Breathing life back into the stalled peace process between India and Pakistan is not going to be easy, but if the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan is to be taken at his word, then India remains ready to go ahead with the dialogue. Future talks would include all issues and include Kashmir. These positive sentiments came on May 18 when Gautam Bambawale said that he expected a breakthrough in the resumption of the process of dialogue after the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Lahore. He hoped that secretary-level talks could resume, the most positive sign from the Indian side since the Pathankot attack in January derailed the entire process. As yet there is no date fixed for Mr Modi’s visit.
The distinction between diplomatic window-dressing and statements of firm intent is a fine one, and what an ambassador says may not chime closely with what the government that he represents appears to want to do. India has recently tested a new missile interceptor system and has boosted its efforts to increase second-strike capabilities. This has alarmed Pakistan as well and the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, has said that Pakistan must take the necessary steps to upgrade its defence capabilities — and the seeds of an arms race are again sown, despite the denials of Mr Aziz.
There is particular concern about the nuclearisation of the Pacific Ocean, and both India and Pakistan are in need of modernising their existing forces and weapons systems, significant portions of which are outdated. Military development is an ongoing lateral process and neither side is about to abandon the quest for ever-better hardware and military advantage. The trick is to calibrate that in sync with a civilian government on both sides that does appear to have a commitment to continuing the peace process even in the face of determined efforts to kill it off. Dialogue has the potential to mitigate the tensions caused by weapons testing and development, and for that reason alone, every opportunity to breathe life back into the peace process must be firmly grasped. Seize the time.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2016.