“There is simply no alternative to talks,” as an editorial in The Hindusums up succinctly, or perhaps, rather somberly. While the chest-thumping, hardline rhetoric and borderline war hysteria is palpable after the cancellation of National Security Advisor level talks in New Delhi, scheduled to take place on August 23, there is an underlying discomfort predicting the new impasse. The two nuclear-armed neighbours are too close to one another geographically to be in a long-standing state of hostility that seems to be the overpowering aspect of what goes for the status quo. While the talks halt the big question remains: What now?
The Ufa agreement between Pakistan and India underscored the need to initiate an NSA level dialogue, focusing on ensuing of peace by elimination of terror, which would in turn help prospects of development. Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz’s press conference in Islamabad after the Ufa summit reiterated that the mere omission of the word “Kashmir” in the agreement is not a connotation of Pakistan’s acceding to non-prioritisation of the issue whenever Pakistan and India meet for a dialogue.
Even those of us who make no claims to understand the complexities of diplomatic dynamics between Pakistan and India would have no difficulty singling out the fundamental issue: Kashmir. The issue is not merely a war of words and egos; it dates back to 1947, is delineated in the blood of many military and civilian lives on both sides, the chaos and militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, resulting in draconian military and civilian laws, and much misery for ordinary Kashmiris. The Line of control (LoC) has become a ghoulish stage of intermittent two-way cross firing, resulting in the deaths of soldiers and civilians. Be they Pakistani or Indian, the irreparable loss and pain their families suffer is the worst thing about the deteriorating situation that seems to be unravelling at an alarming speed. Ergo to imagine any talk on terror would be logical without bringing the K-word into the equation is not merely fallacious but also short-sighted.
If the meeting of the Hurriyat leaders had taken place between the Pakistani visitors before or after the NSA meeting, it would have been nothing more than a routine exercise, inconsequential in the big scheme of bilateral realities. But the diplomatic messages being lobbed forward and back between the two countries via proper channels, leaked reports to media, and then press conferences of the Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz turned the entire governmental exercise between Pakistan and India into a media circus. While both Ms Swaraj and Mr Aziz kept their words conciliatory, to-the-point, precise, non-aggressive, and fact-based, the message was clear: nothing doing until the other side is in agreement of our stipulations. The wily art of pehle-aapwas played out in the full view of TV cameras, political naysayers and gleeful warmongers. The result: RSVP in regret. And the impasse worsens.
While non-political, peace-seeking, self-proclaimed observers of Pakistan-India dynamic like me wonder how the big decisions affecting millions on both sides of the LoC are contextualised by domestic pressures and party manifestos, nothing seems to give in Islamabad and Delhi. The pragmatic view is that of the need to have the initiation of the process of dialogue, without which no solution would be tabled for the immediate issue of terror, the violations at the LoC and the working boundary, long-standing issues of water, Sir Creek and Siachen, and the biggest issue of all: Kashmir. The NSA talks that-are-not-to-be were to focus on the menace of terror, in all probability the Indian side highlighting the recent attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur, and the capture of the alleged Pakistani terrorist, Usman alias Naveed. And as per Mr Aziz, he was planning to meet his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, with “three dossiers on RAW’s involvement in promoting terrorism in Pakistan.” The backdrop of mistrust, suspicion and lack of confidence, bordering on paranoia, rears its ugly head once again, echoing in the hyper nationalism of politicians and sabre-rattling of media juggernauts on both sides. And the casualty: people on both sidesof the LoC.
The urgency from Pakistan’s side to discuss the modalities of the Kashmir issue may seem incongruent in the spirit of the Ufa agreement, but in the words of Mr Aziz the following is the most important part of the signed agreement: “India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.” While many in India look down upon the idea of Pakistan meeting the Hurriyat leaders while refusing to accept the legitimacy of the elected representatives of Jammu and Kashmir, it is a no-brainer for all who are familiar with the stated position of all Pakistan governments vis-à-vis Kashmir. There is no denying the significance of initiation of talks to chalk out a detailed process of composite dialogue to seek solutions to all outstanding issues, thereby accentuating the significance of the folly of the cancellation of the scheduled NSA talk.
Diplomatic overtures signify the framework of a country’s foreign policy, keeping in sight the short-, mid- and long-term goals. The knee-jerk reactions, almost expected, repeatedly identical, and expectedly negative of the two neigbours, whose geographical proximity makes hostilities, mistrust and unwillingness to talk a macabre absurdity, are the most regrettable outcome of yesterday’s cancellation of talks. While India is a bigger player in terms of its size, population, resources, and economic indexes, and Pakistan is on its way to stabilise itself on multiple levels, focusedon a prosperous, peaceful tomorrow, there seems to be an almost puerile clash of egos – reminiscent of petulant school bullies stamping their feet – when it comes to any diplomatic interaction between India and Pakistan.
If-you-don’t-do-as-I-say-I-won’t-talk-to-you is a very simplistic, very myopic, and a very rigid way of dealing with a very precarious situation that has affected, affects and will keep on affecting many, many lives. Notwithstanding the futility of the hope of Pakistan and India becoming friends, neigbhourly civility could be the first goal. One successful talk at a time. Therefore, the hope of all pragmatic, peace-seeking, rational Pakistanis and Indians remain the same: the resumption of talks. Talking is the only way forward. Without any ifs and buts.