An anatomy of India-Pakistan Dialogue
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Issue Vol 25.3 Jul-Sep 2010 | Date : 06 Oct , 2010

It is very easy to take the position that we must have a dialogue with Pakistan. Arguments in favour can appear plausible. Pakistan is a neighbour and you cannot wish it away. It is better therefore to talk to it whatever the provocation. Not talking to Pakistan will not make it more disposed to settle the existing problems between us.

On the contrary, the absence of a dialogue gives those against friendship with India more room to pursue their negative policies and keep the bogey of an Indian threat alive. Elements of Pakistan’s civil society who are concerned about the direction the country is headed because of its current policies, and favour improved India-Pakistan ties, get further marginalized if India refuses to talk to Pakistan. India’s own economic development and global rise requires normalisation of ties with its neighbours. We should therefore see dialogue as part of our larger strategy to come into our own.

Talking from a posture of strength makes sense as a strategy as the adversary knows that other, harder options are available to the other side if a genuine opportunity to resolve differences through dialogue is spurned.

Terrorism from Pakistani soil directed at India is no doubt a serious problem, but this problem will not go away simply because we don’t talk to Pakistan. Pakistan is itself facing a serious terrorism problem of its own. It may therefore be more ready than before to deal with a common problem. Let us test them as much as we can. After a point the policy of no dialogue gives decreasing returns and becomes unsustainable.

Not talking to Pakistan also exposes us to international pressure as the rest of the world, nervous about hostility between the two nuclear neighbours, wants the two to be seen talking. India as a more responsible, bigger and stronger power is expected to take the lead. The most vocal advocates of dialogue with Pakistan want it to be politically insulated from any break-down because of terrorist attacks from Pakistan, and continued come what may.

All this is very well. It makes those who uphold this position look reasonable, mature, moderate, sober, and even statesmanlike. But we have to ask ourselves whether many of the premises of the unconditional pro-dialogue votaries are necessarily correct. Having a dialogue cannot be an end by itself. It has to lead somewhere; it has to serve some objectives. It cannot be an endless process, unrelated to the results being achieved in practice. The time frame in which results should be visible has to be realistic. Simply talking to an adversary or an enemy cannot be the sole content of policy. Talking can be part of an integrated policy, with other measures in reserve in case the attempts at securing results through dialogue fail, so that a desire to talk is not seen as helplessness, lack of any other option, inability to take hard decisions or the result of external pressure.

Talking from a posture of strength makes sense as a strategy as the adversary knows that other, harder options are available to the other side if a genuine opportunity to resolve differences through dialogue is spurned. But doing so because dialogue is considered inherently good and desirable, and hope and wishful thinking is the underlying rationale, and realities that stare one in the face are ignored, then such an approach can be counterproductive. It is like having a jurisprudence that provides only for talking to and reasoning with a criminal to give up his errant ways instead of punishing him for breach of law. Will such an approach deter crime in society or actually encourage it? It has also to be recognized that another major terrorist attack can bring any renewed dialogue to a halt because the public reaction will be strong. The public expects the state to protect the lives of its citizens.

At the Track II level, Pakistanis equate Hafiz Saeed with Bal Thackeray, as if the latter is also heading a terrorist organisation conducting terrorist attacks against Pakistan.

The dialogue-seekers in India overlook the simple fact that India has already engaged Pakistan in a dialogue. Those who say on our side, echoing the Pakistani line that we should now go beyond Mumbai, disregard the reality that the Indian leadership has already politically transcended the Mumbai terror carnage. Why are we beating ourselves on the dialogue issue as if we are the recalcitrant side? We have opened the doors of dialogue on successive occasions. India engaged Pakistan in a dialogue at Ekaterinaberg, New York, Sharm el Sheikh, Delhi (Foreign Secretary level talks), then at Thimphu and now again at Islamabad with FS level talks and those at the level of Home Ministers. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries will meet in July in Islamabad.

