Monday, June 23, 2014

Three Ts and an evolving dialogue process



The Pakistani establishment’s worst ‘Modi’ fear is not that he might be militarily tough with it - which in any case they expect and hence may even be prepared to deal with - but that the Modi government may actually choose a minimalist agenda in dealing with Pakistan bereft of the usual political grand gestures, desi symbolism and the usual diplomatic nuances and niceties. New Delhi, under the new regime, might very well mean ‘just business’ with Islamabad and that really is what is worrying the Pakistani establishment at this juncture. This is one sharp message that was evident at least to me in the latest (14th) edition of the Chaophraya India-Pakistan track-2 dialogue in Chiang Mai.  

If what India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told the media after Modi’s meeting with Nawaz Shariff in New Delhi is an indication of the things to come, Pakistan’s worst fears may indeed come true. Ms. Singh declared before the media that “it was conveyed that Pakistan must abide by its commitment to prevent its territory and territory under its control from being used for terrorism against India”. She also informed the media that India is keen on improving trade ties with Pakistan. 

New Delhi might also, in the days to come, keep insisting on a transit route to Afghanistan via Pakistan. To the Pakistani interlocutors in Ching Mai, all this looked that New Delhi’s future engagement with Islamabad would center around three key agenda items: terrorism, trade and transit, or the ‘Three Ts’. Lets examine what this means for the future of Indo-Pak dialogue process. 

Trade between rival countries is certainly not a bad idea. There is indeed a need to focus on trade. India and Pakistan need to take steps to do away with the thriving unofficial/informal bilateral trade through the Middle East. In fact, there is an entire parallel structure in Dubai and other Middle Eastern locations of the bankers and Hawala agents who thrive on sending Indian goods to Pakistan via Middle East and vice versa. New Delhi may also think of selling power to Pakistan which the Modi government may be keen on. Eventually even a Free Trade Agreement could be signed between the two sides once the current roadblocks such as the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status and Non-Tariff Barrier issues are sorted out by the two sides. Modi government is likely to give a great deal of political push to the Indo-Pak trade negotiations which its predecessor government was conducting with Islamabad. Moreover, the intra-Kashmir trade may also be given a new lease of life by the NDA government by taking it beyond the current symbolism. 

Apart from trade, as pointed out above, there will also be focus on the issue of terrorism (26/11 trials etc.) and the demand for a transit route to Afghanistan. New Delhi will continue to insist that Islamabad delivers on these. 

So why are the Pakistanis uneasy about this? Pakistani track-two interlocutors are uncomfortable with this deal because they have been feeling, for some time now, that the ongoing dialogue process is being conducted on New Delhi’s terms without being cognizant of Islamabad’s concerns and demands. But does Islamabad really have a choice? Given the kind of support that Modi seems to be attracting from around the world, from Asian and European capitals alike, including Beijing, it is likely that they will put pressure on Islamabad to accept the ‘Three Ts’ focus. With diminishing interest among the international community on non-T issues between India and Pakistan, Pakistan may have to accept this deal. 

So what does this mean? For one, it means that the talk about a grand reconciliation between India and Pakistan is practically over. We will no longer be talking about Indo-Pak dialogue process throwing up any ‘all-in-one package deals’. We will hereon be focusing on very specific outputs and the delivery of which will determine the success or failure of Indo-Pak dialogue process. Secondly, it will also lead to a certain depoliticisation of Indo-Pak relations –, there are hardly any deep political contexts to the three Ts except the terror question on which I assume there won’t be much progress. 

Thirdly, Kashmir will continue to be avoided by the Modi government from future Indo-Pak parleys. Kashmir issue will at best be seen by New Delhi as an internal issue and intra-Kashmir trade, as pointed out above, and LoC tensions are likely to be the only Kashmir-related issues that will capture New Delhi’s attention. There will be a desire to address the insurgency within Kashmir. Even on this, the efforts are unlikely to be political in nature. This may not be a good strategy in the long term for a variety of reasons, as I have argued many times in the past in my GK columns. You simply can’t hide away contentious political issues. 

Siachen standoff will most likely be pushed to the backburner as well. Not only because the Indian army is not keen on any deal whatsoever on Siachen but also because of the increasing Indian concerns about the Chinese presence in the Karakhoram region. Sir Creek, again, is unlikely to figure in the Indian strategic imagination as a priority issue as far as Indo-Pak conflict resolution is concerned. In short, you are looking at an extremely limited Indo-Pak dialogue process. 

(Source: Greater Kashmir, June 22, 2014. URL: 

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