The latest overture from India, after the new dispensation took over in Islamabad, does little to clear the cobwebs that have been beclouding the relations between the two countries for a long time. Mr Salman Khurshid, India’s minister for external affairs, made positive noises about resumption of the “composite dialogue” but then, is reported to have appended the caveat that “India wants the new government in Islamabad to move forward on some confidence-building measures before dialogue resumes”. This caveat adds a new nuance to an already nuance-ridden ambiance.
From the Pakistan side, there have been several on-the-record statements both before and after the swearing-in, about the desire to improve relations with India. But such pious utterances are neither here nor there. Proof of the pudding, as they say, lies in the eating.
Some time prior to the elections, what gave the man in the street a queasy feeling was that Pakistan appeared to have perceptibly altered its stance about the blessed peace process. Rather than insist on switching over to a “problem settlement mode” as promised, Pakistan appeared to have fallen into step with the Indians to consider the confidence-and security-building measures (CBMs) as the end in itself, rather than the means to a loftier end.
Now, with what India’s minister has said, one can hardly avoid the feeling that we are apt to be fobbed off with a few more measly CBMs in the name of progress. Changing the subject a tad, what happened to the much-vaunted “back-channel” diplomacy? What was it intended to achieve.
Not surprisingly, people are looking to the new government for a fresh and refreshing approach to the country’s foreign relations. How can one blame the man in the street for expecting that the two countries would rise above the mundane exercise of scoring debating points and move on to take joint concrete measures to ensure that the errors of the past are not repeated?
So far as resuscitating the peace process is concerned, the man in the street can hardly help wonder why the two countries have to keep on deluding themselves. It is obvious that the two sides appear to have ensconced themselves securely in square one. Where, then, does one go from here? That, as our strategic partners — the Americans — would say, is the million dollar question.
Cosmetic measures are prone to be overtaken by the law of diminishing returns. Indeed, they may already have been. Unless something is done — and done very quickly indeed — to restore public confidence in the “composite process’” there is real danger that the momentum, painstakingly generated this far, may be irretrievably lost.
The “composite peace process” can sustain itself only if it starts showing tangible results. To fob off the people with more CBMs is simply not going to work. The upsurge of public sentiment in favour of peace can be highly deceiving. Like a tsunami wave, public opinion can surge to phenomenal heights in a short period of time. It can also subside just as suddenly.
In order to restore the lost mutual confidence, the two countries need to register, at least, a symbolic forward movement towards the settlement of unsolved contentious issues. Time, lest we forget, is of the essence. This is the 21st century. There is talk afloat about “a global village”. It is about time the two countries decide to take tangible steps to extricate themselves from the quagmire of lost opportunities and take a step forward. All that is needed is political will.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2013.
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