COMMENTARY
 
Renewed Hope for Indo-Pak Peace
Weekly Pulse
July 9-15, 2010
Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna’s visit to Islamabad on July 15 certainly renews hope for the revival of peace process between India and Pakistan, which has been stalled since the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. His visit is part of the recent bid by the two countries’ Prime Ministers, Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Reza Gillani, to resume the diplomatic process for resolving their bilateral disputes.

The peace process had begun in January 2004. Formally called the Composite Dialogue, it produced several confidence-building measures. At least on three occasions, including the incident of terrorism in Mumbai, India decided to unilaterally walk out of the peace process. Its principal rationale for doing so was the pretext that Pakistan had not done enough to meet New Delhi’s core expectation from it regarding cross-border terrorism.

However, in the last over six years, especially during the time the Composite Dialogue was continuing to produce concrete results, India did not meet Pakistan’s core expectation from it: that of resolving the principal dispute of Kashmir between the two countries. Yet Pakistan’s three successive regimes remained overtly flexible about pursuing the peace process with India.

Indian Willingness

In recent months, however, either due to self-realization about the potentially positive outcome of resuming dialogue with Pakistan for itself, or because of growing pressure from the United States, New Delhi has all of sudden started to show keen interest for the purpose. Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Foreign Secretary Ms Nirpama Rao have already visited Islamabad.

One important outcome of Mr. Chidambaram’s interaction with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik was the willingness on the part of the two countries to undertake credible steps on countering cross-border terrorism, including the steps needed to jointly investigate the Mumbai terror attacks. This means that the gap between the two countries at least on the issue of countering terrorism may be narrowing down. If this is so, then we can safely argue that Pakistan has started to meet India’s core expectation from it vis-à-vis counter-terrorism.

How far India is willing to meet Pakistani counter-expectation from it v vis-à-vis Kashmir settlement is still unclear. So, when Mr Krishna sits with his Pakistani counterpart Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad on July 15, we will have to see whether India agrees to revive the Composite Dialogue in its original format, with eight issues on its agenda, including the Kashmir dispute.

Water Issue

The sharing of water in accordance with the Indus Basin Treaty is another serious issue, which is closely related to Kashmir, has cropped up during the time the peace process remained stalled since the Mumbai attacks. How far New Delhi is ready to consider Pakistan’s serious concerns on this matter will also be worth-knowing when the two foreign ministers meet.

Obviously, the revival of the peace process between India and Pakistan necessitates that each of them should try to meet the core expectation of the other. If that happens, then the remaining issues can also be resolved amicably. Unfortunately, by unilaterally walking out of the peace process at least three times since January 2004, India has sabotaged Pakistan’s proactive diplomatic push for South Asian peace.

India must not pursue such non-pragmatic approach in future, because of its serious implications not just of the Indo-Pak ties but also for the stability of a region that is in serious turmoil due to terrorism. The possibility of non-state terrorism having become a regional phenomenon and posing a common threat to India and Pakistan and other countries in the region constitutes the principal ground reality in South or South-West Asia, from which there may be no escape in the foreseeable future.

As a foremost victim of such terrorism, Pakistan has no problem in understanding this ground reality, which has also been acknowledged as such by Afghanistan. It is India that has refused to recognize this gory fact and, consequently, instead of jointly responding to the region-wide terrorist threat, singularly accused Pakistan for “not doing” enough in this regard.

Common Threat

In South Asia, violent non-state actors include all those organizations engaged in trans-national terrorism in the region, including al-Qaeda or its affiliates. They are as much interested in destroying the state fabric of Pakistan as they are in perpetuating the misery of Afghans, terrorizing the people of India, sabotaging its peace process with Pakistan or destabilizing South and South-West Asian region. They can plan their terrorist attack in one country, conduct in another, and channel financial support for the purpose from a third country, which may or may not be necessarily located in the region.

India’s ruling elites, in particular, have failed to appreciate the great qualitative shift that has taken place over time in Pakistan’s perception of terrorism, the gravity of the threat it poses and the steps needed to combat it. Since the middle of 2007, Pakistani state security institutions as well as the society as a whole are in the firing line of terrorists. Despite this, India’s rulers refuse to move an inch away from their self-deluded portrayal of Pakistan as an “epicenter of terrorism.” They are simply not ready to meet Pakistan’s core expectation from India pertaining to the resolution of Kashmir dispute. Even Mr. Krishna has stated that the focus of his visit to Islamabad will be on counter-terrorism.

Obviously, Pakistan has its own grave concerns about India’s alleged involvement in Taliban-led terrorism in the country’s border regions with Afghanistan and elsewhere as well as the terrorist insurgency in Balochistan. Non-state terrorism in a region is never a one-way process. What is important to understand here is that New Delhi’s concerns regarding the threat of cross-border non-state terrorism allegedly emanating from Pakistan are not inseparable from Islamabad’s concerns regarding India’s alleged involvement in terrorism and insurgency in Pakistan.

Perhaps the most complex issue pertaining to an effective regional campaign against non-state terrorism is the resolution of Kashmir conflict. Its non-resolution will continue to fuel non-state terrorism, provide a pretext to violent non-state actors in the region to engage in militancy, including terrorism, and distract Pakistan as a frontline counter-terrorist state in the region from proactively combating terrorism. In fact, neither India nor Pakistan can any longer afford the luxury of continuingly pursuing a peace process which only produces cosmetic results in trade, transport and confidence-building spheres and does not address the core issues of dispute between the two countries such as Kashmir.

New Challenges

With reference to violent non-state actors engaging in cross-border terrorism in South and South-West Asian region, times have changed so have the circumstances. It is the due acknowledgement of this great qualitative region shift that the key issue today. It is, therefore, in India’s interest—as much as in Pakistan’s—to be a part of this joint struggle against al-Qaeda-inspired non-state terrorism in the region.

Pakistan can no longer afford to overlook any violent non-state actor that is unwilling to mould itself in accordance with the existing constraints of the state and threatens its territorial integrity and refuses to respect inviolability of its borders. By overlooking or facilitating non-state terrorism or insurgency in Pakistan, India, alone or in partnership with post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan, will only complicate Pakistan’s ability to proactively combat domestic as well as cross-border non-state terrorism.

The onus of responsibility, therefore, lies squarely on the shoulders of India’s political elites, in government or opposition, whether they are interested in reshaping the national public opinion nurtured for decades with Pakistan-bashing, and reach out honestly to their Pakistani counterparts to fight a common enemy and resolve bilateral conflicts on which this enemy thrives.

To conclude, a regional wave of non-state terrorism requires a common, bilateral or multilateral, regional response—including a) all the immediate steps needed to pre-empt, prevent and proactively combat terrorism, b) a joint mechanism to investigate instances of terrorism whenever and wherever they occur, and c) a broader approach to resolve regional conflicts such as Kashmir, which fuel non-state terrorism.