What have these dialogue initiatives produced so far? Pakistan released Hafiz Saeed before Ekaterinaberg, withdrew the case against him before Sharm el Sheikh, allowed him to stage a huge rally and pour venom against India before the FS level talks at New Delhi. Pakistan’s continues to say that they need India to substantiate its charges against Hafiz Saeed. The West Punjab government is providing budgetary funding for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, declared a terrorist organization by the UN Security Council, ostensibly to finance its charitable activity. At the Track II level, Pakistanis equate Hafiz Saeed with Bal Thackeray, as if the latter is also heading a terrorist organisation conducting terrorist attacks against Pakistan. Hafiz Saeed’s rantings would not bother us if they were merely a reprehensible domestic phenomenon and were not integrated into jihadi attacks against India.

The import of Pakistan’s unwillingness to act against Hafiz Saeed should be clearly seen. It means Pakistan does not want to take action against Punjab based jihadi groups, nurtured by it for years to pressure India through terrorism. It is not Hafiz Saeed that is important, but what he represents. It is the political will to deal with these instruments of Pakistan’s state sponsored terror that is under test. The United Jihadi Council led by Salahuddin remains active in POK. Infiltration levels into J&K from across the Line of Control are going up. Our Defence Minister says there are scores of training camps still functioning on the Pakistani side. So where is the evidence of dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism that India has been demanding?

In response to our peaceful moves Pakistan has enlarged the scope of confrontation with India by conniving at terror attacks against the Indian mission and aid personnel in Kabul, killing our Military Attaché and a senior diplomat there. It has made our consulates in Afghanistan an issue, accusing them of interfering in Baluchistan and even in FATA. Pakistan is demanding the lowering of our presence in Afghanistan on the ground that is security is being threatened from the west. Although Afghanistan is a member of SAARC and we have a legitimate interest in the country’s future because of the regional fall-out of developments there, Pakistan forced our exclusion from the Istanbul Conference on Afghanistan in January this year. Pakistan cannot reject a dialogue with India in a multilateral setting on a common problem and yet be an ardent advocate of the principle of dialogue to resolve its outstanding issues with India.

“¦ is why we believe such an assurance as it is the same Geelani who said some months ago that Pakistan could not guarantee that no terrorist attacks will take place against India from its territory.

Pakistan continues to harp on the threat to its security from India from the east. It picked opportunistically on remarks by the former Indian Army Chief on the army’s so-called “cold start” doctrine to launch a massive tri-service military exercise- the Azm-e-Nau-3- as a riposte. Similarly, it blew out of proportion his remarks at a seminar that India was prepared to fight a two front war as evidence of India’s war-like intentions. All this was done intentionally to ward off pressure by the Americans for stronger military action by it against the Taliban on the country’s western frontier. To all this has been added an artificially drummed up water issue between India and Pakistan.

Public hysteria has been generated by charges that India is starving Pakistan of water through violations of the Indus Waters Treaty. This is one more ploy to keep anti-Indian feelings in Pakistan alive on an issue of great sensitivity, making it more difficult later to bridge differences. Pakistan has begun harping again on settling the Kashmir issue on the basis of self-determination and the UN Resolutions, reversing the approach adopted in General Musharraf’s time of tackling the issue bilaterally with cross-LOC trade and movement of people as part of a larger effort to make the border “irrelevant” so as to skirt the issue of sovereignty and any change in the territorial status quo.

While India has been seeking to reach out to Pakistan to bridge the trust deficit, Pakistan, at the international level, has tried to create as much controversy as possible on the India-US nuclear deal, stoking the adverse sentiments of the non-proliferation lobbies already unhappy with it. It has sought to present itself as a victim of India’s nuclear ambitions propped up by this deal. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister raised the issue during the strategic US-Pakistan dialogue in Washington in March this year-which in itself India cannot object to- but he gave the demand the usual anti-Indian slant. Its PR to the Conference on Disarmament launched a diatribe against the deal, claiming that it allowed India to produce a hundred additional nuclear weapons a year, creating a serious nuclear imbalance in South Asia, leaving no choice to Pakistan but to redress it. The Indian threat has been used cynically by Pakistan to block the discussions on the FMCT in Geneva.

