Jinnah Institute seeks the opinion of leading policy makers from India and Pakistan on the strategic implications and possible outcomes of the meeting between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit in Thimphu, Bhutan.
The recent announcement of talks between Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart, Nirupama Rao, has sparked hope that this interaction between India and Pakistan will lead to an outcome different from the public breakdown of talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries in Islamabad in July 2010. While the resumption of official talks is a positive sign for the peace process between India and Pakistan, analysts on both sides of the border remain cautious about their outcome. Nonetheless, both Indian and Pakistani analysts firmly believe that the only way forward for India and Pakistan is to resume the dialogue on a comprehensive range of bilateral issues which impact the relationship between the two neighbours.
Despite the announcement that talks between India and Pakistan have resumed, little has changed since July last year. India seeks decisive action from Pakistan on the issues of terrorism, particularly Mumbai. Pakistan has yet to deliver to India’s satisfaction. Pakistan seeks a peaceful resolution to the growing dispute and discontent in Kashmir. India remains secretive about its vision for the future of the troubled region. Without significant movement on critical bilateral stumbling blocks, both countries are waiting eagerly to see whether this interaction between the foreign secretaries will lead to a second wave of the “Thimphu Thaw”and pave the way for a higher level meeting between representatives of both countries.
On the sidelines of the Chaophraya Dialogue, a Track II meeting between leading experts from India and Pakistan, Jinnah Institute asked the experts gathered there for their opinions on the possible outcomes from the upcoming Thimphu talks.
* How can Thimpu be prevented from becoming an exercise in diplomatic attrition?
* What should be done to ensure sustainability of the dialogue? What three things can both sides to make dialogue resumption more effective in terms of moving from crisis management to building confidence and resolving disputes?
* How can the two countries work together to delegitimize the domestic rhetoric against the other country, which has led to the building up of enemy images against the other country?
Head of Department, Defence and Strategic Studies, QAU
* We should not pin too many hopes on the Thimpu
talks. These talks are meant to set the agenda for the FMs’meeting in New Delhi in March. If both sides can agree on a new framework for dialogue agenda, it would be a big step forward. In the absence of an agreed agenda for the FM talks, the Thimpu talks will be an exercise in futility.
* Have an agreed agenda for talks and the mechanism to monitor progress.
* Have a time-bound framework for resolving outstanding disputes.
* Address each other’s fears, apprehensions and concerns through a back channel consultative mechanism.
* Not lending official support to negative societal images of each other. By allowing free movement of people across border to dilute entrenched enemy images. By encouraging educational, cultural and media exchanges to dismantle enemy images.
Aziz A Khan
Former Pakistani Ambassador
* Thimpu is essentially about discussing the resumption of dialogue process. The two Foreign Secretaries need to work out an agreed format for the dialogue process, which can then be resumed in a meaningful manner paving the way for the forthcoming Foreign Minister-level talks in Delhi and eventually a summit in the near future.
* Whether it is crisis management, building confidence or dispute resolution, the two sides need to talk to each other through a sustained process. And to make it result-oriented, both sides need to sincerely commit themselves to address the issues of concern to the other. Terrorism and the resolution of Kashmir dispute are uppermost in the list of issues bedevilling relations.
* Better cooperation at governmental level, improved infrastructure for people-to- people contact, friendlier visa regime, cultural exchanges and extensive and intensive interaction among scholars, academics, students, media and tourism are some of the measures that would help eliminate rhetoric against each other and bring sanity to public discourse.
Senior Editor, CNN-IBN
* The Indian foreign secretary has said that dialogue is the most intelligent means of pursuing Indian interests in Pakistan. At Thimphu, there seems little doubt that the revelations on the Samjhauta blast probe will be brought into focus. If equivalence is drawn between Mumbai 26/11 and the Samjhauta blast of 18 February 2007, the Indian side must take a step forward and show demonstrable openness about the Samjhauta blast probe. It should assertthat those who have committed criminal acts of mass murder will be dealt with no other considerations but the provisions of the penal code. The Indian state will view every act of terrorism whether domestic or cross-border as acts of criminality in the same way. To delve into the semantics of scale and provenance of Samjhauta versus 26/11, or the definitional quagmire of “cross border”and “homegrown,”is counter-productive and would be an instance of diplomatic attrition. Instead, a common assertion of the rule of law and a commitment not to politicise terrorism would be valuable.
