MAYBE there is something about the rarefied atmosphere of Washington that brings out the oddest in our chaps visiting that metropolis. Several years back, our then Foreign Minister Kasuri, then in Washington, had averred that “there has been significant improvement in atmospherics between India and Pakistan as a result of the peace process” and that “now the two countries need to move to dispute resolution, especially the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir”. One’s mind – addled as it is what with the ups and downs of composite or any other diplomacy – has been at a complete loss as to what to make of it. What is more, this same Foreign Minister, not too long earlier, had informed the credulous nation that agreements on more than one contentious issue were round the corner! Apparently, over the years we have been deluding ourselves on improvements in atmospherics.
Around the same epoch, a parallel revelatory (and obviously inspired) news item related to the so-called back-channel diplomacy indulged in by the two sides. The news item, in question, conveyed the glad tidings that “The two sides underlined the need to accelerate the process as part of the composite dialogue”. The item also disclosed that the two sides “made a note (sic) of the fact that there has been a remarkable de-escalation of hostilities between the two countries as a result of the formal and back-stage diplomacy”.
All that the above stated points to is the imperative need to go back to the drawing board! The reader would be justified in questioning the advisability of harking back to the dead and past. In defense of this effort, it may be averred that we have long made a habit of living in the ‘realm of make-believe’, merely to justify our ‘merry-go-rounds’. Even in the recent past several of our ‘Track Two’ stalwarts have been using similar tactics in an effort to justify to their ‘principals’ their expense-paid jaunts to exotic locations. Try as one might, one fails to see any semblance of light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, there are those who doubt that the tunnel in question has an opening worth the name at the far end. The optimism expressed by our NGO-funded ‘Track Two’ lot about a possible move to dispute resolution would have made sense had it come several years earlier. At this point in time it is but laughable.
As for what is increasingly looking like a lock-jam in the ‘composite dialogue’ (or comprehensive talks, as some like to put it), it looks like it is here to stay, the lock-jam that is! These parleys hardly gave even a glimmer of hope of any forward movement. Surprisingly, any movement recorded has been neither forward nor backward but indeed sideways; rather like the hermit crabs on the beach. The only difference is that the crab at least has a destination in mind, while our negotiators apparently do not. The lock-jam can be broken if – and only if – the two governments (and establishments) resolve to show the necessary political will. The Indian side has been consistent in that it has at no time shown the propensity to work towards a mutually acceptable denouement. As for back-channel diplomacy, one had so far reserved comment for the very simple reason that those engaged in secret negotiations deserve to get as long a rope as they ask for. One is constrained to add, within parentheses though, that this is by no means the only time that the two countries indulged in the luxury of back-channel diplomacy of this nature. Administrations in the past, recent and not too recent, let drop hints that such secret negotiations were in the pipeline. But at no time has the ‘back-channel’ diplomacy raise expectations to any level.
The peace wagon, it would appear, has developed a snag. And not surprisingly! In order to get it moving again, it would be necessary to not just oil the rusty machinery but also to identify the flawed parts and get rid of them. It would also be advisable to pinpoint what has gone wrong with the process and then to alter course where found necessary. One incongruity that readily comes to mind is the fact that the two sides have for too long chosen to operate in what may be termed as the ‘problem-management mode’. That amounts to no more than marking time. This may work in the beginning of the exercise but to prolong it beyond a certain limit can only result in avoidable complications. Where, then, do the two parties go from here?
To begin with, all that is required to set the ball rolling is a tacit agreement on just one issue, however minor. Once an auspicious beginning has been made, other developments are bound to follow. The two sides will thenceforth have to discard the mantel of the past and move ahead. A major hurdle that stands in the way of peace is India’s mantra about “recognition of ground realities”. This is a negative approach that defeats the very purpose of a successful dialogue, since it calls for acceptance of the status quo and discourages innovation. If it is status quo that is to be aimed at, then substantive dialogue loses its very raison d’etre. This both Pakistan and India can hardly afford given that the objective is to turn a new leaf and achieve durable and irreversible peace. To aim for anything less than that would be akin to chasing a mirage.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.