Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yet Another Round of Platitudes


Kanwal Sibal
Member Advisory Board, VIF


For those cynical about the dialogue process with Pakistan, the lack of substance in the joint statement issued after the latest round of Foreign Secretary level talks (July 4-5) confirms our neighbour’s unwillingness to fundamentally revise its thinking on core bilateral differences.

For those who remain hopeful about normalising relations with Pakistan despite decades of bitter experience, the platitudinous joint statement offers no peg on which to hang their optimism.
The talks were held in the same “frank and constructive atmosphere” prevailing in all past encounters, without, however, yielding much result. While we are committed to a “dialogue process”, the Pakistanis insist it should be “purposeful and result-oriented”- which, decoded, means India should make concessions. We accommodate Pakistan’s preferred but, in effect, harmless phraseology.

The issue of Peace and Security, including CBMs, has been discussed in the same “comprehensive manner” as before, but without comprehensive outcomes. Both sides have “emphasized the need to promote greater trust and mutual understanding through constructive dialogue”, repeating piously the hope expressed many times earlier. This trust and understanding refuses to materialize despite repeated “constructive” dialogues.

The issue of Nuclear and Conventional CBMs is complicated because India attaches importance to nuclear CBMs while Pakistan favours conventional CBMs. Pakistan continues to expand its nuclear arsenal and delivery capability with single-minded determination, even in a situation of mounting internal instability and financial stringency. It seeks to introduce tactical nuclear weapons as a counter to India’s “Cold Start” doctrine which it has studiously hyped.

Whether it talks of a conventional balance of forces or a strategic balance after both countries became nuclear, Pakistan omits from the equation India’s need to factor in the superior Chinese nuclear and conventional capability it must contend with. Pakistan, as China’s closest strategic partner, naturally refuses to take cognizance of this compulsion in India’s defence preparedness.

India’s interest in Nuclear CBMs is to make Pakistan accept a no-first-use agreement in order to raise Pakistan’s low threshold of nuclear weapon use. Pakistan, which has employed state terrorism against India under cover of its nuclear capability, is hardly likely to agree to a no-first use agreement until it decides to genuinely bury the hatchet with India. In that case India’s larger conventional strength, commensurate with its geographical size, large coast line and China’s menace, would pose no threat to it.

The source of conflict between India and Pakistan, it needs remembering, is its territorial claims on India and the use of jihadi terrorism to back them, and not any terror-backed Indian claims, territorial, water-related or religious on Pakistan.

On the issue of terrorism we have eschewed, to our credit, the absurd formulation conceded earlier that both countries are victims of terrorism, elevating Pakistan thus from a perpetrator of terrorism against us to a partner in arms against it.

Some equivalence has been conceded though in the formulation that both countries “affirmed the strong commitment...to fight and eliminate terrorism in an effective and comprehensive manner so as eliminate the scourge in all its forms and manifestations”, but having lost ground massively earlier it is not possible now to retrieve it diplomatically. Pakistan’s prevarications on the Mumbai terror attack, its give-me-more-and-more-evidence-which-I-will-ignore approach, its unwillingness to act against Hafiz Saeed and suppress the jihadi groups, and dismissal of Abu Jundal’s testimony as an “insinuation” hardly supports the above affirmation.

The formulation on Jammu and Kashmir is neutrally worded, with both sides prepared to “continue discussions in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences”. Given Pakistan’s claims about the centrality of the Kashmir issue and its reversion to its traditional position of resolving it on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, as confirmed in its parliamentary resolution earlier this year, this exercise of “narrowing differences and building convergences” is more an effort at verbal crafting than any serious political commitment.

Unsurprisingly, the Pakistani Prime Minster has, after the talks, promptly re-affirmed Pakistan’s full support for the Kashmiri cause till the UN resolutions are implemented.

The emphasis on cross LOC CBMs reflects our desire to win over public sentiment in the valley and Pakistan’s hope that these will eventually erode India’s sovereignty and give it a say in J&K affairs.
Pakistan, had in any case, made up for the tempered J&K formulation in the joint statement by its Foreign Secretary repeating the affront his Foreign Minister administered to us when he, like her, met the separatist Kashmiri leaders even before he held official discussions. Our displeasure conveyed to her then, which she dismissed with hauteur, has gone unheeded.

It is unacceptable that even Pakistani bureaucrats should be meeting Indian separatists in India’s capital, but we cannot now easily extricate ourselves from the web of our past mistakes. A right riposte would be to openly meet dissidents from J&K’s Northern Areas either in India or in third countries as Pakistan will not allow us to meet them in Islamabad.

The intention to promote more people to people, media and sports contacts, parliamentary exchanges etc is to be welcomed, even if the delay in signing the finalized revised bilateral Visa Agreement which would facilitate this remains unexplained.

The joint statement reflects the stalemate in ties- neither conspicuously improving nor notably deteriorating. Its ritual phraseology gives the text length but not any depth. Just as well, as we clutch at straws of peace with Pakistan as if we are drowning and end in making one-sided concessions to make the dialogue look meaningful. We should wait for drowning Pakistan to clutch at opportunities of peace with India.

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