India-Pakistan relations are severely crisis-ridden, and more often than not lead to the cancelation of the ongoing dialogue processes. The 2004-2008 dialogue process, arguably the most successful Indo-Pak peace process ever, was called off in the wake of the 26/11 attacks. Similarly, the renewed dialogue process was interrupted after the LoC killings in January this year. Again, even as the stage was being set to revive the bilateral talks, last week’s killing of Indian soldiers is threatening to derail the resumption of the dialogue.
What does that mean? To my mind, this shows that the lack of improvement in India-Pakistan relations is not necessarily due to lack of political desire or popular support. Indeed, it may not even be due to a deep-rooted anti-India grand strategy that the Pakistani state has in place. Crisis, or its constant possibility, as it were, is the most significant reason for the lack of improvement in India-Pakistan relations.
In other words, occurrence of crises, be they terror attacks, ceasefire violations or terrorist infiltration into Kashmir, can virtually interrupt the dialogue process between the two countries. Both India and Pakistan are well aware of it and yet it is impossible to rule out the occurrence of a crisis. Therefore, it is important for India and Pakistan to determine for themselves how do deal with such crisis situations.
I wish to put forward a host of measures that India and Pakistan could consider adopting in order to prevent crisis situations from emerging and deal with them more effectively if they do occur.
There are a number of military CBMs in place between India and Pakistan but they seldom prove useful in times of crisis. There is therefore a need to strengthen them so that they serve their intended purpose. There is already a hotline between the DGMOs on both sides but they should be used more frequently especially during a crisis. The frequency of flag meetings between the area commanders along the LoC should be drastically increased. On what more can be done, New Delhi and Islamabad should formally agree to the speedy return of inadvertent line crossers from either side. Innocent villagers on either side of the LoC should not be killed nor should they be thrown into jail for inadvertently crossing the line.
India should repeat the offer made by former Prime Minister Vajpayee on the need to have joint patrolling of the LoC in Kashmir, which Pakistan is unwilling to accept given their fear that it is an Indian ploy to replace the UNMOGIP. India should press this proposal with Pakistan since it will benefit much more from such an agreement. In addition, both sides should also consider ways of putting together a joint ceasefire monitoring mechanism. India should favorably approach the Pakistani demand for joint investigation of ceasefire violations along the LoC. More importantly, it is time India started reaching out to the Pakistani military establishment to exchange views on maintaining stability and peace along the border.
There is a need to radically enhance India’s diplomatic engagements with Pakistan. It is simply not enough for the Indian diplomats to confine themselves to the Indian High Commission in the highly fortified diplomatic enclave in Islamabad. India needs to be proactive in selling the idea of peace with various influential Pakistani constituencies and actors and for that Indian diplomats should informally and continuously engage multiple actors in Pakistan. They should increase their interactions with Pakistan’s opposition parties, media, influential businessmen, religious leaders and college/university students.
To my mind, one of the most useful channels of Indo-Pak diplomacy is the backchannel one. Not only because there is a certain element of useful deniability in such negotiations but also because they are able to conduct their negotiations without the pressure exerted by the hawkish sections of either country. S. K Lambah and Shaharyar Khan are at present the backchannel negotiators of India and Pakistan respectively. While backchannel contacts have been useful between the two sides in the past, especially during 2004 and 2007, there is a need to increase the number of negotiators and items for discussion on their agenda. Indeed, there should be a team of backchannel negotiators dealing with some of the most intractable issues between the two sides. High-powered political appointees should head these teams, preferably political leaders closely acquainted with foreign/defence policy matters. The present model of two senior retired diplomats doing the backchannel talks is not sufficient anymore.
At the political level, there should be regular visits and interactions by the Home, Defense and Foreign ministers to each other’s country. It is important to raise the ongoing dialogue process from the bureaucratic level to the ministerial level. It would be highly desirable to organize regular visits of parliamentary delegations to each other’s country. But more importantly, Islamabad and New Delhi should start thinking about putting together a ‘Joint Working Group’ to prepare an “India-Pakistan Vision-2020” which can provide the guiding principles for a grand reconciliation between the two states.
The most important measure, in my opinion, that New Delhi should take during a crisis is exactly the opposite of what it does now. Whenever there is a crisis, those manning the government in New Delhi tend to run around like headless chickens without knowing what to do, effectively, thereby, handing over the task of policy prescription to the aggressive sections of the New Delhi-based media. This needs to change. I would suggest that during crisis, which cannot be ruled out in India-Pakistan relations, a high-level Indian delegation of experts, comprising of diplomats, military officers, bureaucrats from home and defence ministries, should be sent to Pakistan to negotiate the modus operandi and modus vivendi for defusing the crisis at hand as well as to ensure that such incidents are not repeated. Media should be given carefully prepared facts about the crisis, unlike the recent crisis when the army and the government were imprudently contradicting each other’s version of events.
(Source: Greater Kashmir, August 18, 2013. URL: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2013/Aug/18/steps-for-india-pakistan-crisis-management-10.asp )