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Opinion

November 18, 2015

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A ‘knotty’ love affair

Despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s unrelenting overtures for peace between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear-armed neighbours remain inextricably tied together in a straitjacket with each mostly looking in the opposite direction while ranting at each other.
They just cannot unbuckle themselves from this traditionally ‘knotty’ love affair, and are today the only two countries in the world that are not tired of fighting wars and which remain perennially locked in a confrontational mode. At times, they are not even on speaking terms with each other – as is the case now.
Both countries need to come out of this bizarre mode and give peace a real chance. It was in this backdrop that recently a two-day conference on India-Pakistan relations was organised in Karachi under the auspices of the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations (KFCR), a local non-governmental entity established by prominent personalities from the civil society with the objective of promoting peace and development in the region. It was a worthwhile effort in terms of the large attendance, participation and substantive discussion at the conference.
In particular, the presence of three eminent participants from India, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a diplomat-turned politician and now a Congress MP, Sudheendra Kulkarni, a BJP politician and Mumbai-based prominent journalist, and Salman Haider, a former Indian foreign secretary who was my counterpart in negotiating the India-Pakistan peace process in 1997, now familiarly known as the Composite Dialogue. The event served its purpose in at least identifying one reality: India-Pakistan problems are real and will not evaporate simply by blowing out the flames. The two countries will have to go beneath the fire to extinguish it at its source.
Salman Haider’s presence at the event provided us a welcome opportunity to jointly review where our two countries stand today after the India-Pakistan ‘peace process’ that he and I under our

respective leaderships had initiated on June 23, 1997. I know when we were negotiating normalisation of India-Pakistan relations, we had no illusions. The Composite Dialogue that we finally agreed to was never meant to be an event. It was conceived as a process with a carefully structured framework to address the whole gambit of India-Pakistan relations.
That was the first time in their 50-year history that the two countries had agreed in black and white on pursuing a composite peace process to settle their outstanding issues, including the Kashmir issue. The period from 1997 to 1999 saw significant developments culminating into the historic Lahore Summit in February 1999, which indeed was a high watermark in India-Pakistan relations. In the Lahore Declaration, the two countries recognised that an environment of peace and security was in their supreme national interest and decided to intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir through an accelerated process of their ‘composite dialogue’.
But the peace process initiated at Lahore was soon interrupted when the two countries faced the Kargil crisis. Even after Kargil, the region remained under dark war clouds with India and Pakistan standing almost at the brink of yet another conflict over Kashmir. The tragic events of 9/11 should have served as a catalyst to bring the two nations together in the fight against terrorism. We, however, saw terrorism becoming an issue itself with heightening India-Pakistan tensions along the Line of Control. The region was dragged into a confrontational mode that served no one’s interests, not even India’s.
Intense diplomatic pressure by the US and other G-8 countries averted what could have been a catastrophic clash between the two nuclear states. The same powers then used their influence in bringing the two countries back to negotiating table. The stalled India-Pakistan dialogue was resumed in January 2004 on the basis of the January 6, 2004 Islamabad Joint Statement in which we gave a solemn undertaking not to allow our territory for any cross-border terrorist activity in future. Whether we meant it or not, India exploited it as Pakistan’s implicit acceptance of India’s allegations of our involvement in cross-border activities.
No wonder then that since 2006 the India-Pakistan dialogue process has remained deadlocked for one reason or another. And that’s where we are stuck today. While the India-Pakistan thaw is nowhere in sight, people in both countries continue to suffer as a result of mounting tensions and unabated conflict and poverty.
Nawaz Sharif’s passion for peace with India is well-known. His track record shows that he genuinely wants the two countries to live like good neighbours by resolving their long-outstanding disputes and devoting their energies and resources to the socio-economic wellbeing of their people. This is also what the people on both sides of the border want.
This region cannot afford to remain perennially locked in abject poverty and backwardness. It needs peace through mutual restraint and statesmanship. Speaking of peace, there can be no two opinions on the need for durable peace between India and Pakistan – the only two nuclear-armed neighbours with a legacy of outstanding disputes and a history of conflict. By now, it should be clear to both sides that there will be no military solution to their problems. Their problems are real and will not disappear or work out on their own as some people on both sides of the border have lately started believing.
They must opt for a peaceful settlement of their disputes through dialogue and not the perpetuation of disputes. This brings us to the centrality of the Kashmir issue, which lies at the core of all India-Pakistan problems and which invokes intense feelings in the peoples of Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris.
One thing is clear: beyond UN resolutions, there is no compact formula or tailor-made solution available to address the Kashmir issue. But if India and Pakistan join together in close consultation with the Kashmiri people, they could explore a mutually acceptable common ground for a genuine Kashmir solution beyond status quo or declared positions.
The success of this process will depend entirely on the freshness of political approach with which the leadership in both countries will be ready to return to their stalled dialogue making it a constructive and result-focused engagement. As co-authors of this process, Salman Haider and I remain sanguine that despite the cul de sac in which India and Pakistan currently find themselves, the immediate resumption of the Composite Dialogue with sincerity of purpose offers them the only way forward. Surely, there will be no quick fixes. A long drawn-out process is inevitable.
To make this process sustainable, both countries will have to develop a clearer framework of principles to be able to organise their future relations and explore mutually acceptable peaceful solutions to their problems. Even the issue of terrorism can be addressed as a common threat through their existing dialogue mechanism. It is already on their agenda with a mutually agreed joint counter-terrorism mechanism since the Havana Summit in 2006. To start with, India must revisit its present ‘no-talk’ policy and resume what our friend Mani Shankar Aiyar described as ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible’ dialogue.
The ball now is clearly in Prime Minister Modi’s court. He must remember what he said at the last Saarc Summit in Kathmandu. Speaking from a prepared text in English, Modi suddenly broke into Hindi: “Hum paas paas hain par saath saath nahin. Saath saath honey se taqat kai guna barh jaati hai” (We are neighbours but we are not together. By staying together, our strength can increase manifold).” If he is a man of vision, he should rise above his known limitations and take practical steps that promote peace and cooperation and not conflict and confrontation in this region.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.
Email: [email protected]hoo.com

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