Nothing brings more jubilation in South Asia than resumption of peace talks between Pakistan and India. At times, it seems that the two nations are so intent on the resumption of peace talks that the peace itself gets dwindled down somewhere in all the hype and political point-scoring. One, however, has to appreciate the consistency and sheer optimism of the two sides every time they begin talks, despite realising that they usually don’t go anywhere as can be seen from history. Yet, they try — and this time they are trying to initiate a big, fat ‘comprehensive’ dialogue for peace. It is so comprehensive that any serious analyst can predict an impasse occurring before the dialogue even starts in earnest.
Despite all the optimism and media hype celebrating the recent meetings between Pakistan and India at the Heart of Asia conference, the reality is that the talks appear more to be stunts that help the establishments in both India and Pakistan — domestically and abroad. Such is the strength of the peace narrative that even the general who led the Kargil war could not help but pursue peace talks when he gained power. Similarly, the BJP, despite its war rhetoric against Pakistan, succumbed to the narrative and realised that ‘peace talks’ sell. So why make efforts to strike real peace between the two countries when there is a lot more to gain from limiting the whole agenda to just ‘peace talks’?
The reality is that there is little appetite for full-scale peace and prosperity of relations within the establishments of the two countries — something that is evident from the agenda of the composite and comprehensive dialogue that includes all major issues, none of which can be resolved before the hawks on both sides jeopardise it or the next terrorist attack is carried out to end the dialogue. It then comes as a surprise as to how the diplomatic, security and political brass in the two countries expect the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue to be a real success when the basic ingredients of a meaningful dialogue are missing and the strategy misdirected.
Given the history of India-Pakistan peace dialogues, important lessons must be learnt for any success in the ongoing talks. The first and foremost is that the continuation of the peace dialogue can only be ensured if the talks remain discreet and beyond the gaze of the media. Celebrating the peace dialogue before it has achieved anything and bringing it to the attention of the sensational and nationalistic media on both sides will trigger elements that would want to act against the process before it comes into shape. However, as mentioned earlier, there is more to gain from ‘peace talks’ than from peace itself, so there will always be the need to involve the media in the whole process.
Secondly, we need to realise that for a sustainable, comprehensive peace dialogue, the ability to produce and demonstrate quick and early successes is important. Unfortunately, nothing in the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue agenda has been included that can give quick gains to both countries for confidence-building and pacifying the hawks. Given the expectations from the dialogue, the media limelight and high stakes involved, it is striking that the two sides have included nothing in the agenda to show quick tangible results to their respective populations.
The fact that the resumption of the Pakistan-India cricket series, which could have been one of the successes to come out of the dialogue, is nowhere in sight goes to show that the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue may have started on the wrong foot and may not be different from the fate of all the dialogue processes of the past. Peace has to start small and then snowball into covering major issues — not the other way around. There are some positives here, however. One of these is that it is clear that the Pakistani civilian political leadership and the military are on the same page on this important matter that has previously been a bone of contention between the two spheres. To witness a civilian face on the peace dialogue with India, backed by the military is a positive sign and provides hope for this otherwise dead-ended dialogue to go ahead.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2015.