November Issue 2015
Cover Story: Diplomacy on the Brink
By Rahimullah Yusufzai | News & Politics | Published 7 years ago
As the Track 1 dialogue between India and Pakistan is no longer taking place due to a host of factors, the Track 2 interactions of prominent citizens from the two neighbouring countries have not only increased, but also assumed some importance due to the prevalent hostility in their usually uneasy relationship.
There are a number of Track 2 processes, including the oldest one, known as Neemrana Initiative that began in 1991, and the relatively new Chaophraya Dialogue between Pakistani delegates chosen by the Jinnah Institute in Islamabad and Indians selected by the Australia-India Institute. A few German foundations too have been sponsoring such dialogues.
The delegates holding Track 2 dialogues often include parliamentarians, retired diplomats and military officers, academics, former policy-makers, members of the media and civil society activists. No doubt the dialogues, mostly held in neutral and exotic places instead of India and Pakistan due to visa problems, are informed and sustained, but the participants, even if they aren’t representing their country and government, often end up taking the official line. This sometimes causes frustration and reduces the incentive for continuing the Track 2 diplomacy.
The diplomatic deadlock between Islamabad and New Delhi has more or less persisted since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in which more than 160 persons, including 28 non-Indians, were killed. The composite dialogue between the two countries, focusing on eight subjects ranging from Kashmir to Siachen and Sir Creek to terrorism and water issues continued from 2004-2007, but it stopped after the Mumbai carnage for which India blamed the Pakistani militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). India came up with some evidence and asked Pakistan to bring the masterminds of the attacks to justice. As India sees it, the delay in making the accused accountable has become the major roadblock in reviving talks between the two neighbours and making the peace process “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” as it is often described by peaceniks on both sides.
Presently, India is insisting on holding talks only on terrorism while Pakistan wants all issues, particularly Kashmir, to be discussed. For years, Pakistan was criticised for focusing too much on Kashmir and ignoring other critical issues that needed to be discussed and resolved. Now India has adopted the same attitude by refusing to discuss all other issues except terrorism. One may well ask then, if Pakistan was wrong all these years, how can India be right in adopting the same exclusionary attitude?
It is no secret that the Indian government’s attitude toward Pakistan has become increasingly aggressive since the election of the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2014. Modi had made his intentions clear even during the election campaign when he vowed to “speak to Pakistan in its own language” if India suffered another terrorist attack. During Track 2 meetings, Indian delegates lose no opportunity to remind the Pakistani participants that no government in New Delhi would be able to show the kind of patience that former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh displayed after the Mumbai attacks. However, they don’t mention the subsequent reports that Manmohan Singh considered authorising strikes against alleged training facilities for Kashmiri fighters in Pakistani Kashmir, but backed down because of the lack of precise targeting data needed for the airstrikes and also due to the advice given to him by the then army chief, General Deepak Kapoor, that his forces weren’t ready for the war that may be triggered by the Indian military action in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
The recent statement by the Indian army chief, General Dalbir Singh, is alarming as he said the military was prepared for short-duration wars. The general, who seems to have been affected by the BJP-led government’s animosity towards Islamabad and is trying to appease the rulers, should know better than anyone else that wars usually don’t remain short. Pakistan wrongly assumed in 1965 that the war would be confined to the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and wouldn’t spread to the international border between the two countries. In context of the India-Pakistan situation, there will always be the likelihood of a war expanding in terms of area and intensity. No other thought could be more frightening considering the fact that India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and have already fought three full-scale wars.
The incidents of intolerance, directed primarily against Pakistan and Indian Muslims but also unsparing of Sikhs, Christians and low-caste Dalits, have already taken its toll with India’s image getting tarnished internationally and provoking protests at home. Prominent writers, artistes, filmmakers and even an eminent scientist like the 87-year old P M Bhargava have returned their civil awards to protest the growing intolerance in India. Such has been the level of intolerance that a rational Hindu writer who questioned Hindutva was murdered, a Muslim wrongly accused of eating cow meat was attacked at his home and killed, a Kashmiri trucker was slain, Dalits were burnt to death or shot dead, and the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, was desecrated. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of RSS that is aligned to BJP and often sparks controversies and violence just like the radical Shiv Sena, recently declared that women should restrict themselves to household chores. The BJP chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, said Muslims should stop eating beef because the cow “is an article of faith” in India. No wonder then that those pursuing the goals of Hindutva have been dubbed as the “Hindu Taliban” in India.
The situation so alarmed President Pranab Mukherjee, who belonged to the Congress Party and was appointed to this largely ceremonial post by the previous government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that he twice highlighted his concern about the growing intolerance in India and the threat it posed to the country’s secular traditions and religious and ethnic diversity. It seems President Mukherjee’s statements prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to finally end his silence on the issue and speak against intolerance. However, he won’t be taken seriously until he takes action, however mild, against his ministers and party leaders who have spoken insensitively about the prevalent issues of intolerance concerning non-Hindus.
At Track 2 interactions, one found Indian participants somewhat defensive about the incidents of intolerance and violence, but still unwilling to condemn Modi and the BJP for contributing to the existing situation. It was obvious they didn’t want to give ground to the Pakistani participants, who have always been at the receiving end, coming from a country where places of worship and members of the minority communities have been attacked and education, human rights and women’s rights advocates have faced threats and even death. It is now India’s turn to answer critics who point to the rising tide of intolerance and the culture of impunity that is spreading across parts of the biggest democracy in the world. And they rightly point out that this could not have happened without an approving nod from India’s present rulers. Some even point out that this may not have happened if the Muslims who suffered death and destruction at the hands of Hindu mobs in 2002, when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, had been provided timely justice.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s October 2015 issue.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.