INDIA today is scuttling the composite dialogue process with Pakistan. The two countries had taken 50 years to reach an understanding about a structured and comprehensive dialogue process in 1997. It raised hopes, but its performance has been dismal.
The eight issues – the so-called two plus six formula – agreed under the composite dialogue in 1998 were: (1) Peace andSecurity, including confidence-building measures (CBMs); (2) Jammu and Kashmir; (3) Siachen Glacier; (4) Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation project; (5) Sir Creek; (6) Economic and Commercial Cooperation; (7) Terrorism and Drug trafficking; and, (8) Promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields. If one looks closely, the thread of Kashmir runs through the entire eight-point agenda. On the first seven issues, including the core issues of Jammu and Kashmir and peace and security, there is complete stalemate; on the eighth, there has been modest movement but always prone to collapse.
Two main factors influenced development of the composite dialogue process: (1) Between 1993 and 1995, Pakistan had raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir at the UN General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, a move India blunted with adroit diplomacy and persuaded Pakistan to come to a bilateral negotiating table; and (2) Pakistan and India went nuclear in 1998 forcing the two countries to engage under international pressure. The UN Security Council in its June 6, 1998 resolution called on India and Pakistan to “resume the dialogue between them on all standing issues…” and encouraged them to “ find mutually acceptable solutions to address the root causes of those tensions, including Kashmir.”
The cycle of the composite dialogue has been sporadic and spasmodic. The agenda was hammered into place in September 1998. The Lahore Summit was its high water mark. But later it made many false starts but never took off mainly because of Kargil and the Indian allegations against Pakistan in regard to the attack on its Parliament building in December 2001after which a ten-month Indian-led escalation ensued. A ceasefire across the Line of Control in November 2003 paved the way for four rounds of the composite dialogue between 2004 and 2008 but the process was overshadowed by back channel diplomacy, high level meetings, and a proposal by Pakistan President to divide Jammu and Kashmir into seven zones, demilitarize them, and seek a solution by either giving them autonomy or keeping them under joint control. This ‘out of the box’ solution was not a product of the composite dialogue.
The composite dialogue broke down after the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008 and was only resumed for two rounds between 2011 and 2012. A possible third round was aborted because of the heightened tension on the LOC. In 2014, the Modi Government subverted the revival of the process by citing the pretext that Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India had met some Kashmiri leaders. This year in Ufa, India tried to exclude Kashmir from the agenda and reconfirmed this before canceling the talks between the national security advisers in Delhi in July.
Summary: eighteen years, six rounds, breakdowns, closures, a hiatus since 2012, no results except some in CBMs.
Pakistan should rethink the composite dialogue process and explore other avenues because India makes Pakistan beg for the restoration of the dialogue process every now and then, uses dilatory and diversionary tactics to expunge the issue of Kashmir from the agenda, demonizes Pakistan and works full time to isolate Pakistan internationally.
Then there is mismatch of expectations. Pakistan wants a concrete and lasting solution of the the serious problems, especially the Jammu and Kashmir dispute or ‘the unfinished business of partition’. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used to say to our leaders that he had not been elected to alter ‘borders’. India’s bottom line for the compositedialogue is therefore to build strong economic and cultural links and create lobbies in Pakistan in order to eclipse the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
The composite dialogue is doomed under the Modi Government, because they resent the inclusion of Kashmir in the eight-point agenda. Modi is taking steps to fully integrate Jammu and Kashmir in India through political and electoral means and a constitutional amendment, in pursuit of his party platform.
On terrorism, Pakistan’s case is stronger than India’s. Pakistan must intensify its diplomatic campaign to ask India to stop terrorism against Pakistan, sponsored, financed and abetted by India’s state actor – RAW. After Pakistan’s determination and substantiation of India’s involvement in acts of terrorism and subversion in Baluchistan, FATA, Karachi and other cities, India should be asked to publicly commit that it would cease terrorism against Pakistan, because this is an act of war in violation of the UN Charter and international law.
Finally, Pakistan should strongly reject Indian spiel that Kashmir is only a bilateral issue, Kashmiris are not a party to the dispute, and Kashmir is not the core of the agenda. Referral of the issue to the UN Security Council under Article 35 of the Charter and subsequent resolutions established its international character. The inherent tripartite nature of the dispute is endorsed by the UN resolutions and earlier by the 1947 Act of Independence. The whole dispute is about ascertaining the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir through a plebiscite.
The ‘conventional wisdom’ peddled by India – that Kashmir is only a bilateral dispute and now its attempt to exclude it from bilateral talks – should be challenged with conviction and consistency. We must weigh costs and benefits of the compositedialogue.