Last week’s foreign secretary level dialogue between India and Pakistan was a disappointment for those who were in search of a quick breakthrough on chronic issues between the nuke-neighbouring states. Another section found these talks too mundane an exercise to notice. However, to me, the mere fact that talks got resumed was a step in the right direction.
Secretary Rao’s statement that, “the ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship of the 21st Century” and should be replaced with a “vocabulary of peace” cannot be termed as merely a courteous gesture. Likewise, Pakistan’s official line on these dialogues that it was desirous of a purposeful and result-oriented dialogue process with India for sustainable peace and development in South Asia was quite significant.
In diplomatic world, diplomats (especially Indian and Pakistani diplomats on Indo-Pak issues), have to think really hard before uttering even a single word. It is good to note that both sides, at least in their statements, have started acknowledging the importance of peace in South Asia. The secretaries not only agreed to keep the dialogue on but also announced that foreign ministers of both the countries would take stock of the progress made, if any, in Delhi next month.
Pakistan was interested in Kashmir, Peace and Security (including confidence-building measures), nuclear CBMs, and friendly exchange. India’s emphasis was on counter terrorism. Moreover, there were quite a few other issues, including trade and commerce, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, Siachen glacier, and CBM across the Line of Control (LOC). India’s alleged involvement in Balochistan and India’s most wanted Dawood Ibrahim’s presence in Karachi, Samjhota Express blast, Mumbai attack, and trail of Ajmal Kasab were also discussed in sideline meetings during these two days dialogue.
It was good to note that, finally, Kashmir issue was discussed from a humanistic angle rather than pure geo-political angle. India agreed to offer six-month visit visas to citizens of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. India also offered opening up of five entry and exit points and promotion of local trade across the LoC. Both sides agreed that the working group will meet in July to streamline modalities for more trading days, additional routes, reducing red tape, and specifying the 21 items of trade to ensure that only goods made in Jammu and Kashmir are traded.
On peace and security, both the countries discussed certain CBMs. They agreed that working group on nuclear CBM would discuss modalities of mutual learning and sharing of experiences in civil nuclear energy, particularly in the light of the leakage caused in the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan after the devastating earthquake earlier this year.
Although no immediate decision is expected but recognising the importance of people-to-people contact, ease in visa process for intellectuals, journalists, civil society representatives, exchange of cultural troops; exchange of media delegations and other measures were also discussed. In the absence of any discussion on the opening-up of consulates in Mumbai and Karachi, one may assume that both sides are more interested in VIP-to-VIP contacts rather than people-to-people contacts.
Since the inception of WTO in 1995, one kept on arguing that granting of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India should not be linked with Kashmir issue and, finally, there are reports that Pakistan is willing to shift to negative list of tradable items from positive list approach and gradually may grant it MFN status. This would be an extremely positive step for promoting regional trade, implementing South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), and strengthening SAARC. Both the countries also decided to open up a new “trade gate” on Wahga border. The new gate is expected to be operational by the end of this year and would be helpful in promoting bilateral trade.
While progress was noted on issues of Wullar Barrage and Tulbul Navigation project during these dialogues, there was a deadlock on Siachen and Sir Creek. I agree that there is no “substantial” breakthrough and bilateral issues, yet inching towards peace and attempting to mend the 60 years of trust deficit is not an easy task. It would require lot of patience and consistency on both sides.
Now is the most appropriate time to begin finding solutions to our bilateral issues outside the shadow of guns. India has joined the league of emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, and China. It is eyeing a permanent seat in UN Security Council. Access to Central Asian Republics (CARs), and to Afghanistan through Pakistan would not only ensure access to energy but to new markets for India too. Many describe India as a giant elephant whose one leg is chained with a tiny cat called Kashmir.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is passing through one of the toughest phases of its recent history and needs to focus on its western borders to curb terrorism with a complete peace of mind that nothing would go wrong at its eastern borders. Both of these countries also need to reduce their massive defense budgets to create a cushion to spend on socio-economic uplift of their ordinary masses, hence peace is in both India and Pakistan’s interest.
If NATO forces are seriously interested in leaving Afghanistan and want to see durable peace in this region; they should know that the historical tension between India and Pakistan is one of the major threats to Afghanistan’s stability. Thus, it is in their interest, too, to leave a region with minimum number of disputes. Now it is upto our political leadership to seize the moment.
Here, it is worth-mentioning that certain actors do not want peace between India and Pakistan and something goes wrong whenever talks between the two looks promising. However, this time a non-state actor helped in building a positive image of Pakistan while the talks were taking place. The Indian media was all praises for human rights activist Ansar Burni for his role in the release of six Indian crew members form Somali pirates.
Burni, who was deported from New Delhi airport by Indian immigration authorities in June 2008 on the grounds of “inadequate documentation” was raising funds and playing his role for the release of all crew members, including Indian crew members.
His act simply shows that people-to-people contacts are much stronger than official contacts. Ordinary citizens, through their CBMs like Aman ki Asha, Imagine New South Asia, and Climate Action Network South Asia, etc., can teach states how to engage in a civilized peace process: a civilized process in which military conflict is replaced by the vocabulary of peace. Hope our decision-makers give peace a chance and contribute to a prosperous South Asia.
The writer is the executive director of Sustainable Development Policy Institute and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published at: The News
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.