistan it is the all powerful military that won’t allow their war-machine to rust. They are the main beneficiaries of this ‘no peace, no war’ situation that has been there since the birth of India and Pakistan. And there is every reason to believe that all civilian efforts originating from the Pakistani side were routinely foiled by the Pakistani Junta in the yester years and things won’t be better in the coming days. As for India, Kashmir—or for that matter Pakistan—is the only issue that can divert public attention without much difficulty.

Much has been said about people to people relationship in improving bilateral ties, particularly through cultural exchanges. But people’s initiatives, at least in case of India and Pakistan, cannot move independently, defeating the very purpose of this kind of unofficial exercise for a serious political cause. ‘Friendship Association’ culture is actually a hostage of government policy. The best example being the India-China Friendship Association. So far it has contributed little in improving mutual understanding between Indians and Chinese, notwithstanding its prolonged existence. But in case of India and Pakistan even the very absence of such a toothless semi-official organisation tells a lot about the actual state of affairs.

Today for most Indians, Pakistan is more than an historical event. It is an attitude that is at the foundation of age-old mistrust, standing in the way of normalising bilateral relations.

Vol. 48, No. 9, Sep 6 - 12, 2015