Impasse impossible
BY A . G. N O O R A N I | 6/27/2015

INDIVIDUALS can sever relations for good. That luxury of self-indulgence is denied to states on a shared planet, especially to neighbours and, even more so, if they have a heavy long-standing agenda to cope with.

The cancellation of the foreign secretaries` talks by India last year made little sense.

The stated reason implied that it was a signal: don`t talk to Hurriyat leaders before you talk to us. But since then, India has moved the goalpost far away, which would suggest a major policy decision.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi`s call to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the eve of the commencement of Ramazan was a gesture of courtesy. On the same day, however, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stated India`s preconditions, at New York on June 18: `The onus of responsibility for creating an environment in which the relationship can grow would also depend much more on Pakistan and the kind of provocations which came from there.` Precisely which provocations? Discourse between India and Pakistan has never been free from such charges; yet they continued to talk all the same. Complaints are aired at meetings, not cited as preconditions for meetings.

We have come a long way since the then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao wrote to prime minister Nawaz Sharif, on Aug 24, 1992, in reply to his offer of talks (July 14, 1992), accusing Pakistan of supporting militancy in Kashmir and adding `we will have an opportunity to discuss this matter when we meet at Jakarta next week.

Since then, with every change of government in either country, felicitations were followed by resumption of talks notably in October 1993, when Benazir Bhutto became the prime minister, and in 1997 when Nawaz Sharif succeeded her. That resulted in the joint statement at Islamabad on June 23, 1997, the charter for a composite dialogue. Militancy in Kashmir, then at the peak, did not prevent the talks. The charter listed all subjects from Kashmir to `terrorism.` It proved its worth, in however limited a measure.

Now, 18 years later, much bathwater has accumulated from which the baby must be retrieved. There has been progress enough on Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek to lift them from the table of foreign secretaries and put it where it properly belongs the laps of the prime ministers.

Charges of support to terrorism can be discussed by the foreign ministers. The rest agriculture, tourism, health, education, etc can be tackled by the joint commission which was revived on Oct 4, 2005. In the last decade it has languished, after a promising start, as did its predecessor.

Its fate provides a lesson. No commission or working group can work successfully unless the top political leaders will that it should.

That can only be the product of a political understanding to move matters ahead.

Dialogue between the two countries was stalled by the Mumbai blasts of Nov 26, 2008.

The prime ministers` joint statement at Sharm El-Sheikh on July 16, 2009, was followed by the foreign secretaries` meeting on Feb 25, 2010, and the prime ministers` highly successful summit at Thimphu on April 30, 2010. Meetings between the foreign ministers followed till 2011.

What we need to ask ourselves now is, how do we break this impasse? It is wasteful and potentially dangerous. A similar and much longer stand-off a decade ago, for well over a year, was broken by external intervention which few care to recall. The script for the dialogue between India and Pakistan was written by the then US president George W. Bush and the then UK prime minister Tony Blair for their respective seconds, secretary of state Colin Powell and foreign secretary jack straw, to publicise in a joint statement on March 27, 2003.

It followed a `massacre of innocent civilians in Kashmir on March 23.` They nonetheless pressed both sides to resume talks which were stalled after India had amassed troops on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir and the international border. They set out the steps for us humble ones to follow: `Both sides should consider immediately implementing a ceasefire and taking other active steps to reduce tension including moves within the Saarc context. The differences between India and Pakistan can only be resolved through peaceful means and engagement.

Sure enough, on April 18/19, A.B. Vajpayee responded with offers of a ceasefire and talks which prime minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali accepted. A ceasefire followed in November and Vajpayee came to Islamabad for the Saarc summit. A joint statement issued on Jan 6, 2004, revived the dialogue.

Is that what we are waiting for? The subcontinent is not an island unto itself. Having stalled the dialogue process, India should revive it. Sir Creek is overripe for solution.

LoC trade and the hideous visa regime do not affect governments; only the people. Some untangling is urgently called for. Else, where do we go from here? •
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn