Millennium Post

Indo-Pak talks must to end border killings

If frequent Chinese incursions into Indian territory were not strong enough a reason for the two countries not to hold the recent fifth round of strategic dialogue, though after a gap of three years, and even agree on beginning a joint military exercise later, it is difficult to understand why should India and Pakistan allow their proposed peace and economic co-operation talks get so easily hijacked by recent cross border killings. The question is simple: must the two responsible popular governments leave the matter of bi-lateral relations to army, espionage agencies and terror groups to dictate and prevent diplomacy and the process of political engagement from doing the job?

The newly elected Nawaz Shariff government is reportedly keen to resume dialogue with India. So is India’s election-bound UPA government. Unfortunately, vested interests on both sides seem to be hell bent to get such an initiative spiked at any cost. Indo-Pakistan border skirmishes along the Line of Control (LoC) have been as routine an affair as the Chinese army’s frequent flexing of muscles along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Unfortunately, India has been mostly at the receiving end. Intelligence agencies from both China and Pakistan are active in India-China passively, arming local insurgent and separatist groups in the north-east and Maoists in the Indian heartland, and Pakistan more actively by launching border attacks, exporting terror directly and disturbing communal peace.

Since armed response or diplomatic shut-down is no way to find an end to the contentious border disputes, which all the three countries inherited almost since their birth – the McMahon Line, also known as LAC, effectively demarcating boundary between China and India and LoC dividing Pakistan and India in the Kashmir region – keeping the process of dialogue on even through such seemingly unfavourable conditions as they exist now along LoC is an option that needs to be continuously explored. Even those right-thinking pro-dialogue, pro-peace Kashmiris are taken aback by the current attitude of the two governments. The Jammu and Kashmir unit of the Marxist communist party described the situation at LoC as ‘most unfortunate and a step backward’ and felt India and Pakistan should fight their ‘internal enemies’ rather than ‘aiming their guns’ at each other. ‘Let India and Pakistan fight their greater internal enemies of poverty, corruption, diseases, natural disasters like floods and, of course, terrorism and sectarian violence, rather than aim their guns at each other,’ stated CPM’s J&K state secretary M Y Tarigami  recently. He said that the leadership of both the countries have to rise above small political considerations, exercise control, show grit and take ‘bold initiatives’.

The rising tension along LoC is only feeding hardliners on both sides, who don’t want improved Indo-Pak relations for narrow political reasons. As in Pakistan, any deterioration of situation and rising tension along LoC is a delight for rightist elements during election time. This, if not for nothing else, itself should serve as a good reason at least for the Congress-led Indian government to engage Pakistan in high level diplomatic and political dialogue to destroy the design of Indian hardliners to make it one of the major issues in forthcoming election campaigns. It is time that India shows a similar attitude to Pakistan as it has lately followed towards China to initiate peace dialogue and multi-level engagements to tackle cross-border tensions.

Good diplomacy is all about meaningful engagement and dialogue and not detachment or indulging in counter-productive blame game. It is to prevent incidents from turning into issues and issues developing into crises. India needs to engage Pakistan in the same spirit as it is engaging China.
Setting strong pre-conditions for dialogue rarely work. They invariably vitiate the atmosphere of dialogue.

To reduce tension across the borders, blunt terrorists’ weapons to heighten tension between the two countries and understand each other better, India and Pakistan must have annual strategic meet and, finally, joint military exercises. And, now is the time. The Shariff government is new and, so far, appears to be well meaning. Maybe, it deserves to be handled with greater compassion.
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