A blow out between Krishna and Qureshi must be avoidedat all costs. Care must be taken that conversations that should remain on the negotiating table do not become grist to the media mill, as there are enormous sensitivities at stake.Respect for mutual public opinion and respect for each other’s officials must be demonstrably conveyed. At the same time,the publicmust be kept accurately informed on the areas in which India and Pakistan have to continue to sort out differences.
A commitment to dialogue can be voiced not as high rhetoric but as sleeves rolled up, problem-solving, nuts and bolts exercise, constructively attentive to the details of each other’s concerns, rather than sounding-off rhetorically on tropes already voiced. A technocratic, sober, problem-oriented approach would be a positive stepping-stone for the future.
g Dialogue can become sustainable if it is seen as crucial to the self-interest of both nations.The hard work lies in creating a domestic constituency for talks at home. In India, talks must be sold as a way to secure our frontier with Pakistan, and as part of the agenda of a modern rational and aspirant nation anxious to create a better tomorrow for future generations.
Dialogue can become sustainable if:
n Pakistan provides a “deliverable”in terms of some action on 26/11, which the PM can show off as a positive result of the talks and engagement with Pakistan.
n If the hype and expectation around talks is lessened and a problem solving approach is adopted—in this an “educate the media”campaign could be considered where the dangers of television jingoism are highlighted to editors without in any way toning down the hard-headed need to criticise and differ.
n If industry, trade, cultural and student delegations are allowed to interact freely, a context is provided to the official and political relationship and slowly the climate of domestic opinion implacably opposed to talks is softened.
g The domestic rhetoric and the enemy images are a product of mutual ignorance. On our channel, we have established that “differences of opinion” are distinct from enmities and television debates are not about demonstrations of hostile nationalistic fervour but about serious differences in which issues are perceived.Indians and Pakistanis must not be afraid to criticise their own country in front of each other honestly and admit to pre-conceived notions. A new generation of Indians and Pakistanis perhaps do not carry the baggage of the past. They must be allowed tovisit each other’s countries and enjoy a climate of exchange of cultural products—books, music, fashion, art and films. There is no substitute for people-to-people contacts. Still, a Pakistani grand gesture on 26/11 would go a long way in assuaging tempers here. I also feel a more youthful representation in our Chaopharaya Dialogue would generate many new ideas to create change in our mentalities. The Twitter and Facebook-powered youth of Egypt and Tunisia have shown they can create a revolution: we seem to be missing out in harnessing the power of the “green”generation to take the India-Pakistan project forward.
Former Assistant Chief of Naval Staff
* My impression is that what the military called “staff work”is deeply deficient prior to South Asian EAM’s meetings. It is impossible for two diplomatic establishments to permit their EAMs to meet when they have not worked out any prior list of minimum agreements. It is also impossible to imagine that there is no minimum agreed upon lists that cannot be put together by a determined staff that would at least save
face for the two ministers and the two countries. (This is) downright diplomatic incompetence.
* There is only one relationship that actually continues no matter how bad the crisis, which is the trading relationship. If it is going on why not talk about it? Why pretend we don’t have a booming trade relationship through Dubai. Is the Pakistani establishment involved in diverting trade through Dubai to make a clandestine profit?
g Frankly, I think we have to address the vernacular press, which is the main cause of the problem.
