Saturday, July 20, 2013

Takeaways from the Chaophraya Track-2



The recently concluded 12th round of the Chaophraya India-Pakistan track-two Dialogue (17 – 18 July 2013, Bangkok) was, to my mind, valuable and instructive for a number of reasons. Before I discuss what I found interesting about the latest round of the track-two, here’s a brief summary about the initiative itself. The Chaophraya Dialogue ( is an Indo-Pak Track-two initiative co-organised by Indians and Pakistanis to encourage informed discussions on bilateral relations and enhance stakes in peace. The dialogue is primarily meant to give an opportunity to opinion makers from India and Pakistan to interact with each other on a sustained basis. Indeed, the Chaophraya Dialogue is credited with providing a forum for a non-official dialogue when the official dialogue process between India and Pakistan had frozen, following the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. 

The Bangkok meeting made it abundantly clear that India-Pakistan relations can move beyond terrorism and Kashmir, both of which have traditionally constituted the core of Indo-Pak rivalry. Up until recently, it was well-nigh impossible to talk about peace between the two countries because their negotiations would not progress beyond the ‘T’ and ‘K’ words.  The latest round of the dialogue witnessed very few Indian references to Pak-sponsored terrorism. Even when the issue of terrorism was mentioned, it was to tell the Pakistani side that an act of terror by Pak-based organizations would seriously derail the current rapprochement between the two sides. The Pakistani participants at the dialogue did not mention Kashmir even once. Not because Pakistanis do not think strategically, but perhaps because they do think strategically. 

While avoiding the mention of Kashmir from a bilateral track-two might be good for a successful Indo-Pak dialogue, it does have its own adverse implications for the eventual resolution of the Kashmir conflict itself. First of all, let us understand why not discussing Kashmir in an Indo-Pak dialogue is the ‘progressive’ thing to do. This is clearly indicative of the change within Pakistan on how to deal with India in general and what strategy to adopt vis-à-vis the Kashmir issue in particular. This change is also indicative of the internal transformation that Pakistan itself is going through. Read it with the fact that India and Kashmir were hardly ever mentioned during Pakistan’s recent elections.  This means that contemporary Pakistan is not obsessed with India (Kashmir has been the popular expression of Pakistan’s India obsession for a long time). This is obviously good news because it is time that Pakistan gave up its obsession about India and started worrying about its own future. I would argue that Pakistan’s loss of interest in Kashmir is one of the key features of Islamabad’s new strategic imagination. Secondly, not holding the Indo-Pak peace process hostage to the Kashmir conflict would pave way for many of the other important issues to be seriously addressed. 

The problem with the Pakistani side losing interest in Kashmir is that once Pakistan stops needling India on Kashmir, New Delhi is likely to push the Kashmir issue to the backburner given the fact that the international community does not bother with what happens in Kashmir anymore. Stability and peace in South Asia is a moving target for the international community, led by the United States, and Kashmir does not form part of that target anymore. It is a different matter that if New Delhi tries to conveniently forget about Kashmir, because no one is telling it to resolve it, it would only be harming its own long-term interests. 

Focus Kabul
If Kashmir and terrorism are no more the key drivers of Indo-Pak relations, what is it that is bothering the two sides? It’s the unfolding of the Afghan geopolitics that seems to be drawing the attention of strategic pundits in New Delhi and Islamabad.  Indeed, Afghanistan consumed almost half the sessions at the Bangkok conference. The dominant Indian fearwas that Afghanistan would eventually go back to the 1990s with Pakistan installing a Taliban regime in Kabul which would prove to be a major security threat to India. On the other hand, the prominent Pakistani argument was that Afghanistan is in its sphere of influence and thatit has invested in it heavily: with sweat, blood and money. Hence India should stop interfering and hurting the Pakistani interests in Afghanistan.

However there were also some fresh, though not so dominant, arguments on Afghanistan. Some Indian participants argued that India should have nothing to do with Afghanistan, as it cannot afford to spend huge amounts of resources on stabilizing Afghanistan let alone projecting force into Afghanistan. Moreover,India has no strategic interests there and Indian involvement will only make the situation murkier in Afghanistan.

Similarly, some Pakistani participants stressed the need to have joint indo-Pak projects in Afghanistan (this is something that Pakistanis have traditionally rejected). The dialogue, in this context, recommended the following: “India and Pakistan should explore the possibility of undertaking joint projects in Afghanistan on IT, training and education, telecommunication, healthcare, agriculture, capacity building, etc.” 

There seems to a realization in Pakistan today that despite all its bravado about Afghanistan being its sphere of influence, and not of India, post-2014 Afghanistan might become too hot for it to handle. Perhaps this is partly responsible for Pakistan’s new found realisation, at least among track-two interlocutors, that cooperating with its neighbours to stabilize Afghanistan, is after all not a bad idea. There is also a palpable reduction in the Pakistani diatribe on the alleged Indian designs in Afghanistan. 

One understanding that a lot of Indians and Pakistanis seem to share about Afghanistan is that the security situation in Afghanistan will get worse post-2014 and because the Americans and their allies have lost interest in Afghanistan they are unlikely to bother with it anymore. As a result, Pakistan will be a victim of the geopolitics that will eventually play out in Afghanistan. Pakistan, under such circumstances, cannot be overly combative about its sphere of influence. It should therefore try and seek more cooperative rather than zero-sum outcomes in Afghanistan.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, 21 July 2013. URL: )

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