Pak must realize need for dialogue

Pakistan’s decision to back out from the process that would have led to a composite dialogue with India is disappointing and unfortunate for South Asia. Resumption of a composite dialogue would have been in the best interests of peace and development in the region. The two leaders – Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi – reached an accord in Ufa in Russia in July bearing the “collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development” in the region. To this end, both the leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.

Islamabad’s action in aborting talks has not come as a surprise. Almost immediately after the Ufa Accord, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, publicly asserted that no dialogue was possible with India without the Kashmir issue on the agenda for discussion. It is not that Aziz did not understand the process outlined in the Accord. He just gave a prior signal that Islamabad was unprepared for the NSA-level talks. Such a signal ultimately proved true as Islamabad despite agreeing to the date for talks backed out.

The fact is that after the Ufa accord, the civilian government in Pakistan came under severe pressure from the military establishment and the ISI that assert more in affairs surrounding India. Aziz had been making a pretext for derailing the talks. He knew well that both sides cannot attend the NSA-level talks slated to discuss only “all issues connected to terrorism.” The Ufa accord clearly states that “all outstanding issues” that includes Jammu and Kashmir will be brought up for discussion in the overall composite dialogue process.

Another pretext Aziz made was his insistence on meeting the Kashmiri separatists (Hurriyat leaders) before the NSA-level talks, saying they are “stakeholders”. In response, India said that such a proposal run counter to the spirit of Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration that eliminates any third party intervention in talks on Kashmir between the two countries. Pakistan, which was to host the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting, even went to the extent of refusing to invite the Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, as is the usual practice. Therefore, the CPA meeting was shifted to New York. Islamabad hopes to raise the Kashmir issue in New York.

The Ufa accord laid down the agenda that was to follow in the process. First the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of the two countries were to meet in New Delhi “to discuss all issues connected to terrorism”. After such discussions, an early meeting between the DG, Border Security Force (of India) and DG, Pakistan Rangers at an appropriate venue for discussing means for maintaining peace at the borders would be held. Then there would be a meeting of DGMOs of the two countries to discuss ceasefire violations.

India has always been maintaining that composite dialogue that consists of discussions on major areas like Siachen, Sir Creek, Tul Bul navigation project, drug trafficking, economic and trade issues, among others, can take place only when there is peace in the borders and there is an end to export of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.

The Ufa Accord also called for the release of fishermen in each other’s custody along with their boats within a period of 15 days which has been complied with to some extent by both the parties. The accord further called for setting up of a mechanism for facilitating religious tourism. Both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai terror attack case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples. Will Pakistan act on the voice samples to be provided by India? Will it sincerely cooperate in Mumbai terror attack case?

How long can Islamabad continue with this attitude towards India? Geo-strategically it is well placed to be a transit point for India’s trade with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics, West Asia thus benefiting entire South Asia. It is relevant to note an honest admission made by Pakistan’s Economic Survey 2012-13. “On the face of massive economic challenges, a burgeoning population, energy and water shortages and huge and growing numbers of unemployed workers, especially youth, Pakistan needs to look for ways to move itself out of the economic hole. Greater trade with India offers great responsibility of economic growth for both India and Pakistan,” it said. 

How long can Pakistan ignore this reality and depend upon China and US for its economic existence? The Chinese economy has entered a slowdown phase, with a devalued Yuan. Islamabad has a heavy trade deficit with China. The overland trade between Pakistan and China through Karakoram Highway is negligible as Beijing wants to use this highway mostly for defence purposes. Pakistan is engaged in negotiations for a second phase of FTA with Beijing to rectify its trade balance. But will China oblige?

Islamabad’s behaviour in aborting talks following Ufa Accord is no surprise to India. In the past, the process for composite dialogue was initiated that resulted in Lahore Declaration and after which there was the intrusion in Kargil sector in India. The civilian government of Nawaz Sharif that signed the Lahore Declaration was thrown out by a military dictatorship. After the derailment, the dialogue process was again resumed in 2004, but the Mumbai terror attack derailed the engagement between the two countries.  After that in 2010 attempts were made to initiate a Resumed Composite Dialogue, but Islamabad’s unprovoked firing at the border and beheading of an Indian soldier led to the derailment of talks. 

Will Islamabad wake up and accept the reality that peace is necessary for progress and development? It has to abandon the export of terror to India, maintain peace at borders and resolve Kashmir issue without the involvement of any third party. The India-Pakistan trade that stands at about $ 2 billion has the potential to rise in the range of $ 5 billion to $ 10 billion according several studies. One study estimates informal trade between India and Pakistan (via Dubai alone) at over $ 4.24 billion, causing heavy revenue loss to Pakistan Government and higher costs to consumers. It is high time that Pakistan realise this and sincerely begin the process of a composite dialogue with India.
(The views expressed are personal)
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