In the end, it all went to worms — again. The bilateral dialogue process between India and Pakistan has shuddered to a halt. It had taken a number of hits since the start of the year — with the Pathankot attack, the arrest of an Indian intelligence officer, Kulbhushan Yadav, in March and elevated concerns about the activities of foreign intelligence agencies in Balochistan, it was perhaps inevitable. The Pathankot attack was not immediately mortal, and both sides resolved not to let it knock the peace process off-track. Secretary-level talks were put on hold rather than cancelled and there was some unparalleled cooperation between the two states over the investigation of the attack. It was the capture of Yadav that probably dealt the final blow. His seemingly frank admissions of guilt and the wealth of detail he provided, including that his handler in India was also intimately involved in the bilateral dialogue, could not be ignored. Indian duplicity was exposed in a way that diplomacy had no work-around for.
Fingers will doubtless be pointed on all sides as to the where the fault lies for this latest debacle, which has effectively ended the most promising exchanges for many years. There has been collateral damage to the back-channels that is going to take time to repair and may require a change of players on the Indian side, and tensions along the common borders are inevitably going to rise.
The process may be moribund but an early burial is inadvisable as life may yet be breathed into it. Of utmost importance is the refurbishment of the back-channels through which much has been accomplished and without which the front-of-house talks are unlikely to ever happen. There is going to be no resolution of the fundamental underlying issue — Kashmir — in the foreseeable future and there is now a trust deficit and no obvious confidence-building-measures to pull out of the diplomatic bag. The Pathankot attack has had a domino effect and the always-vulnerable peace process has once again been taken down by terrorist intervention. It is going to take some mighty efforts by all concerned to get the ship of peace sailing head-to-wind again.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2016.
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