Dialogue or deterrence!


By Dr DK Giri
(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

New Delhi’s refusal to resume dialogue with Pakistan has raised diplomatic and political divisions across the country and abroad. The questions asked are: can you secure peace without a dialogue? And contrarily, can you conduct any formal communication in the thick of terror and bloodshed? Where does the truth lie?
A South-Asia expert Stephen Cohen says: “Each side (India and Pakistan) views itself as vulnerable, so resists negotiations and compromise”. So, are both neighbours being intransigent? Is such posturing helpful? Is India’s pre-condition of abandonment of terrorist route before dialogue commences, legitimate? Let us pontificate on these questions.
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote to Indian Prime Minister Modi for resumption of dialogue. Recall, the formal dialogue process had stopped since the Pathankot attack in 2016. As New Delhi responded positively to Pakistan’s invitation for the Foreign Ministers to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, three Indian security personnel were murdered and mutilated at the border, and Pakistan government brought out commemorative stamps for terrorists, including Burhan Wani of Kashmir. New Delhi cancelled the talks as “talks and terrorism cannot go together”.
Imran retaliated in a tweet that he was disappointed over India’s ‘arrogant and negative response’. He said, “All my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture”.
To be sure, Imran’s rebuttal is over-reaction and patronising. He has, for the first time, become a Minister, yet to get groomed in rough and tumble of politics, and intricacies of governance. For him, it is childish to a patronise and undermine his Indian counterpart, who has over 20 years of experience of governance, good or bad, as the head of a State, and now the head of the national government.
Besides, Imran ran his campaign with anti-India vitriol, aligned with rightist and Islamist forces, compromised with the Army, who extended tacit support to his government formation. He is yet to prove he has wrested control of foreign policy from the Army. On the other hand, as I have written before in this column, one should pin hope on Imran’s unpredictable personality. He is capable of doing the unthinkable. True, he may have emerged into the office of the Prime Minister out of so-called political compulsions, he is now the head of government and therefore he can occupy his space and act independently.
The relations between India and Pakistan alternate between hope and hostility. I would term this ensuring phase of relations as hopeful, purely on the basis of Imran’s personality. And as I would enunciate, “leaders matter” in conflict resolution. As an evidence of his instincts, Imran has said that peace and harmony is the only way to fight poverty in South Asia and asks for dialogue to resume and trading to start.
Arguably, one cannot deny that dialogue or interaction are happening at some level, if not the Composite Dialogue Process, initiated in 1997 by then Prime Ministers IK Gujral and Nawaz Sharif at Male. Right now, India and Pakistan are playing cricket, albeit in a third country. The Permanent Commission on Indus Water met last month. There are people-to-people contacts and trading is happening in a limited way. So, one cannot practice untouchability between neighbours, who were one country 70 years ago.
One can safely argue that Dialogue and Deterrence have to go together. Dialogue is a political and diplomatic act and process, and deterrence or even retaliation is a military exercise. Both are indispensable. Only spoilers of the game are the terrorists. They have no place either in defence or dialogue.
Let us talk about dialogue first. Some experts ask, dialogue with whom? And the question they do not ask is how to conduct a dialogue? How to construct a format for dialogue? I think both New Delhi and Islamabad tumble on the latter to create a dialogue process. Drawing from the international experience, namely, that of Northern Ireland, which is somewhat similar to Kashmir, we could discuss a possible template as enunciated by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who brought about the peace accord in violence-prone Northern Ireland.
There are at least ten principles or ingredients for resolution of conflict which can apply to the current situation of India and Pakistan. First, “Resolution must be a framework” based on agreed principles. One could not have knee-jerk reaction, chance meetings on the fringe of international meetings etc. It has to be framework based on principles like periodicity of the meetings, no matter what happens in between. For New Delhi to insist that terrorism must stop before dialogue resumes, or Islamabad to suggest that any agenda must include Kashmir is impractical. It is like the popular proverb “putting the cart before the horse”. When dialogue starts, the agenda would evolve. Pre-conditions are self defeating and dialogue-breakers.
Second, both the parties must focus on the issue and have a grip over the process. The issue is peace and harmony, and dialogue is the process, the focus should not be diluted, and dialogue cannot be derailed. Focus is neither Kashmir nor terrorism. These are irritants to be resolved.
Third, small things can be big things. Therefore, both should try to avoid small irritants that can assume bigger proportion as obstacles. Fourth, be creative. This is a challenge for both sides. They seem to be stuck on issues, why can’t we transform the conflict, or create a condition where Kashmir becomes a non-issue for both and there would be no more excuse for sponsoring terrorism.
Fifth, there could be a third party intervention. If both the parties could sort it out by themselves, it should have happened, but that is not to be. So why not invite or create a third party. If we are creative, we can form a third party out of both the countries, in addition to the governments, militaries, or diplomats, say six wise men and women each from Pakistan and India.
Sixth there are vested interests on both sides. They must be excluded from the process. There are those who will deliberately disturb the path of peace and want the conflict to continue. That is how we see whenever there is any attempt at peace-making, violence is perpetrated and things done that foul up the atmosphere, like the release of stamps etc. Seventh, peace-making is a process, not an event. It cannot be done in one-off meeting or a summit. It is a long-drawn process and one has to keep at it.
Eighth, as I said before, leaders matter in the peace process. Leaders with passion, vision and command can take this process forward. Do our leaders see their critical role? Are they up to it? They will have to raise the bar for themselves and create history. If two Germany’s can reunite, if both Koreas can dialogue, why can’t India and Pakistan dialogue?
Ninth, both parties have to be careful that the external circumstances do not militate against the peace process, rather favour it. So whether it is China, USA or the Middle East, peace between India and Pakistan is indispensable to them, so any third party should not work against it, it shouldn’t be allowed. Tenth, the three worded sentence for anybody, any country, ‘never give up’. It needs no elaboration.
The other unpleasant but unavoidable part of bilateralism between two conflicting countries is defence or deterrence. This should be left to the military for adequate preparedness but not let it impinge on the peace process. The pernicious argument that an army thrives on conflict or war should be discarded. Army has bigger scope than war. It has a great role in nation building even in peace-time.
To conclude, India-Pakistan relation is undeniably a challenging one. It requires extra-effort, an extra-mile to travel to normalise. It is not impossible. With right intentions and competent leadership, there would be durable peace and progress in bilateralism. —INFA