South Asian Advisor, USIP
* There is an increasing realization on both sides that the dialogue needs to be resumed. India, which had stalled the process post-Mumbai 2008, is revisiting its stance internally. It rightly realizes that law of diminishing returns has set in as far as its position of holding up dialogue is concerned. This implies that both sides will be predisposed to avoiding diplomatic attrition at Thimpu. That said, one should not expect any miracles - New Delhi will remain cautious and keep reminding Pakistan, as it should, of its commitment of doing more against the Mumbai perpetrators. The most we should be expecting is diplomatic niceties and hopefully more than just a vague promise of re initiating a dialogue.
* I think the prerequisites for a sustained dialogue are fairly obvious:
* Another Mumbai will stall the process for a long time. The onus is on Pakistan to ensure that militant groups are denied the opportunity to repeat the episode. A deeper requirement is for the two sides to work together on terrorism and to operationalize the Joint Mechanism in reality. I say this as terrorism is not a Pakistan-specific phenomena - a repeat of a Samjhota Express like episode is likely to irk Pakistan equally.
n India must seriously negotiate on Kashmir during the dialogue, both for Pakistan’s and its own sake. A solution to Kashmir is the ultimate guarantee of the anti-India militant groups losing space. On Kashmir, Pakistan needs to accept, at least privately, the Indian demand to restart the process from where the Aziz-Lambiah back-channel left it although there needs to be an equal emphasis on carrying the entire spectrum of political views along - much more so than the previous round did.
* Both sides need to commit, publicly, that the dialogue process will be isolated from exogenous events - read terrorist attacks. Otherwise, it only takes one successful attack by vested interests to put us back at square one.
* Counter-intuitive as it is, this is perhaps the most challenging period for both countries. The in-power regimes on both sides are not ones who have traditionally used belligerent rhetoric against the other to gain domestically. They require the opposition, BJP in India and the right wing
parties in Pakistan to accept the need to change their rhetoric. Seems to be a tough ask, given domestic challenges for both regimes. Notwithstanding, both would do well to launch a concerted media campaign to try and reverse the hostile public sentiment in the two countries. The focus should be to explain the logic of rapprochement and how this will help the respective countries. Let us not, however, hope for too much on this count.
Former Pakistani Ambassador
* Both sides should downscale their immediate objectives. At present, the vital thing is to restore the dialogue. India should not make Mumbaia brick wall that must first be removed. Pakistan should not insist that the dialogue must be “result oriented.”Once they start talking to each other again, these problems will have to be addressed.
* A firm commitment to keep talking no matter what discouraging signs appear every now and then.
* A conviction on the part of both sides that a cooperative relationship is in their mutual interest and the resolution of disputes in beneficial to both.
* A special effort on the part of India to convince a suspicious Pakistani establishment and public that India believes strongly that a stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest.
* Domestic rhetoric can be delegitimized through more joint declarations of both countries’commitment to friendship. By facilitating people to people contacts instead of making them increasingly difficult, India and Pakistan can work towards softening domestic discourse towards the other country.
Assistant Professor of Diplomacy, School of International Studies, JNU
* India and Pakistan should not approach the Thimphu dialogue with inflexible diplomatic positions, they should be willing to accommodate and make concessions. They should also try and take one step at a time, rather than trying to talk and resolve all things at once. There should be considerable thinking on both sides as well as mutually about a potential roadmap to revive an IndiaPakistan peace process.
* Revive the momentum on resolving the Kashmir issue. Restart the dialogue on Kashmir without giving up on whatever has been achieved on it already.
* Increase contacts between two civil societies, industries, educations, institutions etc.
* Work together on issues of common concern, i.e., terrorism and extremism in the region, water problem, climate change, natural calamities etc.
* Media on both sides of the border should be educated to see the other country as just another country rather than as an enemy country.
* Educational and research institutions should be encouraged to cooperate, conduct joint research, and send students, researchers and teachers to visit the other country.
* Examine the school curricula of both the countries for embedded enemy images of each other and expunge the objectionable sections.
