Despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s unrelenting overtures for peace between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear-armed neighbours remain inextricably tied together in a straight jacket with each mostly looking in the opposite direction while crying hoarse at each other. They just cannot unbuckle themselves in this traditionally “knotty” love affair, and are today the only two countries in the world which are not tired of fighting wars and which remain perennially locked in a confrontational mode. At times, they are not even on speaking terms with each other as is the case now.
Both Pakistan and India need to come out of this bizarre mode and give peace a real chance. It was in this backdrop that recently a two-day conference on India-Pakistan relations was organized in Karachi under the auspices of Karachi Council on Foreign Relations (KFCR), a local non-governmental entity established by prominent personalities from diverse professional segments of our civil society with the objective of promoting peace and development in the region. It was a worthwhile effort in terms of large attendance, distinguished participation and substantive discussion.
In particular, the presence of three eminent participants from India, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a diplomat-turned politician now a Congress MP, Sudheendra Kulkarni, a BJP politician and Mumbai-based prominent journalist, and Salman Haider, a former Indian Foreign Minister who was my counterpart in negotiating the India-Pakistan peace process in 1997, now familiarly known as Composite Dialogue. The event served its purpose in at least identifying one reality. India-Pakistan problems are real and will not evaporate simply by blowing out the flames. The two countries will have to go beneath the fire to extinguish it at its source.
Salman Haider’s presence at the event provided us a welcome opportunity to jointly review where our two countries stood today after the India-Pakistan “peace process” that he and I under instructions from our respective leadership had initiated on June 23, 1997. I know when we were negotiating normalization of India-Pakistan relations, we had no illusions. The Composite Dialogue that we finally agreed was never meant to be an event. It was conceived as a process with carefully structured framework to address the whole gambit of India-Pakistan relations. This indeed was the first time in their 50-year history that the two countries agreed in black and white on pursuing a proper peace process to settle their outstanding issues, including the Kashmir issue.
Earlier, they had made several attempts with no result whatsoever. In the 50s, as a follow-up to the UN Security Council resolutions, UN Special Representative Sir Owen Dixon tried to negotiate a settlement on the basis of his “partial plebiscite and partition” plan. In the early 60s, Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks were held without any significant headway. The 1972 Shimla Agreement with a painful backdrop created its own dynamics which India always used to assert its own version of “bilateralism” in its relations with Pakistan. In the 80s, President General Ziaul Haq gave a fair chance to the Indian approach of “bilateralism and normalization first.” But his visits to Delhi and cricket diplomacy, and subsequently Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Islamabad failed to produce any results.
In the 90s, the Kashmir resistance added a new dimension to the struggle there and brought sharper international focus on this issue especially in the context of human rights situation and the enormous cost of the struggle in human life and limb. During 1990-1994, seven rounds of foreign secretary level talks remained inconclusive. In March 1997, the talks were again resumed at foreign secretary level. With full political support and blessing from our respective leadership, Salman Haider and I were able to negotiate the landmark agreement on Composite Dialogue. The period from 1997 to 1999 saw significant developments culminating into the historic Lahore Summit in February 1999, which indeed was a high watermark in India-Pakistan relations.
In Lahore Declaration, the two countries recognized that an environment of peace and security was in their supreme national interest and decided to intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir through an accelerated process of their “composite dialogue.” But the peace process initiated at Lahore was soon interrupted when the two countries faced the Kargil crisis. Even after Kargil, the region remained under dark war clouds with India and Pakistan standing almost at the brink of yet another conflict over Kashmir. The tragic events of 9/11 should have served as a catalyst to bring the two nations together in the fight against terrorism.
We, however, saw terrorism becoming an issue itself with heightening India-Pakistan tensions along the Line of Control. The region was dragged into a confrontational mode that served no one’s interests, not even India’s. Intense diplomatic pressure by the US and other G-8 countries averted what could have been a catastrophic clash between the two nuclear states. The same powers then used their influence in bringing the two countries back to negotiating table. The stalled India-Pakistan dialogue was resumed in January 2004 on the basis of “6 January 2004 Islamabad Joint Statement” in which we gave a solemn undertaking not to allow our territory for any cross-border terrorist activity in future.
Whether we meant it or not, India exploited it as our implicit acceptance of India’s allegations of Pakistan’s involvement in alleged cross-border activities. It spared no opportunity to implicate Pakistan on every act of terrorism on its soil. Despite repeated and at times comical claims of “forward movement” on both sides during Musharraf’s period, the dialogue process remained devoid of seriousness of purpose, and did not move beyond rhetoric and mutual tactical posturing. No wonder, since 2006, India-Pakistan dialogue process has remained deadlocked. And that’s where we are stuck today. While India-Pakistan thaw is nowhere in sight, people in both countries continue to suffer as a result of mounting tensions and unabated conflict and poverty.
Nawaz Sharif’s passion for peace with India is well-known. His track record shows that he genuinely wants the two countries to live like good-neighbours by resolving their long-outstanding disputes and devoting their energies and resources to the socio-economic wellbeing of their people. This is also what the people on both sides of the border want. They have suffered for too long and their region cannot afford to remain perennially locked in abject poverty and backwardness. It needs peace through mutual restraint and statesmanship. Speaking of peace, there can be no two opinions on the need for durable peace between India and Pakistan – the only two nuclear-armed neighbours with a legacy of outstanding disputes and a history of conflictual standoffs.
By now, it should be clear to both sides that there will be no military solution to their problems. Their problems are real and will not disappear or work out on their own as some people on both sides of the border have lately started believing. They must opt for peaceful settlement of their disputes through dialogue and constructive engagement as envisaged in the Composite Dialogue. As co-authors of this process, Salman Haider and I remain sanguine that despite the cul de sac in which India and Pakistan currently find themselves, the immediate resumption of Composite Dialogue with sincerity of purpose offers them the only way forward. Surely, there will be no quick fixes and a long drawn-out process is be inevitable.
To make this process sustainable, both countries will have to develop a clearer framework of principles to be able to organize their future relations and explore mutually acceptable peaceful solutions to their problems. Even the issue of terrorism can be addressed as a common threat through their existing dialogue mechanism. To start with, India must revisit its present ‘no-talk’ policy and resume what our friend Mani Shankar Aiyar described ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible’ dialogue. The ball now is clearly in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s court. He must remember what he said at the last Saarc Summit in Kathmandu.
Speaking from a prepared text in English, Modi suddenly broke into Hindi: “Hum paas paas hain par saath saath nahin. Saath saath honey se taqat kai guna barh jaati hai” (We are neighbours but we are not together. By staying together, our strength can increase manifold).” If he is a man of vision, he should rise above his known limitations and take practical steps that promote peace and cooperation, not conflict and confrontation, in this region.