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India - Pakistan: What next?

by A G Noorani, 31 August 2014

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Dawn, 30 August 2014

IT is doubtful if this question in the headline crossed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mind when he decided on Aug 18 to call off the talks between the Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries. The Hurriyat leaders had received the invite on Aug 11. Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh’s call to Pakistan’s high commissioner to cancel the meeting was made at 3.45pm. Shabir Shah arrived at the high commission for the appointment at 4pm.

It is far easier to climb up than come down. That needs outside help. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cannot be expected to take the initiative now; Modi will find it difficult to ask for a meeting with Mr Sharif next month in New York without loss of face. The only silver lining to the cloud, which deserves notice and praise, is that the decision was widely criticised by leading Indian journalists.

The New York Times aptly summed up the situation last week. “India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, fumbled an early test of leadership this week when he cancelled a high-level meeting with Pakistan. There are no two countries in the world that need to talk, and talk regularly, more than these nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours whose tensions must be carefully managed”.

There are long-pending issues to be resolved by India and Pakistan.

There are long-pending issues of importance to be resolved — Sir Creek, Siachen and Kashmir, not to forget the dispute over the Indus Waters Treaty. On the first three, the spadework is thorough. Only the political will plays truant.

There are, besides, four ‘preliminaries’ that need to be resolved and put out of the way — lack of progress on the trial in Pakistan of suspects linked to the Mumbai attack; incidents on the Line of Control in Kashmir; finalisation of the understanding on a non-discriminatory trade regime; trade across the LoC. This writer was told by the then Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar in February 2013 that the agreement on trade would be finalised after the general elections in Pakistan.

Are we doomed to an enduring deadlock? The decision smacks of a diplomatic Operation Parakram launched in December 2001. It was designed to press America to press Pakistan to comply with increasing demands. The US went along for a while but then issued advisories to its nationals to leave India, if they could. Other countries followed.

Operation Parakram was called off. But not before intervention by the big powers. US pronouncements bear recalling. In June 2002, the deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said the “crisis has put Kashmir on the international agenda in a way that it has never been before”.

The assistant secretary of state for South Asia Christina Rocca proceeded to spell out the elements in September 2002: “Given the potential cost of a conflict, the international community has focused on the need to reduce tension and demobilise. No one from the outside can impose a settlement, but we must work to help the two sides further de-escalate current tensions and begin to tackle the more fundamental differences between them.

“…We also encourage a continuation and expansion of the nascent efforts to engage Kashmiri separatist leaders. …State elections can be an important step in a political process, but they alone cannot resolve the problems between India and Pakistan….”

She added: “A lasting settlement which reflects the views of the Kashmiri people, can only be achieved through dialogue.”

A US-UK joint statement on March 27, 2003 laid down a road map for India and Pakistan — de-escalation, respect for the LoC, a ceasefire and “moves within the Saarc context”. Sure enough, a ceasefire was declared later and prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee atten­ded the Saarc summit in Islamabad in January 2004.

Tensions invite foreign intervention. None can impose a settlement of Kash­mir on Pakistan and India. The four-point formula was exclusively a South Asian achievement, and a great one at that. Americans who trace its ancestry to their exertions invite contempt.

Progress was achieved by efforts at both levels — India-Pakistan and intra Kashmir. Recent years have seen much flexibility at all levels. In September 2000 Syed Salahuddin, the Hizbul Mujahideen chief, said “The modalities can be worked out. Let India and Pakistan start. They can involve Kashmiris later.”

Heads of missions in New Delhi have been visiting Srinagar and meeting Kashmiri leaders there as well as in New Delhi. Is this process to be ended and a fundamentally new stance adopted?

No country is an island by itself. Diplomatic pressures will mount. Some day the dialogue will resume; but at a loss of prestige. Is a new Kashmir policy in the offing? The signs are disturbing — although on Thursday, the Jammu & Kashmir legislative council appealed to the governments of India and Pakistan with virtual unanimity to resume the dialogue.

The writer A.G. Noorani is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

P.S.

The above article from Dawn is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use