Few other activities in the world generate as much excitement and deliver as few results as the India-Pakistan dialogue. The hype surrounding the planned meeting during August 2015 between the two national security advisors in New Delhi confirm this.
The temperature would have turned red hot had Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s NSA, chosen to come across the border before the inflammable Indian media with provocative statements on Kashmir and trash Delhi’s dossier on cross-border terrorism while levelling his own charges against India. Delhi, of course, was planning to put Aziz on the mat with all the evidence it had on Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in India. In other words, it could have been a lot worse.
For those looking for an upside, Delhi has hinted that the latest fiasco may not necessarily mean a prolonged break in the dialogue. As the external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, put it on Saturday, there are no full-stops in Indian diplomacy towards Pakistan. Pakistan too may not oppose to letting other meetings, such as between the security forces, agreed upon by the two prime ministers at Ufa last month, take place.
Put simply, India and Pakistan can’t stay away from each other or with each other for too long. That has been the story of unending conflict and diplomacy between India and Pakistan for nearly five decades. During 1947 to 1965, the two sides successfully addressed the many problems that arose out of the partition of the subcontinent, including Indus water-sharing. The borders between the two countries remained open despite the continuing tussle over Kashmir, and the markets were connected.
Since then, we have entered a stalemate. Pakistan has shown the capacity to destabilize Kashmir and foment terror across India. But it has not been able to change the territorial status quo in Kashmir. Delhi, on the other hand, has not been able to find an effective answer to Rawalpindi’s proxy war. Nor has India been able to compel Pakistan to normalize bilateral relations through the expansion of economic cooperation and a settlement around the status quo in Kashmir. Neither side knows how to break this stalemate.
There is no consensus within India or Pakistan on either the terms of engagement or on the give-and-take that must be part of any serious effort to find a new political compact between the neighbors.
The divide in Pakistan between the civilian leaders and the army on how to deal with India is widely noted as a stumbling block to the peace process. But the internal cracks in India, too, are widening.
When in government, both the Congress and the BJP have engaged Pakistan against great odds but refused to cut the other slack when in opposition. The kind of consultation and understanding that was visible in the early 1990s between then PM P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the leader of opposition has been elusive.
Not so fast. For all its bleak history, diplomacy between India and Pakistan has also seen luminous moments of hope. Delhi and Islamabad seemed close to agreements on the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes during 2005-06. The back channel between then PM Manmohan Singh and General Pervez Musharraf had produced a framework agreement on Kashmir in 2007 after two years of negotiations. In 2012, Pakistan seemed on the verge of normalizing trade relations with India. There were extended periods when cross-border terrorism from Pakistan seemed to ebb.
For all the problems with Pakistan, our diplomacy must be animated by hope leavened with the fact that change is inevitable. As the world of India and Pakistan changes, there will always be opportunities to break the current stalemate.