Indo-Pak: importance of dialogue

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has made some interesting observations in an interview with an Indian news channel. Ms Rao was very realistic in her approach vis-à-vis the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan. She said that the process is beneficial for both countries. “I do not think you can seek to create a profit and loss statement when it comes to relations between India and Pakistan in the current context…given the shared geography and the fact that there are enormous complexities in the relationship and there are problems to be resolved, it makes sense to engage, it makes sense to resume the dialogue, it makes sense to discuss the complex issues,” said Ms Rao. She also acknowledged that Pakistan’s attitude towards tackling terrorism has “altered”, which is a “concrete” development that India should take note of.

Terrorism is no respecter of borders, religion or anything else. Even though Pakistan’s military establishment is still pursuing its policy of giving covert and overt support to some terrorist networks operating from our soil, the contradiction at the heart of this policy is yielding its negative fruits by now. A lot of questions are being raised in Pakistan about the dividends of this policy. A struggle is on for the soul of Pakistan and how it turns out will not just have a profound effect on our country but the region, especially India. We have now arrived at a juncture where our own jihadi creatures, which we created, nurtured and supported, have diverging interests from that of the Pakistani state. The local Taliban in connivance with the jihadi networks have attacked and continue to attack our security forces and citizens frequently. The military top brass now has to take a resolute decision to do away with proxies.

On the other hand, realism is now setting in within India on having a dialogue with Pakistan on various issues. The dialogue process was suspended following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. While the anger that swept through India after 26/11 is understandable, statecraft cannot be run on emotionalism; very often it has to go against emotion. Since war is not an option between two nuclear states, engagement is the only viable way to tackle longstanding issues. Setbacks and spoilers will of course make their presence felt, given the intractability and long history of conflict between the two countries, but they should not be allowed to dictate the agenda between India and Pakistan. The Indian government has come round to the conclusion that disengagement was not the wisest policy after 26/11 and over time it delivered diminishing returns. Granted that Pakistan has not made much headway as far as the Mumbai attacks’ perpetrators are concerned but closure to 26/11 cannot be brought about without engaging with Pakistan. The wider question of peace – conflict, quarrels and differences notwithstanding – can only come about through dialogue.

On another note, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent statement on Kashmir was somewhat surprising. Dr Singh expressed the hope that Pakistan “will leave Kashmir alone” because “they have their own share of internal problems”. This statement shows that even though the argument for re-engagement has won the day within the Indian government, there is domestic pressure on the UPA government to appear more patriotic than the Opposition. Dr Singh’s statement should not affect the peace process because the cost and damage that has been inflicted on the people of both countries is far more serious and can only be ended through a peaceful resolution. If tensions between India and Pakistan remain high, there can be unthinkable consequences. The logic of history is impelling both sides, reluctantly or otherwise, back to the negotiation table.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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