Can Peace be Given Yet Another Chance in the India-Pakistan Matrix?
In an important statement made on April 15, 2018, on the sidelines of the passing out parade of the Pakistan Military Academy, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa maintained that the peaceful resolution of disputes between India and Pakistan, including the core issue of Kashmir, can be found through comprehensive and meaningful dialogue. As Gen. Bajwa put it, “It is our sincere belief that the route to peaceful resolution of Pak-India disputes — including the core issue of Kashmir — runs through comprehensive and meaningful dialogue. While such dialogue is no favour to any party, it remains the inevitable precursor to peace across the region. Pakistan remains committed to such a dialogue, but only on the basis of sovereign equality, dignity and honour,” he added.
Perhaps, a starter can be made along what security analyst and diplomat Maleeha Lodhi had mentioned a decade ago. It can still be relevant today in contemporary times. Six elements are critical to sustain this process of dialogue. One, preservation of agreements and CBMs (military and non-military) instituted so far and that have been sustained between India and Pakistan. Two, actively promoting resolution of disputes through Annual Strategic Posture Review so that peace process gains upper hand and much needed momentum into a conflict resolution mode. Three, a problem-solving, serious and a proactive approach be applied and initiated by both sides. Four, principle of reciprocity and goodwill must be exercised by both India and Pakistan to guide the dialogue process forward with a definite roadmap. Five, political contacts sufficiently at high level to the highest level are needed to discuss issues critically and systemically and keep the engagement process moving in the proper direction. Six, there is a need to evolve a convergent vision for a future of peace and cooperation in the entire South Asian region in a comprehensive way. What is more important in this regard is the perception of risk which appears to be only limited regional perceptions of, as Shaun Gregory opines, a “shared bilateral risks of nuclear war and avoidance of possible catastrophe”. In the short to intermediate term, viable solution(s) has to be evolved for solving the various, bilateral intractable issues so as to have salience and a broad acceptability by all stakeholders including China that has lot of stakes over state of affairs in both India and Pakistan. There is also a compelling need to recalibrate and reformulate other national strategic priorities – national defense including acquisitions of both offensive and defensive weapons, Kashmir, maritime security, converting ‘trust deficit’ into ‘trust surplus’, etc. As India sees it, the issue is complicated further by the profound conventional asymmetry between Pakistan’s obsession with India in its overall security discourse and India’s focus on a range of security. Trust surplus can be best built through, as Shaukat Aziz puts it, through multiple uninterruptible dialogues, positive incremental steps, Confidence and Trust-building Measures, and most critically through acts of bold statesmanship and long duree view by the top leadership of the two countries.
In this regard, a high-level Track II meeting held in 2009 and which was endorsed in later years between India and Pakistan has suggested several concrete ways to take forward the bilateral relationship. Some of the recommendations, which are valid even in 2018, are as follows:
Peace and stability in India-Pakistan relations is vital for the well being of the people of South Asia and for the larger region including China as a number of key issues are triangular, not bipolar or dyadic. After seven decades of hostility and adversarial relations between India and Pakistan since 1947, it is critical that all relevant stakeholders work for sustainable and workable peace between the two countries.
A grand reconciliation can only be ensured, in the long-term, through proactive engagement at every level: civil society meetings, official dialogues, active engagement of political leaders, cooperation between business and corporate leaders, visits of artists, sportsmen, media, dialogue between the armed forces, Track II dialogues, etc.
Temporary and occasional setback and obstacles in inter-governmental relations should not be allowed to impinge on people-to-people cooperation. Attempts should be made to facilitate a visa-free regime for important stakeholders: including academics, journalists, businessmen, students, artists and former senior officials for free flow of movement.
Positive Progress made in previous rounds of talks and negotiations should be carried forward in the official dialogue so that there is an element of continuity.
Terrorism is of deep concern to India and Pakistan. The memory of events such as the December 13, 2001, attacks on the Indian Parliament, 26/11 Mumbai attacks are still alive and continues to inform and agitate public opinion in India. Today, according to most experts, terrorism and extremism pose an existential threat to Pakistan and its fragile democracy. Indian concerns about terrorism and the terrorist threats to India including those from Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haqqani Group, ISI and Al-Qaeda are as much of a serious concern for Pakistan as well. Terrorism and extremism need to be addressed upfront and be comprehensively defeated in sync with global war on terrorism.
India and Pakistan should seriously consider initiating an institutionalised, regular but discreet dialogue, as Chintamani Mahapatra has argued, between the intelligence chiefs and units (the heads of R&AW, IB and ISI and IB Pakistan) of both countries.
The back channel talks between India and Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir must be resumed at an early date keeping in view the fact that all stake-holders, particularly the people and government of J&K, will have to be consulted at some stage.
The media plays a critical role in shaping and orienting popular perceptions. They have thus a great responsibility to help strengthen the constituency for peace and create the necessary space. A continuing dialogue between journalists, editors and proprietors of media houses of both India and Pakistan is needed in ushering a climate of trust and good will.
A sustained dialogue on ensuring strategic stability in South Asia must be an essential part of the bilateral dialogue. There is also need for discussion amongst experts on critical doctrinal issues and the need to work towards creating a Nuclear Safety, Assistance and Collaboration Regime in the region within the framework of minimum deterrence. In this context, a strategic trilateral nuclear dialogue which includes China must also be pursued.
A stable, prosperous, sovereign and independent Afghanistan is in the interest of India and Pakistan and both countries must work assiduously for this goal and hold regular talks to allay each other’s apprehensions even after the formal exit of US forces from Afghanistan and possible entry of Taliban into the negotiating table.
Track-II dialogues are designed to move beyond officially stated positions, find a way forward, and can provide alternative approaches to the governments of Pakistan and India. For upswing in peace trajectory, it is vital that Track II dialogues be encouraged by both New Delhi and Islamabad as well as by other world power centers in Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, London, Paris and Washington.
Civil society as well as person-to-person contacts be made relevant and viable stakeholders to facilitate and take forward the trust building process between India and Pakistan. Civil societies in India and Pakistan, by and large, support the goal of peace and reconciliation; peace constituencies in both countries must, therefore, be further strengthened by providing them greater space, depth and support. It is essential that the trust deficit and the burden of history not be allowed to impact on the task of moving relations forward. ties in India and Pakistan, by and large, support the goal of peace and reconciliation; peace constituencies in both countries must, therefore, be further strengthened by providing them greater space, depth and support. It is essential that the trust deficit and the burden of history not be allowed to impact on the task of moving relations forward.
Gen. Qamar Ahmad Bajwa’s statement, Indian Express, Delhi, April 15, 2018. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/pakistan-army-chief-gen-qamar-javed-bajwa-calls-for-meaningful-dialogue-to-resolve-disputes-with-india-kashmir-5138485/
Maleeha Lodhi, “Nuclear Cloud over South Asia”, The Times of India, New Delhi, May 1, 2006
Shaun Gregory, “A Formidable Challenge: Nuclear Command and Control in South Asia”, Disarmament Diplomacy, The Acronym Institute, Issue No.54, February 2001
Shaukat Aziz’s statement, “Result-oriented Talks must”, The Triune, April 4 , 2007,www.tribuneindia.com