Asia
Commentary

India-Pakistan Dialogue Set to Resume: Another False Start?

in Program

By Shireen Havewala – The
Foreign Ministers of India
and Pakistan will meet on
July 15 in Islamabad
to resume the dialogue suspended after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.  Will this meeting finally mark the beginning
of a new way forward or constitute another false start on the road to
normalizing relations?

India and Pakistan have
previously needed each other as adversaries. 
Now they need each other to realize their ambitions. Pakistan can’t hope to be a dynamic and stable
force without resolving its problems at home and with India. India
can’t sustain a high rate of growth in the long run without a more cooperative
relationship with its neighbors. A cooperative relationship could create constituencies
for peace in the region, deepen economic integration, and ultimately provide a
smooth platform for both countries to realize their ambitions.

The Composite Peace Dialogue, initiated in early 2004
by India and Pakistan, was a renewed process of normalization after years of confrontation
over Kashmir which could have had catastrophic consequences. On November 26th,
2009, India suffered a major terrorist attack in its financial capital, Mumbai,
resulting in the death of 172 people. After the attacks, the government was
forced for domestic political reasons to suspend the composite dialogue until
Pakistan made strong and consistent efforts to tackle the problem of terrorism.

It
was only this April during the 16th annual SAARC summit that the
premiers of India and Pakistan were urged to come to the table and put an end
to the volatile relationship between their two countries. At the summit, Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Prime Minister Yusuf
Raza Gilani agreed to resume the bi-lateral negotiations. Although this might
be seen as a significant step and a decisive moment, it doesn’t solve the problem
of terrorism faced by India or propose a foolproof way of doing so.

Over
the last ten years, India
and Pakistan
have shown a willingness to meet and work on the issues that divide them. But
their efforts have been halting and partial. While there has been consensus on
issues related to reducing the risk of accidents involving nuclear weapons,
India and Pakistan are at odds over bomb explosions in other major cities of India
and over the sharing of water from rivers which pass through both countries. The
water dispute is a festering concern with the potential to escalate into a war.

This
on-again, off-again dialogue has been repeatedly interrupted by terrorist
attacks which push the whole process back to its starting point. This has the
effect of further aggravating the disinterest and disaffection of both the
Indian and Pakistani people with the dialogue. To break this cycle, both
countries should consider moving beyond isolated political negotiations. They
should incorporate an additional track into the dialogue, for instance,
including non-governmental (Track 2) diplomacy to break down prejudices and
biases that have been accepted for many years. The Indians are concerned with Pakistan’s
territory being a sanctuary for terrorists. For Pakistan,
India’s role in Kashmir and Afghanistan is
seen as being evidence of an expansionist agenda. A Track 2 dialogue can help
in breaking these psychological barriers. This
expanded dialogue might include, for example, youth exchange programs, easing
visa restrictions, promoting literary and musical exchanges, developing trade
across borders, and other such measures. These steps would help broaden public
awareness about the costs of the conflict and provide more attention to the
potential benefits of a solution.

A
Track 2 dialogue is essential because peace deals or agreements signed may be
inadequate in a hostile environment. Hence, the Track 2 initiative would not
undermine the importance of political dialogue but rather contribute to the
creation of a political environment more conducive to political negotiations
and agreements.

In
the past, successful Track 2 initiatives between India and Pakistan such as the
Neemrana dialogue have included diplomats, former military personnel, NGO representatives,
members of the news media, and academics from the two countries. Because of
their experience in different aspects of public policy, the participants have
relationships and networks in the government and are able to exercise
significant influence. Also, these forums are well-informed because of the high
level of expertise and experience that the members bring to the group.

It
is true that the final decisions dealing with specific disagreements will be
taken at the political level but it is important to recognize that without developing
an environment conducive to positive outcomes, these decisions may not have a
significant impact. The India-Pakistan conflict is not between few officials
but between two entire countries. Interactions between civilians are required
as part of the solution to the conflict.

Also,
Indian security agencies have the characteristic of being reactive and not
preventive in their approach. Pakistani security agencies seem more preventive
but are entangled in political combat with other state institutions. For the
combination of Track 2 diplomacy and official political dialogue to work
successfully, India and Pakistan need to make progress in internal cooperation
and security to have a favorable environment to proceed with political
negotiation.

There
is a lot of work to be done to improve security in the South Asian region. As
the region’s biggest powers, India and Pakistan have a responsibility to create
conditions for a peace that are not only meaningful but also lasting. An
effective combination of political dialogue and Track 2 diplomacy could be a
creative way to ensure stability in the region. As the two players indispensable to regional
security, the India-Pakistan relationship can demand no less.

 

Photo Credit: Government of India: Press Information Bureau:
Photo no. CNR – 31461: http://www.pib.nic.in/release/phsmall.asp?phid=28391

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