AFTER an initially ‘mature’ response to the attack on the Pathankot air force base, the Indian government has reverted to its familiar stance and made the foreign secretary talks contingent on Pakistan’s ‘action’ against the Kashmiri groups who have claimed responsibility for the attack.
This is a no-win situation for Islamabad. If the dialogue is aborted, India will blame Pakistan for inaction and complicity. If the talks go ahead, the Pakistan leadership will be viewed, domestically, as having given in to Indian bullying. Under the circumstances, it may be best to delay the dialogue until the dust has settled over Pathankot.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s diplomats and officials should develop a set of principles and clear objectives to be followed whenever the Comprehensive Dialogue is commenced.
Under the circumstances, it may be best to delay the dialogue until the dust has settled over Pathankot.
The first principle in dealing with India is firmness and self-confidence. Adversaries respect strength and consistency. Nice guys finish last. Narendra Modi’s agreement to resume the dialogue came only after the Pakistan prime minister refused to play by the Indian rulebook.
Policy should first seek to advance national interest and only secondly seek to find compromises. The measure of success is not the accolades of the West but the value added to the national interest.
Do not personalise policies. Political leaders change; state interests rarely do. Know the issues. Each item on the agenda has a long, often convoluted, history with which our negotiators must be fully familiar. Do not accept the vocabulary of the adversary. For example, Kashmiri ‘freedom fighters’ cannot be equated with ‘terrorists’.
Refrain from advertising internal differences, for example, between the military and civilians, or between the Foreign Office and politicians. This weakens the national negotiating position. Unfortunately, some Pakistanis — politicians and their spokesmen — have in the past been eager to win Western and Indian approbation by revealing how their ‘reasonable’ policies are being thwarted by ‘hardliners’ in the Foreign Office or the military.
Beware of linguistic traps. Indians (and Pakistanis) are very adept at manipulating the English language to secure gains at the negotiating table. The Ufa communiqué is a painful example. Changing the ‘composite’ dialogue to ‘comprehensive’ dialogue is not without significance. ‘Composite’ was designed to connote the interlinkages between the two plus six agenda. ‘Comprehensive’ loosens the linkages; it also enables the inclusion of terrorism as a new item on the agenda.
Pakistan’s negotiators should also be clear about the objectives which can be realistically promoted at this stage in the Comprehensive Dialogue.
Kashmir: The immediate ‘problem’ to be addressed is the perpetual insurrection which India faces in India-held Kashmir. This can be ameliorated by ending the repression of the Kashmiris and offering them some means of genuine political self-expression until a final settlement of the dispute can be reached. There is no need to open the door to Indian intervention in Azad Kashmir as was the case with the plan negotiated by a novice in ‘backchannel’ diplomacy a decade ago.
Terrorism: Under American pressure, Pakistan gave a commitment not to allow its territory to be used for ‘terrorist’ attacks against other countries. This is a difficult commitment to fulfil if the Kashmiris fighting India’s brutal repression and occupation are described, even by Pakistan, as ‘terrorists’, given that their legitimate aspirations enjoy wide popular support in Pakistan. In the talks on terrorism, Pakistan’s objective should be to persuade India to address the root causes of the Kashmiri attacks against it; and secondly, to secure an Indian commitment to halt its support for anti-Pakistan terrorism from Afghan territory.
Peace and security: While rejecting unequal or unilateral restraints on its deterrent capabilities, Pakistan should continue to press India for reciprocal arms control and disarmament measures. In the short term, two objectives can be achieved: first, reciprocal measures to prevent the outbreak of a conflict through miscalculation or accident; and, second, recognition of reciprocity and linkage between the military capabilities and deployments — conventional as well as nuclear — of India and Pakistan.
Trade and economic cooperation: In the short term, bilateral trade in the manufacturing sector is likely to be detrimental to Pakistan, given India’s more mature industrial enterprises and economies of scale. Trade in certain commodities as well as the gas pipeline projects can be mutually beneficial.
Siachen and Sir Creek: Agreements on both these issues were virtually reached in the past. The Siachen deal was blocked by the Indian army. A Pakistan proposal to implement this agreement would be an early test of New Delhi’s desire for normalisation. Likewise, the arbitral decision on Sir Creek awaits acceptance and implementation by the two countries.
There are some ‘new’ issues which may assume considerable importance in the coming years.
Transit: In the long term, Pakistan’s economy can benefit greatly from serving as a regional transit hub. However, transit is a significant Indian demand; it should be conceded only in exchange for equally significant reciprocal concessions from India.
Water: Both Pakistan and India are water-stressed and likely to become more so due to global warming. To prevent both an ecologic and political crisis, both countries would be prudent to resubmit the issue for international arbitration and secure the earliest possible solution consistent with the Indus Waters Treaty.
Afghanistan: India’s security and intelligence activities in Afghanistan are detrimental to Pakistan’s security. Islamabad must clearly convey its ‘red lines’ regarding the Indian role in Afghanistan to all concerned, including New Delhi.
Even if the Comprehensive Dialogue starts, progress in addressing the agenda will be difficult and uncertain. Despite the yearning of our elites, the animus between the peoples of Pakistan and India is palpable and cannot be overcome by chapati diplomacy or song and dance routines.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2016