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At this month’s US-Pakistan summit in Washington, Islamabad sought US intervention to break the impasse over the India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir. While Sharif was advised to engage in direct talks with India, the joint statement called for a sustained and resilient dialogue process to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. And of course, earlier this month the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung sponsored the India-Pakistan Track II dialogue, the longest-running uninterrupted process following the attack on Parliament. They met in Bangkok to revive the dialogue. It also grappled with altering the framework itself, veering towards backchannel methods.
The trajectory is instructive. While the idea of regular dialogue was mooted way back in 1997, it was institutionalised only in 2004 after the unwritten ceasefire agreement of November 2003, proposed by Pervez Musharraf. By early 2005, three tracks of conversation were functional: official composite dialogue; summit-level meetings; and what turned out to be the most productive: a backchannel between special envoys. Between 2004 and 2008, four and a half rounds of composite dialogue had taken place, with the fifth scheduled in Pakistan when Mumbai happened. After the second round in 2005, Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed that the peace process had become irreversible. But the 2006 Mumbai blasts derailed the talks: the threads were picked up after the Havana summit in September 2006, leading to the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism. The composite dialogue was resumed in 2010 after the Sharm-el-Sheikh meeting between prime ministers Yousuf Raza Geelani and Manmohan Singh where Balochistan was mentioned, after which the dialogues suffered a minor blip.
The talks were renamed at India’s behest as ‘resumed dialogue’. It was in the driving seat after the Mumbai attack. Two-and-a-half rounds of the Resumed Dialogue had been completed when the beheading of an Indian soldier at the LoC in January 2013 led to another break. This three-year hiatus has been the longest so far. Fast forward to Ufa and New Delhi mid-2015 when the NSA-level talks broke down over the interpretation of the sketchy Ufa joint statement. Along with the Hurriyat imbroglio, the bone of contention was that Pakistan wanted Kashmir to be discussed with terrorism, even if afterwards. India was inflexible; so that the New Delhi meeting was to be only about terrorism primarily. Picking up this thread in Bangkok, the participants considered various options for breaking the logjam without loss of face on either side. Both nations agreed that not talking was not an option. Manmohan as PM has said more than once that India can be a great power only when it is at peace with Pakistan. Generally the Pakistani participants agreed that while its military establishment had indeed vetoed the resumption of talks with India, India’s rigidity had left even civilian interlocutors distinctly underwhelmed. New Delhi’s official position was to pursue a limited agenda. It wants a dialogue on all outstanding issues in an environment free of terror. Thus, it was felt that though India wanted to kickstart the dialogue, it constrained the process by putting terrorism first, just as some years back, Pakistan put Kashmir first.
The issue is simply that it’s a stance that was forged in the heat of public opinion and in turn feeds it. India has created the precondition that terror and talks cannot go hand in hand, and wants Pakistan to create conditions for talks to start. Talks must focus on terror, according to India, as it is a core issue. Pakistan, on the other hand, emphasises Kashmir and its being the root cause of terror. New Delhi has been strongly nationalist, placing the security of its citizens above all. To rescind from that position without getting Islamabad to implement its end of the bargain would amount to betrayal of public trust and loss of political face.
So, soft issues like trade, travel and people-to-people contact must be discussed to skirt the political issues initially, in the way of the India-China model. Special envoys should devise a format to discuss terrorism as well as Kashmir. The immediate objective is to resume talks between the NSAs. Both countries have to stop worrying about what comes first: terror or Kashmir. The sequencing can always look like a concurrent dialogue on terrorism and Kashmir even if they do actually happen one after the other.
A related story on the Kargil War Can Be Found On
In a controversial statement made during an interview this week, Gen Pervez Musharraf admitted that Pakistan trained operatives belonging to Lashkar-e-Toiba to fight in Kashmir in the ’90s.