Originally Published 2004-05-19 11:11:54 Published on May 19, 2004
The process of rapprochement between India and Pakistan began during the SAARC summit at Islamabad in January 2004. The two estranged neighbors set aside the bitterness of the recent past and decided to work together for peace and stability. That such a beginning could be made is itself a major achievement.
Indo-Pak Dialogue Process: Moving Forward
The process of rapprochement between India and Pakistan began during the SAARC summit at Islamabad in January 2004. The two estranged neighbors set aside the bitterness of the recent past and decided to work together for peace and stability. That such a beginning could be made is itself a major achievement. The second round of talks between the Foreign Secretaries will take place in May and June 2004. Several important questions regarding the ongoing talks need to be answered. What should India expect from the ongoing peace process? Is the peace and the peace process going to last or it is merely a passing phase of relatively less hostility? What can be done to maintain this 'engagement'? Are we prepared for failure of the talks? 

What should India expect from Pakistan? 

India has been the target of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir since decades. This has always been denied by Pakistan. India should have least three expectations from the ongoing dialogue process. One, Pakistan should not get away by repeating its old statement that "Kashmir is the core issue between India and Pakistan". Second, it should accept the existence of terrorist training camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and work sincerely to dismantle terrorist camps in POK. Third, Pakistan should not talk of third party mediation, the moment there is some disagreement on any issue between the two countries

To begin with, if the two sides are able to agree on a road map for a gradual improvement in the relationship and learn to 'agree to disagree', it would be a big achievement. The main aim should not be to quickly solve all outstanding issues between the two countries. That is not possible. Instead, initially the aim should be to focus on those issues on which the differences are not so wide. This would keep the momentum of the talks going and also sustain the engagement process over a longer period of time. 

Maintaining the Engagement

Symbolic gestures go a long way towards building peace. To maintain the engagement India should adopt a flexible attitude towards the whole process. India can as a first step withdraw a few army battalions from Kashmir. This unilateral step will generate immense goodwill between the two nations. India can then ask Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in POK and assure Pakistan that further thinning out of troops would be in proportion to the reduction in infiltration and terrorist activities by foreign mercenary terrorists. Simultaneously, initiatives on building confidence through people to people contact, liberalisation of the visa regime, new rail and bus services and encouragement to trade can be taken up reciprocally. It would be beneficial to move in a compartmentalised manner rather than taking the agenda of the talks in aggregate. This way, even if not much progress is being made on one aspect like the Kashmir issue, the other issues will not be held hostage. 

The stakes are indeed high and both the countries need to work hard to ensure success. Failure or deadlock in the talks may once again lead to increased violence in the Valley. India needs to learn to manage terrorism if not eliminate it completely and should be ready with an alternative plan of action. The two countries should not again reach a crisis situation if the talks fail. Both the countries should understand and convince the people that the present window of opportunity must not be frittered away. The ongoing peace overtures should not be allowed to escalate into disagreement, misunderstanding, doubt, suspicion or threats of a nuclear backlash. Both the sides need to work with courage and flexibility. 

Will the dialogue last?

The present optimism stems from the fact that at least the dialogue process has started. There has been a marked reduction in the level of infiltration on the borders. However, generally during winters the graph of infiltration goes down due to the difficult terrain. Things will be clear only by the month of August-September. It is only then that it will be known if there has been any real reduction in infiltration. This would decide the future course of the Indo-Pak relationship. If the infiltration rises in the coming months and violence levels increase again, it will be very difficult to sustain the present level of understanding and a deadlock may soon be reached. 

There are domestic compulsions on both sides which are acting as stimulants for the ongoing talks. By talking 'peace' with India, General Musharraf is increasing his acceptability at home and credibility abroad. By controlling the flow of terrorism in India, General Musharraf is able to show his commitment towards the war on terror and keep garnering funds and support from the US and the international financial institutions. On the Indian side, with election process having concluded, the new government would like to continue to play former Prime Minister Vajpayee's 'peace card'. Though Pakistan has never been an issue in the domestic politics of India, the present talks were projected as an act of the former prime minister's statesmanship. Thus both Musharraf and Vajpayee had their own short term political agenda to fulfill. 

With a change of government in India, a lot of responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of the Indian bureaucracy. They must sustain the dialogue process till the political masters can consolidate their position and once again begin to give a political impetus to the talks. Similarly, Pakistan is passing through an internal security crisis and General Musharraf's own position is tenuous at best. The crucial aspect at present is to aim for a stable relationship rather than to find quick fix solutions to intractable problems left over from history. If the two nations proceed with sincerity tempered by caution and abjure their predilection for one-upmanship, eventually, some tangible results will be achieved. Only then there will be hope for a brighter future for the people and South Asia - a future free of the fear of daily doses of terrorist violence. 

(The writer is Research Associate, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. )

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.