The Chinese, of course, support the Pakistani position. This dual Pakistan-China strategy to target the civilian nuclear exception made for India is part of the China-Pakistan nuclear axis intended to strategically neutralize India as much as possible. In a recent visit to China the Pakistani Foreign Minister, fully aware of India’s sensitivities on the subject of China’s role in India-Pakistan affairs- taunted India by stating that Pakistan had given a carte blanche to China to play a role in resolving India-Pakistan differences.

Our leaders can say that a strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in Indias interest. A Pakistani leader cannot “¦

If we think there is advantage to having a dialogue with Pakistan, we must also reflect on our bottom lines. Otherwise we will be talking without a sense of purpose and clarity about our goals. There is confusion about where we actually stand on the issue of terrorism. At times we are ready to delink dialogue from terrorism. At other times we partially restore the link by saying that Pakistan must create an atmosphere free from terror for any dialogue to succeed.

We talk at times about the need for Pakistan to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism from its soil; at other times we lower the demand by asking Pakistan to merely take “reasonable” steps to put curbs on terrorism. We repeat as a mantra that Pakistan must expeditiously bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice, hoping that progress in this would give us political cover to resume the dialogue full steam, but tolerate Pakistan’s delaying tactics in trying the accused. We do not make an expeditious trial a precondition for a dialogue. We say we are ready to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan, but with a focus on terror.

We reject however Pakistan’s call a “composite” dialogue, which actually means an agenda more broad based than terror. We find a way to reconcile the two positions by saying that we should not be fixated on nomenclatures. We are caught between our desire to restart a dialogue with Pakistan in the hope that the progress made till 2007 can be built upon and Pakistan’s refusal to give up the terrorism option against us, which alone can promise further progress in normalizing bilateral ties. We therefore flounder between hope and reality.

After Sharm el Sheikh, the overall Indian stance on talking to Pakistan began to show somewhat greater firmness and sensitivity to public sentiment. We have maintained the focus on terrorism, rattling Pakistan during FS level talks at New Delhi. That would explain the Pakistan Foreign Secretary’s posture that Pakistan can live without a dialogue and that evidence provided by India on terrorism was literature. The decision not to issue joint statements after talks at FS and higher levels is wise, as such statements create pressure to show a meeting of minds that does not actually exist. While a meeting between the two Prime Ministers at Thimphu was entirely in order, the need to resume the dialogue in the absence of any evidence of Pakistan’s willingness to deal with the core issue of terrorism credibly was not apparent.

The Home Minister, before his arrival at Islamabad for the SAARC Home Ministers Conference, has in fact exposed more areas of Pakistani non-performance and enlarged the scope of Indian demands on Pakistan.

Prime Minister Geelani’s assurance to our PM that Pakistan would not allow its soil to be used for terrorism against India has been made public by our side, not the Pakistani side, and hence has little value. We are projecting a constructive Pakistani position, not Pakistan itself. Why? Even during the joint press conference of the two Foreign Secretaries after the latest talks at Islamabad (June 24), it is the Indian Foreign Secretary that recalled this assurance, whereas her counterpart spoke about addressing mutual concerns.

What is unclear is why we believe such an assurance as it is the same Geelani who said some months ago that Pakistan could not guarantee that no terrorist attacks will take place against India from its territory. The Pakistani argument is that Pakistan itself is a victim of terrorism. What is then the basis of the Pakistani Prime Minister’s assurance that has persuaded us to open the doors of dialogue again. If what Geelani means that Pakistan as a state is against terror attacks on India from its soil, but leaves unclear its responsibility in the case of non-state actors, then we would have simply walked into the usual duplicitous traps that Pakistan is adept at laying.

