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Abdul Basit

April 25, 2019

From stalemate to stalemate


Abdul Basit
April 25, 2019

Is there any possibility in the foreseeable future of Pakistan and India burying the hatchet and living as good neighbors? I’m afraid the prospects look remote. The Pulwama attack and the ensuing developments were a stark reality check. When the discourse comes down to creating space for preemptive strikes and limited war in a nuclear environment, it’s not hard to imagine how precarious the situation is. The mutual distrust seems unbridgeable; and the disputes unsolvable. The two nuclear rivals seem destined to be in a gridlock for perhaps generations to come.

The international community, too, appears to be helpless in nudging the two, particularly India, towards talking and finding solutions to the long-standing issues. Major powers are reluctant to get involved, in deference to India’s aversion to third-party mediation. Au contraire, they pander to India’s sensitivities for their own respective interests. Even the continuing mayhem in Indian-occupied Kashmir fails to shake their conscience. India is thus emboldened to continue rejecting Pakistan’s overtures.

Of course, India has its own grievances no matter how non sequitur. It blames Pakistan for the continuing mess, especially in IoK. According to India, only Pakistan is responsible for the intractable bilateral impasse, for it refuses to dispense with its policy of stoking violence and abetting terrorism. Pakistan continues to breach its commitment of January 6, 2004 given by then president General Pervez Musharraf that he would “not permit any territory under Pakistan`s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner.” As per India’s view, in view of Pakistan’s duplicity, dialogue is neither desirable nor sustainable. In short, “terror and talks cannot go together”.

Indian arguments are self-serving. Take the Mumbai attack trial currently under way in Pakistan. India is hardly cooperating. For instance, it never allowed a judicial commission from Pakistan to meet Ajmal Kasab, the only attacker captured alive by the police. It is also intriguing as to why he was so hurriedly executed by India in November 2012, thus depriving the prosecution in Pakistan to record his testimony and cross-examine him.

Even at present, India is reluctant to arrange the deposition of 24 Indian nationals. One cannot therefore help but agree with Elias Davidsson’s conclusions in his book ‘The Betrayal of India, Revisiting the 26/11 Evidence’ that the Mumbai attacks in all likelihood were planned in India and executed by India to implicate Pakistan in state terrorism. In fact, it serves India’s interests well if the Mumbai attacks trial drags on indefinitely. Not only is it a good talking point against Pakistan. India is also using it as a pretext against talks on Kashmir.

Par for the course, India also never responded positively to Pakistan’s offer of joint investigation into the Uri and Pulwama attacks. As for Pathankot, India is itself to be blamed for scuttling progress by unilaterally making a reciprocal visit by a team of its National Investigation Agency to Pakistan a precondition for further bilateral engagement on the issue. In March/April 2016, a Pakistani joint investigation team visited the Pathankot airbase and New Delhi. The visit in my view could have been prepared much better, for its limited terms of reference didn’t allow the JIT to do its work conclusively. Nevertheless, it still reflected Pakistan’s readiness to accommodate India. I would tell my interlocutors in New Delhi that in such matters it was not reciprocity but meaningful cooperation that counted. Perhaps, Pathankot too was a false-flag operation a la Mumbai, and getting to the bottom was never intended by India.

Indian shenanigans aside, the issues that continue to bedevil bilateral relations are well-known. Instead of constructive engagement, India has pushed the relationship into moving from a stalemate to a stalemate. In the process, newer issues are being added to the list, making finding a tenable solution to the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir increasingly cumbersome. Even the agreed CBMs are facing atrophy. This suits India. Its policy to embroil Pakistan in peripheral issues and bring it under international pressure on terrorism seems to be working.

In this backdrop, expecting India to be reasonable is like asking for the moon. The country, which has global aspirations yet stymies regional cooperation in pursuit of its blinkered policy of isolating Pakistan, seems incapable of transcending its pathological prejudices. It wants Pakistan to abandon Jammu and Kashmir; resign to India’s supremacy in the region; and accept once and for all India as its big brother.

If this is what it takes to bring peace between the two countries then there is not much to hope for. At the end of the day, much will hinge on India. Still, a few suggestions would be in order:

First, Pakistan’s focus should be on building international pressure on India, especially as regards Kashmir. I have been suggesting for quite some time now that appointing a special envoy on Jammu and Kashmir would go a long way towards injecting a sense of purpose into our Kashmir diplomacy. It is disquieting that in the wake of the Pulwama attack, we heard the world counseling the two countries against escalation, but there was no mention of addressing Kashmir.

Second, managing the conflict is necessary. Neither Pakistan nor India can afford to push the region to the precipice. Even a limited war has its own inherent and unbearable risks. The first step could be to formalize the 2003 ceasefire understanding as was proposed by Pakistan in 2015. Meanwhile, the existing CBMs must be complied with by both sides.

Third, it would be imperative to move towards conflict resolution as without that all remains tenuous and reversible. The Composite Dialogue is dead. Perhaps, two streams of parallel dialogue can be established – each focusing exclusively on Kashmir and terrorism, respectively, at appropriate levels.

Pakistan’s concerns about India’s offensive-defensive doctrine are legitimate. Kulbhushan Jhadav’s confessions clearly show what India is up to. There are no two views about setting our own house in order. While we are at it, India must not be allowed to keep misleading the world. Over the years, our diplomacy has lost its traditional finesse. Pakistan’s narrative of conflict management and conflict resolution must be heard and responded to by the international community.

And that will happen only when we move beyond slapdash approaches. Diplomacy is not about issuing highfalutin statements and pleonastic press releases. It is “the art of accepting the feasible in order to advance the desirable”.

Unlike Prime Minister Imran Khan, I am seeing second-term Prime Minister Modi to be more difficult vis-à-vis Kashmir. He may be inclined to resume some sort of bilateral engagement. However, in expecting him to concede anything substantive on Kashmir easily and quickly, we only hoodwink ourselves.

Let me conclude by saying that resumption of bilateral dialogue, whenever that happens, would be a welcome development. However, we must not be driven by India. Talks for the sake of talks cannot be open-ended. Ho-hum diplomacy will take us nowhere. It is time to think smartly and act coherently.

The writer is a former high commissioner of Pakistan to India.

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