Former Indian Ambassador
* Thimpu can be regarded as a success if rhetoric is avoided and an agreement is reached on resuming dialogue at a political level. Experience has shown that long joint press conferences after meetings end in disaster and should be avoided.
* This talk of moving from crisis management to confidence building and resolving disputes has become a cliché, which is best discarded. We had, in our dialogue, achieved progress through the back channel talks and in meetings at the political level to resolve differences over J&K.
The leadership in both countries acknowledged this; huge progress was achieved in promoting CBMs in Jammu and Kashmir. An agreement was reached on our respective nuclear arsenals being a factor for stability; new facilities were agreed on to promote people to people contacts. What more could one have asked for?
The most important thing is that successor governments should stand by understandings reached and commitments made by their predecessors. General Zia-ul-Haq wanted the Simla Agreement to be junked. General Kayani evidently wants the policies and initiatives of General Musharraf on Jammu and Kashmir junked. Responsible sovereign governments do not function in this manner. Finally, both countries have to ensure that non-state actors promoting terrorism with or without State support are put behind bars. Making various excuses on why this cannot be done is a sure way to ensure that the dialogue is derailed.
* The only way forward on this score is to ensure that non-state actors with or without state support cease to destabilize the relationship. Moreover, we have to ensure that we celebrate our successes together, promote economic cooperation that facilitates each other’s progress and stop gloating about the discomfiture or dilemmas of the other side.
Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi
* We should not put too much faith or base our own expectations on a single sideline meeting. Sustained efforts are required to resume a continuing and uninterrupted dialogue. We should continue to focus on this.
* Sustained dialogue is assured through meaningful stepby-step problem solving approach towards furthering a cooperative relationship. This will need setting up working groups to address the issues. The three issues I recommend we focus on are: nuclear confidence-building measures, resolving the Jammu and Kashmir conundrum and addressing terrorism in South Asia.
* This will be a long-term agenda. I will recommend:
* Continuous and sustained civil society engagement
* Creating a constituency among moderate media to ensure a balanced and positive depiction of the other side’s views.
* Open up military to military relationships
* Initiate intelligence agency interactions
* Addressmilitary CBMs
* Jointly address terrorism in South Asia
Director Current Affairs, Dunya TV
* Adequate preparatory work for Thimpu at the Foreign Secretary level should be done. The single objective of Thimpu meeting should be setting a date for the FM meeting in Delhi and forming a broad plan for resumption of bilateral dialogue. To ensure that the work done between the foreign secretaries is accurately put out in the public realm and also that no fauspax are committed while engaging with the media, the two foreign secretaries must agree on what would be said to the press, including the number of questions taken, etc.
* Top-level political commitment to the dialogue process alone can cushion it against the shocks of terrorist attacks, political statements and media-generated controversies. Three steps that could ensure the continuity of the dialogue would be:
* Establishing a simultaneous back-channel bilateral contact to ensure that any snags in the front channel can be removed without stalling the process.
* Agree on the structure and frequency of the bilateral dialogue, make it public and announce the establishment of working groups covering key areas of bilateral significance.
* Regular high-level interaction between the intelligence agencies of the two countries. The overarching requirement of any bilateral dialogue, especially one with a history of being almost non-productive and of frequent derailments, is ensuring its transparency. Transparency helps to frame the process as the principles seek it to be framed.
* Chronic and current factors flow into the making of enemy images. These include a habitual attachment to old framing, yet this attachment to the historic negativity tends to remain largely unquestioned against the backdrop of unresolved conflicts, derailment of dialogue processes, crisis-prone relations where terrorist attacks and oppression in Kashmir dominate popular discourse regarding each other. So a dialogue process, which remains uninterrupted, will help weaken the enemy rhetoric while still identifying outstanding problem areas. Additionally a conscious effort, through greater people-to-people interaction, which focuses on the advantages of cooperation, of conflict resolution, of continuous engagement, on the stakes the two countries have in cooperative peace and security, should also be injected into the popular discourse. Media and existing peace constituencies would be the prime partners in such an effort.