I RECENTLY attended the prominent Chaophraya India-Pakistan track II dialogue, going in predicting that it would be consumed by point-scoring and grandstanding.
The backdrop was ominous. The Line of Control has been hot for some time; the issue of Indian interference in Pakistan has been all over our media; and India has been bearish on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan. Usually, such a cocktail makes for a dialogue that does little more than mimic hardline positions typical of government-to-government interactions.
Some of this happened at Chaophraya this time, but only on the periphery. The real thrust was a push for cooperation.
This may surprise the average reader in both countries given the kind of rhetoric they have had to consume about each other in recent months. But the logic is simple: both sides have tried time and again to come up with explanations for why they don’t need the other. And yet, each time, they realise its futility and are forced back to the negotiating table.
The thrust at Chaophraya was a push for Pak-India cooperation.
This recognition came through loud and clear in our talks.
First, it was obvious to me that the Modi government’s rhetoric aside, Delhi recognises that there is no option but to continue talking with Pakistan. Equally, though, Indian participants confirmed that Modi’s focus in South Asia is on India’s other neighbours and that this will continue given that Pakistan has blocked India’s ability to integrate westward. The implication is twofold: one, even if the prevalent Pakistani view that Modi was trying to isolate Pakistan was correct, Delhi has once again had to realise that Pakistan can’t be wished away. But two, India will fast track economic gains in the east and it is therefore up to Pakistan whether it wants to benefit from an Indian westward push or cut off its nose to spite its face.
This suggests an obvious opportunity. India must concede space to Pakistan in South Asia and back and support economic initiatives. There needs to be a conversation not only about CPEC but also about reviving the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline now that Iran seems set to break free of its international isolation. Equally, outstanding disputes cannot be totally ignored if meaningful dialogue is to ensue. Pakistan, in return, should consider westward concessions to India – in its own interest given that CPEC’s gains can’t be optimised till this north-south axis connects to the east-west one. Incidentally, the Chinese understand this just as well and have been hinting at it in private conversations.
Second, despite all the differences and the grave mistrust on terrorism on both sides, they can’t succeed without talking to each other. No matter how either side argues their case at the track I or II levels, the discussion inevitably ends up being a blame game centred on the two sides not sharing enough intelligence and evidence. The two sides debate issues of political will, the definitions and roles of vested interests, the origins of particular attacks, the pace of legal trials, and all the rest but ultimately, you’ll find them acknowledging that there isn’t a future for countering terrorism if India and Pakistan keep going at it separately.
The discussion at Chaophraya focused not only on Mumbai, Gurdaspur, and Udhampur but also on the rise of the self-styled ‘Islamic State’ in Afghanistan and its threat to Pakistan and India. There was a consensus that unless IS is stopped, it will pose major challenges to our two countries. And equally, that IS may be the first ‘truly common’ terrorism threat (as the two sides perceived it) that ought to force India and Pakistan to collaborate in Afghanistan. We ended up recommending a dialogue between the two countries’ intelligence agencies to find ways to cooperate on IS even if they continue to contest each other in other spheres.
Finally, security experts like me were forced to think beyond the here and now during conversations on climate change – specifically water. The Chaophraya dialogue has set up a task force on the issue, one whose deliberations convinced me all over again that the challenges we talk about pale in comparison to the threat from nature. The single biggest take-away from the presentations we heard was entirely unsurprising: there is noway for either side to survive the scare without cooperating, and cooperating for decades to come.
Our two-day interaction left me reconsidering the seeming capitulation of the Pakistani prime minister during the Sharif-Modi meeting at the recent Ufa summit. Nawaz Sharif got bashed at home for having left out Kashmir and other disputes of importance to Pakistan. But as one participant suggested, could this be a price worth paying for getting back to dialogue, with a mutual understanding that it won’t now be interrupted by any parallel attempts to isolate the weaker party? If this is the deal, it may well be worth it.
The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC.
Way Forward : Indo-Pak Relation | Moeed Yusuf
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2015