Monday October 02, 2023

Beyond bilateralism

Following the ‘ice-breaking’ Nawaz-Modi meeting in Ufa, Pakistan and India formally decided to resume the dialogue process between the two countries by issuing a joint communiqué in July this year. However, owing to the unyielding and inflexible attitude exhibited by both countries, the so-called Ufa peace initiatives have eventually collapsed

September 01, 2015
Following the ‘ice-breaking’ Nawaz-Modi meeting in Ufa, Pakistan and India formally decided to resume the dialogue process between the two countries by issuing a joint communiqué in July this year. However, owing to the unyielding and inflexible attitude exhibited by both countries, the so-called Ufa peace initiatives have eventually collapsed like a house of cards.
As usual, both countries have chosen to stick to their stated position on the Kashmir issue. Instantly rejecting the pre-conditions set by India for the proposed Pak-India NSA-level talks in New Delhi, this time Pakistan decided to call off these talks.
The recent Pak-India talks fiasco indicates certain inherent flaws, contradictions and shortcomings in the dialogue process between the two countries. There has been a long and chequered history of the unproductive dialogue process between India and Pakistan. Last year, the Indian government unilaterally cancelled the scheduled foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan without any plausible excuse when the Modi-led BJP came to power in India. India has also suspended the dialogue process after terrorist incidents in the country like the 2001 parliament attack and 2008 Mumbai attacks. In fact, it has been India that has been determining the time, manner and agenda for the bilateral talks between the two countries. It is also believed that the recent Nawaz-Modi meeting at Ufa was held at India’s initiative.
Aimed at resolving their bilateral disputes peacefully, the prime ministers of both India and Pakistan signed the historic Simla Agreement in 1972. In this agreement, both countries resolved to “put an end to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their relations and work for the promotion of a friendly and harmonious relationship and the establishment of durable peace in the sub-continent.” This agreement paved the way for a long and complex dialogue process between the two countries. There have been many

twists and turns in this dialogue process. However, there has hardly been any major breakthrough so far.
In fact, both countries have somehow failed to devise the basic modalities, modus operandi and agenda for these talks. Undoubtedly, Kashmir is the major unresolved issue between the two countries. In this context, India, being on the giving end, has always exploited this dialogue process to dilute this issue by employing various delaying tactics. Being at the receiving end, Pakistan’s approach towards the outcome of this process has been over-optimistic and rather unrealistic.
In 1997, for the first time, Pakistan and India formally evolved an efficient and systematic mechanism for negotiations in the form of the Composite Dialogue Process (CDP). It was an important milestone in the Pak-India dialogue process and set the basic modalities and a road-map for future dialogue between the two countries.
Eight issues were identified, and the level at which they were to be addressed – peace and security including confidence building measures(CBMs), Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Siachen, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, Sir Creek, economic and commercial cooperation, terrorism and drug trafficking, and promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields. Sadly, owing to a lack of required degree of resolution and commitment on the part of both countries, the CDP could not be properly initiated, and continued for a long time. Among other things, the 1999 Kargil war and the 2001 Indian parliament attack were major spoilers of this plan.
The Dual Concern Model for conflict resolution necessarily assumes that there are always two underlying dimensions to a conflict: a concern for self (assertiveness), and a concern for others (empathy). The intersection of these two dimensions ultimately leads individuals towards different styles of conflict resolutions.
The collaborative conflict style and the compromising conflict style are two positive and productive styles of conflicting resolution that can only be achieved when individuals are ready to cooperate with others by considerably retreating from their original stated positions. By seeing conflict as a creative opportunity, participators willingly invest time and resources into finding a ‘win-win’ solution.
Likewise, closely related to the so-called prisoner’s dilemma, there is said to be a negotiator’s dilemma. According to it, negotiation necessarily includes both cooperative and competitive elements. Negotiators face a dilemma in deciding whether to pursue a cooperative or a competitive strategy. If both parties cooperate they will both have ‘good’ outcomes. If one cooperates while the other competes the cooperative party will get a ‘terrible’ outcome. Therefore, in order to get mutually beneficial outcomes, both parties are supposed to observably adhere to cooperative approach instead of competitive one.
In resolving a conflict through negotiation, the intention, sincerity and seriousness on the part of the negotiating parties always make a big difference. Sadly, these elements have been missing in the dialogue process between India and Pakistan. Instead, there have been high stakes on both sides. Due to their rigid, inelastic and unyielding stances, both counties have always been remained hostage to the typical negotiator’s dilemma. It is also generally believed that the all-powerful establishments in both countries have also not been interested in seriously initiating and pursuing this bilateral process. All these factors have significantly diminished the prospects for conflict-resolution between the two countries through negotiations.
In order to get the desired results in negotiations, relations between the negotiating parties should be based on mutual respect and trust. In fact, these two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours have been quite sceptical about the sincerity of their negotiating partner. Both countries have been accusing each other of planning and sponsoring various acts of terrorism in their respective territories. At times, they have not even been on speaking terms with each other. In such a state of affairs, a meaningful and purposeful dialogue process cannot be initiated.
“Peace is not absence of conflict”, said Ronald Reagan, “it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means”. The recent Pak-India talks fiasco shows that both these countries cannot even overcome minor differences in order to come to the negotiating table to discuss and resolve their substantial unresolved issues.
The long-pursued strategy for dispute resolution based on so-called bilateralism has failed to yield any fruitful result.
The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer.