So far so good
But will Indo-Pak dialogue survive the profound changes unfolding in the region
POINT OF VIEW BY RIYAZ AHMAD
First time after Mumbai attacks, India and Pakistan have discussed Kashmir. Foreign secretary level talks that ended in Islamabad last week reviewed the Confidence Building Measures and resolved to take the discussion forward. Even though story seems familiar what was unusual was the matter-of-fact approach the two countries brought to the talks on Kashmir, the most dramatic of the South Asian tensions which invokes history, polarizes political opinion and provokes hostile rhetoric at the drop of hat.
Does this indicate a new found confidence in the two neighbours to discuss this issue? Or is it that the two countries are once again going through the motions? This is still early days for such a conclusion. However, what is beyond any doubt is that the current dialogue is precariously poised on a trade-off between terror and Kashmir. New Delhi has dangled discussion on Kashmir as a concession for Pakistan’s willingness to talk about action against Mumbai attackers. A slight disturbance in this trade-off runs the risk of unraveling the process, pushing the two countries into another bout of acrimony.
With Islamabad the situation is even more complicated. Its relationship with the militant groups has transformed to an extent that unlike in the past the country is hardly in a position to leverage it for the progress on Kashmir. In a post-Osama and post Iliyas Kashmiri period, the situation looks dramatically different. The old paradigm which pitted violent resistance in Kashmir against New Delhi’s intransigence on the state no longer operates and is also not an effective strategy to draw the US attention towards a solution. Moreover, the west has also exhibited a degree of shyness about acknowledging the street protests in Valley over the past three years. This geo-political environment has temporarily removed the factors that could catalyze the search for solution to Kashmir.
There is another important factor that is likely to impinge on the progress of dialogue. That is, the two governments have just two years to bring the dialogue to a successful culmination. In 2013, the two countries are scheduled to hold the next parliamentary election which in all probability will bring new parties or coalitions to power. More often than not it means restarting the dialogue all over again. A BJP here and PML-N there though not bereft of promise is likely to change the dynamics underlying the dialogue process. What looks doubtful is the repeat of Vajpayee-Nawaz chemistry and the Lahore spirit.
However the biggest imponderable for the dialogue is the war in Afghanistan. More so, at a time when president Obama has announced the exit of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the year end and firmly demonstrated US intention to pull out completely by 2014 end. The change that this would usher in would profoundly recast the region which in turn is also likely to alter the geo-political outlook of India and Pakistan. With Islamabad no longer feeling hemmed in on its western frontier, and reassured by the encouragement from the resurgent China, the country could once again afford to focus on Kashmir.
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.
But three years down the line, with US possibly out of Afghanistan, situation can change dramatically. The consequent fight over the control of Afghanistan, primarily between India and Pakistan, would only prolong the regional great game which could once again spill over into Kashmir.
Of course, things can work out differently with India and Pakistan finding a reason to work together. And this is what makes the current dialogue so important. In the two years that the two countries are going to another election, there is enough space in which to take dialogue forward. For it gives them ample time not only for several rounds of dialogue but also a scope to set in motion a process of accommodation and adjustment on the pending disputes and see these through to the resolution. More so, when there has already been a lot of diplomatic work on these issues which can be built upon to work out a durable and meaningful settlement.
A solution to Kashmir should be one of the chief goals of the new engagement. For more than anything else, it is this outcome that has the potential to end the perennial atmosphere of hostility between India and Pakistan and usher in peace and get them to cooperate on the issues of regional stability which includes a peaceful Kabul.
Lastupdate on : Tue, 28 Jun 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 28 Jun 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 29 Jun 2011 00:00:00 IST
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