Talking the talk
The new engagement between India and Pakistan is premised on the factors that are beyond the control of either country.
POINT OF VIEW BY RIYAZ AHMAD
After several false starts, dialogue between India and Pakistan is back on track. It has now been left to the foreign ministers of the two countries to work out modalities for the renewed engagement. And despite the absence of its by now celebrated rubric of Composite Dialogue, the future contact will discuss all issues of concern between the two countries.
The effort has been to project the scope of talks as both restricted and open-ended in response to the domestic compulsions of each country. At the same time, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gillani have been able to keep the expectations to the minimum. And so far, the effort has been quite successful. However, the challenge for the two leaders is now to carry the process forward and protect it from the usual treacherous turns in their relationship. And most of all from another sensational attack on Indian soil originating from Pakistan.
With so many odds stacked against it, the latest shot at the dialogue, therefore, appears doomed from the word go. For the exercise is premised on the factors that are beyond the control of the either country. In a sense, the present thaw is taking place in the most uninspiring political environment. This is why Singh-Gillani meet in Thimpu, despite contrary to expectations has failed to spring a surprise. It may have overshadowed the SAARC summit, but it has not generated interest beyond a certain point. And in less than a week, this supposedly grand new start in the South Asia’s thorniest bilateral relationship is off the television and the news and the editorial pages of the newspapers.
There are two larger reasons for this. One, the growing sense of fatigue that more the Indo Pak relations change, more they remain the same. Second, it does appear now that the Indo-Pak relations have been left behind by the ongoing paradigm shift in the South Asia. The region is in the throes of the far bigger historical changes with India, together with China becoming a conspicuous factor in the global geo-politics. This in India has bred a certain snobbish distaste for the relations with Pakistan which are seen as tying the country down to the past and undercutting its global ambitions. Besides, the bilateral dialogue because it notionally levels up the two countries in global perception, is also seen as disrespectful to New Delhi’s rising global profile. The India, it is argued, is fast acquiring an economic and political clout that not only gives it an independent leverage in the global affairs but also puts it in a league far above that of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s current advantage, on the other hand, is seen to be of a temporary strategic nature: its utility for the west in the prosecution of war against terror. In past and even now, Islamabad has tried to offset its shortcomings by the two-pronged strategy of allying with US and China and pursuing an elusive strategic depth in Afghanistan. This existential paradigm for Pakistan continues unchanged while New Delhi is evolving structures and policies for a broader global remit.
While this might seem to reduce Pakistan’s standing in India’s new calculations, this in no way lessens the challenge and the necessity of putting the relations with Islamabad in order. Relations with Pakistan go beyond their temporal dimensions, their far bigger value is in their holding a key for the salvation of the subcontinent, in repairing the lingering ideological and political faultlines that are a recurring source of bitterness and bloodshed. It is also about addressing the troubled psychological baggage of the subcontinent with its roots in partition that keeps the two countries in a perpetual state of suspicion and mistrust.
But does the new low-key start has in it the necessary elements and the facilitating environment that can develop into a grand all-encompassing reconciliation. So far, the exercise seems a sequel to the old predictable pattern that unfolds without a defined meaningful purpose and ends without a reason. Will it be any different this time? Probably no. The road ahead is laid with the same threats that have dogged the past initiatives. The dialogue is subject to the public opinion in both countries, vulnerable to a terror strike and to the timely or untimely government changes. Besides, this time, there is a fourth factor too: the larger geo-politics of the region with the war in Afghanistan at its core. The unfolding situation in Kabul, where the Taliban are now being considered as a part of the political solution, has suddenly reduced India’s capacity to influence the outcome in the war-torn country. Accordingly, Pakistan is suddenly in a greater position of leverage. The challenge before the two countries now is not only to engage on the issues dividing them but also to bring their divergent policies and positions on Afghanistan in line.
The exit of US from the country, if it happens, can usher in a tectonic shift in regional order which will also substantially change the way, India and Pakistan currently relate to each other. Pakistan would want a pro-Islamabad regime in Kabul to achieve its goal of strategic depth as a cushion against India. India, on the other hand, would play for a pro-New Delhi government to deny Pakistan this advantage. This is a scenario that can have potentially dangerous consequences if the two countries fail to align their divergent interests through this fateful transition. More so, with a resurgent China looming overarchingly on the affairs of the subcontinent. Will the new dialogue also address the divergence on Afghanistan? It looks highly unlikely as Afghanistan falls outside the ambit of their bilateral concerns. But yes, a perceptible amount of progress on the regular issues, particularly Kashmir, can go a long way to help the two countries atleast create a degree of mutual understanding on Kabul.
Looking at the larger picture, the dialogue is not an entirely lost case, after all. There is atleast one powerful factor that generates hope for its success. And that is its revival at a time when the governments in New Delhi and Islamabad have adequate time at their disposal to take the process forward. With more than three years of their terms left, there is ample scope to discuss the issues, reconcile the difference and formulate an agreement. More so, when there is already a huge body of diplomatic work to draw on. The big moot point, however, is if the dialogue itself will hold through the period.
Lastupdate on : Tue, 4 May 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 4 May 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 5 May 2010 00:00:00 IST
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