After Thimphu the earlier refreshing firmness of the Indian position has shown signs of dilution. The External Affairs Minister was reported some weeks ago as having stated that Pakistan had satisfied India on its terrorism concerns. No elaboration was given for this surprising assertion. Now we find a hardening of tone from a different direction- the Home Minister’s. While this is welcome, it raises questions about the coherence of the Indian position. Are the External Affairs Minister and the Home Minister on the same wavelength on the issue on the dialectic between dialogue and terrorism? This is important as the External Affairs Minister will be visiting Pakistan in mid-July to carry further the process of reducing the trust deficit between the two countries.

The Home Minister, before his arrival at Islamabad for the SAARC Home Minister’s Conference, has in fact exposed more areas of Pakistani non-performance and enlarged the scope of Indian demands on Pakistan. He has stated that only two of those arrested by Pakistan in connection with the Mumbai attack are frontline people. He wants action against the real handlers and controllers. He said he intended to give specific names to Pakistan of those plotting terror attacks and ask why no action is being taken against them.

Pakistan must behave like a normal state, not an entity that believes it can exist only as an antithesis of India.

Maintaining that enough evidence has been given to Pakistan about Hafiz Saeed’s role as one of the masterminds of the Mumbai attack, he wants action against him. He has again insisted on Pakistan submitting voice samples of 26/11 suspects, including those of Pakistani army personnel, if necessary to a third party for forensic analysis. He has ruled out sharing intelligence with Pakistan on terror attacks being planned on its soil against us as that would compromise our intelligence gathering. So much for the much touted Joint Terror Mechanism.

After his talks with his counterpart, briefings given to the Indian media suggest that Chidambaran has also asked Rehman Malik to locate and arrest 13 absconders found guilty by Indian courts, besides touching upon Pakistan’s provocative role vis-à-vis the Hurriyat which mar the attempt by Indian authorities to start talks with the separatists. At the end of his visit, Chidambram has wisely put the accent on outcomes rather than on assurances. He has been pointed and explicit in his remarks and demands.

The stated purpose of the current India-Pakistan dialogue is to reduce the trust deficit between the two countries. It has been described as an essay in mutual comprehension. This suggests that there are genuine gaps in understanding that can be filled by talking to each other, that misperceptions have got created that can be removed by engaging each other, that each side reads the signals from the other side wrongly, that actions by both sides are actually well-intentioned, and if problematic for the other side, are defensive and self-protective, within the purview of international law and legitimate self-interest. This would suggest that there is no issue of terror, and if there is, it is outside the control of the government.

If there are outstanding differences, the fault is on the other side, and discussion will bring it out. There is, in this perspective, no historical baggage, no wounds of partition, no determination to wrest Kashmir from India or make India pay for its wrongful occupation of the territory that should be rightfully Pakistan’s, no obsession with parity, no religious animosity, no policy of playing on religious affiliations to prevent closeness between India and the Islamic world, no issue of revenge for Bangladesh, no policy to bring in outside powers to counter perceived Indian hegemony in South Asia, no structural problems in the Pakistani polity, no vested interests like the domination of the military within the system that impede friendship between India and Pakistan. In actual fact, we comprehend well what animates Pakistan against India.

Trust can be restored if in the last sixty three years we had periods of trust in our relationship. Comprehension can be built if the differences were not of a well-understood, fundamental nature. India’s secular polity and its large Muslim population insures India against any fundamental hostility towards Pakistan. Pakistan has no such internal checks. Our leaders can say that a strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest. A Pakistani leader cannot say that without betraying the idea of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s state of mind towards India must change radically if our relationship is to improve durably. Pakistan must behave like a normal state, not an entity that believes it can exist only as an antithesis of India.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Kanwal Sibal

is the former Indian Foreign Secretary. He was India’s Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia.

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