Historically speaking, Pak-India bilateral relations have predictably been unpredictable. The more both countries seem to make headway the more pitfalls they have to contend with in trying to negotiate this fragile and volatile relationship.
While the Pakistani leaders, foreign office, media and opinion-makers showed maturity in dealing with the ensuing crisis at the LoC, their counterparts in India resorted to their usual tricks of playing to gallery. Though the composite dialogue process was not halted, which has been the usual practice when faced with spanners in the normalization works, a visible slowdown in the bilateral relations was clearly discernible. New Delhi cancelled the Secretary-level talks to discuss Wullar Barrage issue and put a stopper on making operational the new visa regime. It also ordered Pakistani hockey players to leave the Indian soil immediately.
As a reaction, Islamabad, which was all set to grant the status of Most Favoured Nation to India by December 2012 had to defer its decision.
Before leaving office near the end of tenure, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar threw light on the main highlights of the PPP-led government’s handling of foreign policy at a press conference. On her government’s policy towards India during five years in office, she had this much to say:
‘There is level of mistrust even in the Indian media. I am disappointed but would not call it a strategic failure. We have walked the talk. We can only conduct our own policy and wait for them to come to us. We need to lead domestic opinion rather than follow. Both countries have invested in improving relations so let us take away ammunition from the naysayer.’
This nicely sums up the situation.
A review of Pakistan’s India policy reveals that New Delhi has failed to make good use of extraordinary consensus among the stakeholders in the country on the need of improving relations with its eastern archrival. The following is instructive in this regard:
It was in June 1997 that the composite dialogue framework, which had eight points including Jammu & Kashmir, was launched. Pakistan made progress on composite dialogue framework conditional to the resolution of the core issue of Jammu & Kashmir, while India favoured a simultaneous progress on all issues contained in the dialogue process. Both countries stuck to their traditional stands through the following years till 9/11 happened and changed the regional and global geostrategic landscape.
As global terrorism became a major concern, India joined the bandwagon and tried to portray the indigenous freedom struggle as terrorism, allegedly aided by the safe havens located in Pakistan. The emerging international consensus against terrorism and policy shifts forced Pakistan to review its India-policy. It was for the first time in Pakistan’s history since 1947 that Islamabad backtracked from its historic stand on Kashmir during incumbency of General Pervez Musharaf.
Instead of echoing its usual mantra of the UN resolutions being the key to acceptable solution, it accepted the Indian downgrading of the Kashmir issue as bilateral one between New Delhi and Islamabad. The various formulae proposed by Musharraf reflected the country’s departure from its traditional stand much to the ire of rightist political and religious parties. The rest is history.
All along the succeeding years, India pegged dialogue with Pakistan with the latter’s progress on dismantling terrorist network, it accused Islamabad of harbouring. Each time when both countries picked up the thread where it was broken either it was in January 2004 or 2010, the leaderships of both countries made tall claims of ‘opening a new chapter’ in bilateral relations. But each time, as history goes by, one minor incident has the potential of derailing the whole process with both countries going back to their earlier positions.
Previously, this ‘coveted slot’ has been occupied by India. This is a major policy shift, which has taken years to come about starting with Islamabad’s fight against terrorism from 2001 onwards.
In failing to render this consensus into a basis for improved ties on sustainable basis, the Indian leadership has proven to be reactive, lacking depth of vision and courage to put the region on a trajectory of socioeconomic development. A lot depends on the approach of new governments, which would be voted into power in Pakistan in 2013 and in India in 2014 following parliamentary elections, as how they take up the bilateral agenda. Armed with fresh mandate, they would have the political support to begin afresh. What they need to understand is that continued and meaningful engagement is no more a luxury but a strategic need. But only time will tell whether they learn lessons from history or insist on repeating previous mistakes.