For a meaningful dialogue

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

(This article was published in Daily The Frontier Post on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009)

After the initial storm over the Indian PM's alleged 'concession' to Pakistan in the Indian parliament seems to have receded, it is high time both the governments pondered ways and means to not only resume stalled dialogue but also work out modalities to keep it afloat. The very fact that the meeting between top chief executives of both countries took place on the sidelines of the NAM Summit instead of being a regular feature of the composite dialogue process is regrettable. The past 60 plus years of our collective history amply prove that war, being a policy solution to the intractable issues between New Delhi and Islamabad, is not an option anymore owing to the nuclear factor with massive potential destruction. Both countries ill-afford to opt for this course of action.

The establishment on both sides of the border may resort to the talk of nuclear saber-rattling but when it comes to actually 'getting involved', the very thought of it sends shudders through everyone's spine. Both Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers were bang on target during their speeches in their respective parliaments that dialogue was the only way forward to find solution to the issues and its door should remain open even during the worst of times. Since geography cannot be altered and both countries are destined to live as neighbours, why is there lack of determination to resolve the disputed issues through constructive engagement aimed at removing irritants in the way of improvement of relations? Why are millions of impoverished and poverty-stricken people being held hostage to mutual acrimony? At a time when the rest of the world is moving forward towards formation of regional groupings through economic and political integration, it is the South Asian region, which continues to remain in the backwaters. So far, the composite dialogue framework that came into existence in 1997 has lacked luster, coherence, energy and determination to make it meaningful. It has been more of a smokescreen which was put in place at the behest of Washington-led international community that has been interested in seeing normaliszation of relations between the South Asian rivals. The 'homegrown factor' has been missing in the entire scheme of things. That is why the composite dialogue framework has often come to a grinding halt at the first available test when even a single terrorist incident of small proportions has had the potential to derail it off track. It has been due to active engagement of international community that it is normally started but only to be suspended by another such incident.

In the backdrop of this situation, the consensus of both countries to delink talks from terrorism should be a welcome move in the right direction. There is a need to build structures that should help dialogue process keep moving on despite any terrorist incident. In this way both countries can defeat the nefarious designs of terrorists' whose aim, otherwise, is to bring them into antagonistic mode. Terrorism is a collective enemy of both nations, nay, of entire region. A proper response, which is formed by institutional intelligence sharing and coordinated action, is need of the hour. Until now, there has been disproportionate emphasis on the role of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) as the facilitator for the meaningful dialogue. Despite Pakistan's urging to move beyond CBMs, India has been attaching further strings in the forms of more CBMs from Pakistan. This only resulted in waste of time, dissipation of energy and caused trust deficit. CBMs are no doubt important in improving the atmospherics but things start going berserk when they become the end in themselves instead of being means towards an end. It allows anti-dialogue elements, who are in plenty on both sides, the opportunity to rear their head and start trumpeting their anti-peace mantras.

Therefore, any future engagement between India and Pakistan should attend to this problem. While the Pakistani establishment seems to have modified its strategic focus and re-evaluated threat index posed to the national security, its Indian counterpart is reluctant and is ill- prepared to follow suit. Internal terrorism and extremism have figured prominently on the security calculus of Pakistan's powerful military. It is less India centric now though New Delhi continues to worry the strategic policy makers in Islamabad. President Zardari echoed similar sentiments during his address to a Hindustan Times Summit 2008. India not only needs to acknowledge this shift in Pakistan's policy but also respond in a proactive manner in the larger interest of peace in the region. The Indian committal of 'water terrorism' against Pakistan only strengthens the hands of extremist forces and dilutes the Pakistani position. Last but not the least, media on both sides of the border should strengthen nor hinder the resumption of peace process. There is a dire need for the media to design a code of conduct for the cause of peace. Its role is very crucial in educating people about the possible dividends issuing from the normalization of relations between both countries. At the same time, it can also serve as a bridge for enhancing people-to-people contact and exchange of views among the intellectual circles in both countries. For too long have the South Asian region been beholden to the forces of anarchy, fear, poverty and war. It is time to think out of box and take courageous decisions. The onus to deliver remains on India. It can start by resolving water-related issues and less contentious issues like Sir Creek etc.