NationalVolume 13 Issue # 19

Track II diplomacy back on track?

Pakistan and India have decided to revive dialogue for peace in the region through Track II diplomacy. The thaw came after a high-powered delegation of former Indian diplomats, military veterans and academics travelled to Pakistan on April 28, to discuss ways to improve the bilateral relationship. Despite optimism in some circles, the talks may not bear fruitful results because of deep-rooted mistrust between the two countries and Indian obduracy to resolve the core issue of Kashmir.

 

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed that the two neighbours have been engaged in dialogue through back channels for a while but it became irregular during a recent rise in tension. It is said the United States, China and Russia support the initiative. Tension between Pakistan and India has been high since the killing of Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani in July 2016. An attack on Indian forces in September 2016 — that killed 19 soldiers in Uri area of Held Kashmir — further heightened the tension. India also claimed it had carried out a “surgical strike” to avenge the Uri attack, which Pakistan rejected. The talks have resumed after cross-border clashes between the two nuclear-armed neighbours have reached the highest levels in 15 years. Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded in the clashes instigated by India. In December 2017, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Nasir Khan Janjua and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval had held an unannounced meeting in Bangkok to build trust. Reports said Janjua and Doval discussed the Kashmir issue, terrorism and overall bilateral ties. Days before the meeting with Doval, Janjua had said the back-channel diplomacy with India was on and a solution to tension was being discussed. There was a pause in contacts for some months as tension escalated. However, the peace initiative received a fresh start with a high-powered delegation of former Indian diplomats, military veterans and academics travelling to Pakistan to discuss ways to improve bilateral relations.

 

Russia has also been active to defuse Pak-India tension which threatens peace in South Asia. Pakistan and India will be part of a multi-nation counter-terror exercise in Russia later this year, which will also be joined by China and several other countries. The military exercise in September will take place under the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Russia and China-dominated security grouping, which is increasingly seen as a counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The exercise, “Peace Mission,” aims to enhance counterterror cooperation among the eight SCO member countries. Pakistan will be represented by President Mamnoon Hussain at the SCO’s Heads of State Council summit in Qingdao while Prime Minister Narendra Modi would represent India. Moscow and Beijing are optimistic that the two nuclear-armed neighbours’ entry into the SCO could strengthen prospects for peace across the region. Russia and China have also offered Pakistan to play their role in defusing tension with India and Afghanistan, respectively.

 

According to a report published by UK-based think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the peace initiative is also supported by the Pakistan military which reached out to India for talks. “Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa recognizes that the way to peace and prosperity in Pakistan is through military cooperation with India. In a historic first, last month General Bajwa had invited Sanjay Vishwasrao, the Indian military attaché, and his team to the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad. Two weeks later, Bajwa said that the Pakistan military wanted peace and dialogue with India,” the report said.

 

A sign that the two long-time foes might be warming up to each other, the two countries will also take part in joint military drills in Russia with Chinese participation in September. “These initiatives come against a background of almost weekly exchanges of fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir,” the report noted. Last year, while speaking at RUSI, General Bajwa welcomed Indian participation in the $60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). There is a change in attitude since Bajwa became the army chief in November 2016. Approaches by Pakistani military have been welcomed by some in India, because they are seen to be able to deliver on peace, said the report while adding that Pakistan Army Lieutenant General Aamir Riaz headed the first ever high level contact group with India as Director-General Military Operations.

 

The report said that another top officer, Major General Ahmed Hayat, the Director General of Analysis Wing of the Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI), authored the so-called India Plan in 2013, which tried to ascertain how and when Pakistan should approach India. He concluded that the Pakistani military would approach India once Pakistan’s own defence diplomacy was strengthened and not under American threats or pressure. “It is a no brainer that one cannot live in an environment of perpetual enmity with a neighbour six times your size, but the indicators have to be right,” he said. “History teaches us to be cautious when approaching India – history paints India as an anti-status quo entity,” Hayat was quoted as saying. With growing security and stability on the western border, since the army launched anti-terror operations Zarb-e-Azb in 2014 and Radd-ul-Fassad in 2017, the army understands that talking to India will help the country’s upward economic trajectory and allow regional trade to flourish. “Hayat’s plan could come to fruition this year,” the report said. However, India has so far rejected Pakistan’s offer of a transit trade dialogue on Afghan–Indian commerce. But with a sustained approach by Pakistani officers to India, it could only be a matter of time before Delhi agrees to at least talk to Islamabad, the report noted.

 

Pakistan and India have held composite dialogues in the past after renaming it comprehensive bilateral dialogue, but it stalled without producing any results. Talks have also been held on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, peace and security, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage, Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counterterrorism, narcotics control, humanitarian issues, people-to-people exchanges and religious tourism, but all proved futile. The latest talks have started after Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa recently stressed that peaceful solution to disputes between Pakistan and India, including the core issue of Kashmir, was only possible through a comprehensive and meaningful dialogue between the hostile but hyphenated states. “While such dialogue is no favour to any party, it remains the inevitable precursor to peace across the region. Pakistan remains committed to such a dialogue, but only on the basis of sovereign equality, dignity and honour,” he said in his recent address at the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul.

 

It appears Pakistan has started the dialogue sincerely but the result will be the same as New Delhi’s obduracy would be the main hurdle to its success. All previous peace efforts failed because of the Indian attitude, while Pakistan has already compromised its position on trade with India by de-linking it with the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. However, Pakistan has delayed the Most-Favoured Nation status to India as the government believes its agriculture sector will be adversely affected by the removal of non-tariff barriers. The Indian leadership has resumed talks with Pakistan for its own reasons. If its past practice is any guide, it will not change its attitude towards Pakistan and start meaningful talks for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute, which is the core issue between the two countries

 

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