Shamshad Ahmad - Tuesday, September 04, 2012
From Print Edition
For the third consecutive year, the foreign ministers of Pakistan and India will be holding their “review” ritual, this time in Islamabad later this week. After the last two meetings, the first in Islamabad between S M Krishna and Shah Mahmood Qureshi in July 2010 and then in Delhi last year between Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar, nothing emerged except the two sides restating their known positions.
In Delhi last year, India managed to fudge the real issues by bringing an excessive media focus on Hina Rabbani Khar’s personal charm and her fashion accessories which did disappoint the people in Pakistan. The Bollywood frenzy and obsessive Twitter and YouTube coverage of the event overshadowed the outcome of her talks with her septuagenarian counterpart, who looked visibly piqued over the media’s ignoring him.
Given their history, there is no room for over-optimism. Having co-authored the process familiarly known as Composite Dialogue, I know when we negotiated and finalised this dialogue in June 1997, it was never meant to be an event. It was conceived as a process with a carefully structured framework to address the whole range of India-Pakistan issues, including Kashmir.
The process has remained hostage to India’s opportunistic mindset and the vagaries of the region’s geopolitics. We have seen that whenever the India-Pakistan peace process appeared to be making headway, some bizarre incident took place, derailing and then stalling the process. Musharraf’s reckless Kargil adventure was the first blow to the India-Pakistan peace process initiated in 1997. India exploited the global perception of the event as Pakistan-sponsored act of “intrusion” across the Kashmir Line of Control, although that country too had its own inventory of “operations.”
To start with, in order to bring Kashmiri Muslims in a negative light, Hindu pundits living peacefully and coexisting with Muslims in the Valley for ages were terrorised and forced to abandon their homes and property and shift to Hindu-dominated Jammu or to India. In March 2000, coinciding with President Clinton’s visit to our region, a massacre of Sikhs in Chattisinghpura village was stage-managed to portray Kashmiri freedom fighters as terrorists and to malign Pakistan for its alleged support to them.
India mounted a coercive and subversive campaign to bring Pakistan under pressure to give up its Kashmir stand. Successive terrorist attacks on the Kashmir State Assembly building on October 1, 2001, and on India’s Parliament building in Delhi on December 13, 2001, were engineered. Pakistan was blamed for both the incidents without any investigations or a shred of evidence. In a blatant show of brinkmanship, India moved its armed forces to its borders with Pakistan and along the Line of control in Kashmir.
Intense diplomatic pressure by the US and other G-8 countries then averted what could have been a catastrophic clash between the two nuclear-capable states. A ceasefire at the LoC in November 2003 with several CBMs, including Pakistan’s assurances of not letting its territory to be used for any terrorist activity or cross-border infiltration led to the resumption of the stalled India-Pakistan dialogue in January 2004. The January 6, 2004, Islamabad Joint Statement between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee thus became the basis for the new bilateral approach which in larger measure was pursued under pressure from Washington.
Musharraf, for self-serving reasons, not only accepted India’s allegations of Pakistan’s involvement in cross-border activities but also solemnly pledged not to allow any cross-border activity in future. He needed America’s continued support to remain in power and went beyond all limits in making unilateral gestures of flexibility on Kashmir. Under Washington’s prodding, during his last couple of years, Musharraf even made a dubious “backchannel” effort for a status-quo-based Kashmir solution. India never responded to his gestures.
In complicity with Washington, India wanted to keep Pakistan under global pressure in the context of its alleged role in militant or terrorist attacks inside India. In fact, since 2006, India has been implicating Pakistan in every act of terrorism on its soil, and has kept the dialogue process hostage to its policy of redefining the India-Pakistan issues. It blamed Pakistan for attacks first on a train in Mumbai in July 2006 then on Samjhota Express in February 2007 and then on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008.
This was also the time when the indigenous Kashmiri freedom movement was beginning to attract global sympathy and attention. Barack Obama, then in the final stages of his election campaign, understood the delicacy of the situation linking it with his own post-election challenges in Afghanistan. He publicly undertook to encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute so that Islamabad could freely cooperate with the US on Afghanistan. In his view, “the sources of Afghan instability are in Pakistan; those in turn are linked to Islamabad’s conflict with New Delhi, at the heart of which is Jammu and Kashmir.”
In November 2008, immediately after Obama’s election, curiously enough, the thinking in Washington was rocked by the Mumbai attacks shaking the very fundamentals in Obama’s Af-Pak strategy. The-then ongoing freedom movement in Kashmir and the prospect of American “activism” on Kashmir were a source of growing concern and anxiety in India. The Mumbai “terrorist attacks” created a new situation in the region, instantly shifting the global focus from both the Kashmiri struggle and Obama’s Kashmir agenda. India was the sole beneficiary of the 26/11 attacks which it used not only to stall the peace process but also to shift global focus from Kashmir by having the “K word” expunged from Obama’s Af-Pak strategy.
The US-led Afghan endgame beginning in 2010, predicated on Pakistan’s crucial role in facilitating the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, brought India back to the conference table. It is against this not very palatable backdrop that we have had foreign ministers-level meetings between India and Pakistan annually since 2010 as a pro forma exercise with no serious effort for conflict resolution. Terrorism, not Kashmir, is the main issue now. No wonder, this time in Islamabad, besides the pro forma review of the official-level talks in the preceding year, the two foreign ministers will have a litanies of complaints of sabotage and subversion to exchange.
On Kashmir, in particular, they will not go beyond the same old narrative, just reiterating their respsective positions. That is what always happens after “cordial and constructive” talks in India-Pakistan scenario which somehow is losing relevance and credibility ever since South Asia became part of the larger US-led “great game” in this part of the world.
The challenge for Islamabad and Delhi now is to move away from their mutually ruinous template and take their own destiny in their hands to be able to address their outstanding issues including Kashmir, and live at peace with each other. They owe it to themselves to overcome their bitter past and work together for a better future.
The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: email@example.com