Wither bilateral dialogue!

As Pakistan-India peace process appears to be experiencing its ups and downs

Khalid Saleem July 08, 2019
The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan and ex-Assistant Secretary General of OIC

With the brouhaha surrounding domestic squabbles, the once-vaunted Pakistan-India peace process appears to be experiencing its ups and downs. Not that the bilateral talks ever appeared to be more than a diversionary tactic of sorts. In fact, it would appear that, in the not too distant future, the process may well be denuded of the proverbial fig leaf that has afforded it a semblance of respectability of sorts. Borders a wee bit on wishful thinking, does it not? One wonders what the ‘take’ of the venerable Foreign Office gurus on this would be!

In the not too recent past, one was a trifle intrigued as to why the Pakistan Foreign Office — that ought to know better — so often allowed its spokespersons to fly off the handle when alluding to what were after all no more than mundane developments. To take a random instance of over a decade ago, the leaders of Pakistan and India had had a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (was it 2004?). Our Foreign Office spokesperson, in an outburst of ebullient enthusiasm, chose to describe the event as a ‘historic’ development. If ever there was a loaded statement this was one! The spokesman had considered it fit to ignore the dictum that such loaded statements are not to be made lightly and certainly not by professional diplomats. One had erroneously presumed that this effusion signified that the spokesman was in the know of a thing or two not in the ken of us lesser mortals. In hindsight, though, it became clear later that this happened due to a mere distinct ‘disconnect’ between the spokesman and ground reality.

Another subject that has been more misused than used is related to the elusive quest for ‘peace’. Every Tom, Dick and Harry — and their uncle — all take it upon themselves to dilate upon and pen down odes to the quest for dialogue between Pakistan and India. The recent enthusiasm shown at the highest level by our side for resumption of the bilateral dialogue is a case in point. In normal circumstances, one would be the last to pick holes in the quest for this worthy objective. The fact remains, however, that the matter is not as simple as it has been made out to be. All discussion about ‘peace’, without dilating upon the matter of prior equitable settlement of contentious issues, is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse — never a good policy!

One cannot help but notice that there is no dearth in Pakistan of those who still would wish to lean on the crutch of the “American connection”. But, then, how much credence can Pakistan give to the assurances of an ‘ally’, addicted as it is to ‘do-more’; what to talk of such deviations as the Doctrine of Pre-emption and the India-United States nuclear deal? It is a matter of some regret that we are still willing, nay yearning, to clutch at every drifting straw!

Things appear to be flowing in so many parallel currents (and cross-currents, if you please) that the ongoing process of unravelling the skein appears to be little better than a fool’s errand. The pity is that the elusive ‘political will’ — of which the Foreign Office spokesmen once talked with so much fervour — turned out to be no more solid than a mirage that is visible only through rose-coloured spectacles. One must not forget that it is this very (elusive nature of the) political will that has been the bane of all constructive moves in the past towards the ephemeral goal of peace, harmony and cooperation in South Asia.

Life is so full of unexpected surprises that the best one can do is to wait, see and learn. The lessons of the past few years hardly inspire confidence, though. With the re-elected hardliner dispensation in New Delhi, events appear to have taken a turn for the worse. Hindsight, evidently, serves more to hurt than to heal.

But, then, as the French would say: ca c’est la vie!

Published in The Express Tribune, July 08th, 2019.

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