India’s recently held state elections caused BJP’s defeat in Bihar state where 30 percent Muslims also live. The negative fall out of these policies brought to bear domestic and international pressure on Modi to revisit his policy towards Pakistan and compelled him to take an initiative to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan on the sidelines of Paris summit. National security advisors of both countries along with the foreign secretaries met at Bangkok. Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Sawaraj attended Heart of Asia Conference recently held in Pakistan and India announced to restart the stalled composite dialogue with Pakistan.
Although it is a welcome development but in view of the history of India’s past strategy of holding bilateral talks with Pakistan, this article focus on discussing possible answers to following logical questions. What will be the difference between the previous composite dialogue and a newly coined term called the comprehensive dialogue? How this composite dialogue can be sustained and made result oriented? What are visible advantages in sustaining this dialogue? Is India sincere in sustaining the dialogue and resolving the issues or is this Indian move just an image building exercise?
It appears that this new term has been agreed by Pakistan based on Indian insistence. Various interpretations of the comprehensive dialogue in place of the composite dialogue could be made, although its exact meaning might be known either only to the Indian side or to both sides if they have already discussed it, or it will be exactly known after the first round of the comprehensive dialogue. It however appears that India wants to add some new working groups on fresh subjects and may be it plans to get some already existing working groups deleted.
Perhaps it may be wishing to link the issue of Pakistan’s political, moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris’ freedom struggle with the issue of terrorism in Balochistan and Karachi for which Pakistan alleges India’s involvement. It could also be possible that India wants Pakistan’s commitment not to insist on simultaneous progress on all issues during the dialogue. In any case Pakistan needs to broach on this issue and devise its own strategy to counter such Indian moves during the talks.
As far as the questions of sustainability of the dialogue and resolution of disputes are concerned, the dialogue will be only sustainable and issues could only be resolved by making it result oriented if both countries, especially India recognises that since both countries are now nuclear powers, it is only through result oriented dialogue that issues can be resolved. Moreover, both countries and mainly India must accept that peace in South Asia is necessary for both countries’ economicdevelopment based on their mutual cooperation and intra and inter-regional connectivity for which it is important to resolve all bilateral issues including Kashmir justly and on priority.
The likely advantages of sustaining the dialogue could be as follows. One, that some more CBMs can be added such as a hot line between both the national security advisors and peace on the LOC could be maintained. Second, limited economiccooperation in the shape of increase of trade could take place and more trade routes could be opened with an emphasis on trade routes across the LOC. Third, some understanding on reduction of Indian forces in IHK could be agreed upon to alleviate atrocities on the Kashmiris. Fourth, people to people contacts could be increased and visa policies for Kashmiris to visit and meet across LOC can be eased.
If past history of talks between Pakistan and India is of some guide, it appears that India’s initiative to agree for starting the dialogue seems to an image building exercise by reducing tensions with Pakistan and creating a favourable domestic environment to win the coming state elections, particularly in Assam. However, it will be a surprising and really a positive development for Pakistan if India really displays its sincerity during the dialogue to resolve the bilateral issues justly and urgently, although Pakistan should be prepared for a very long and complicated dialogue to extract some reasonable solutions of some disputes provided India really recognises the benefits of mutual economic cooperation, especially inter-regional cooperation to get route from Pakistan for trade and energy imports from CARs.
— The writer is a Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute.