There is no doubt that relations between Pakistan and India appear to be headed in the right direction, with political leaderships in both countries reiterating their commitment to the peace process.
Likewise, this development has been welcomed in both countries, encouraging the international community to hope that the two South Asian neighbours may finally be embarked on a process that will make durable and sustainable peace between them.
What is remarkable is that in addition to the general public in Pakistan, there is a strong consensus among the political parties as well, in support of meaningful cooperation with our neighbour. This has encouraged Islamabad to offer concessions that would otherwise not have been possible.
It would be recalled that ever since 1997 — when the two countries agreed on the Composite Dialogue Process, which identified eight areas of disputes/differences and agreed on a format and mechanism for their resolution — the principle of simultaneous, though not necessarily similar movement on all tracks was envisaged. Even when interrupted by events such as Kargil and the terrorist attacks, the two countries returned to this framework , though it did suffer grievous harm after its resumption in January 2004, because of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s eagerness to wash off the sins of Kargil and wrap himself in the peacemaker’s mantle. To this end, he engaged in what he called “thinking out of the box”, proposing flawed solutions through the media while entrusting his confidant — whose records are reportedly not even available in the ministry’s archives — to engage in back channel diplomacy. Moreover, the authoritarian ruler’s willingness to abandon the UN Security Council’s resolutions as the basis for Kashmir’s settlement amounted to resiling from the country’s historic stand. Fortunately, India’s lingering suspicions about Musharraf’s motives, as well as his domestic troubles, saved the day for Pakistan.
However, India made it clear after another suspension of the dialogue process in the wake of the Mumbai attacks that there was no going back to the 1997 format. More importantly, New Delhi conveyed its strong preference for priority to be accorded to terrorism and trade issues. Pakistan’s agreement to this demand represented a fundamental departure from a position long espoused by it. Consequently, Pakistan has granted the Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) status and also signed a visa liberalisation agreement. It has also agreed to the demand that cooperation on terrorism will be the litmus test of Pakistan’s sincerity as regards its oft-repeated expressions of goodwill.
It is, however, a matter of growing concern that Pakistan’s unilateral gestures that amount to major changes in long-held policy have gone largely unnoticed in India. While it is true that the baggage of history and complexity of issues between the two countries make it all but impossible to remain tied to the zero-sum game, there is no denying that the MFN status, coupled with the liberalised visa regime, is likely to greatly facilitate Indian penetration of the Pakistani market, along with those of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia.
There can be no quarrel with the policy of seeking reconciliation with India; it needs to be pursued vigorously and consistently. In this context, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s declaration that he wants to see Pakistan “strong, stable and prosperous” is to be welcomed. Nevertheless, there is no denying a trace of disappointment with the Indian media’s failure to highlight Pakistan’s initiatives. More worrying is the absence of reciprocal gestures from New Delhi. Of course, most Pakistanis recognise that Kashmir is a dispute that can neither be resolved easily or speedily. But there are other issues regularly described as “low hanging fruits” such as Siachen and Sir Creek, on which understanding remains equally elusive, ostensibly because the Indian Army believes that its strategic needs are not likely to be met by their early resolution. We need to rid ourselves of such myopic attitudes, as they are likely to adversely affect the sustainability of the peace process.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2012.