Despite a Pakistan probe team’s adverse report on the Pathankot ‘terror’ attack,  a case involving an alleged Indian spy and Islamabad’s subsequent suspension of talks with India, foreign secretaries of the two countries met in New Delhi on April 26. For lasting peace in South Asia, India must now resume dialogue with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue

After the Pathankot terrorist attack (January 2 2016), India and Pakistan sought to build good relations with each other reportedly at the instance of Washington. The respective National Security Advisors (NSAs) met and decided that a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) from each country would visit the other to examine the case.

The Pathankot terrorist attack in India was led by the Pakistan-based outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad
The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan still met and talked peace months after Pathankot terrorist attack allegedly led by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad

A five-member Pakistani investigative team, after visiting Pathankot, produced a report which stated, according to a reliable journalist, that India had failed to prove that the terrorists who attacked the airbase were of Pakistani origin and that it had deliberately concocted the terrorist ‘drama’ to defame Pakistan globally.

To be honest, the Pakistan’s JIT report did raise relevant issues that needed a response from India. The Indian state of Punjab bordering Pakistan has witnessed Sikh terrorism and falls on the global routes of drugs and arms trafficking from Afghanistan via Pakistan. Sleeper cells are active along the route, which facilitate these processes. Indian police and paramilitary personnel deployed along these routes are suspected to be involved in these activities.

Whether the terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase were from Pakistan would need detailed examination. The role of the serving superintendent of police, who was conveniently kidnapped by the terrorists and then released unharmed, is dubious and calls for deeper probe.

That the Indian version of the Pathankot terrorist attack contains many loopholes is attested to by the report of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry of home affairs (Indian Express, May 5), which has noted a considerable number of lapses on the part of the Indian security forces and government.

After the Pakistani JIT report and the arrest of an alleged spy from India’s Research and Analysis Wing who was operating in the Iran-Pakistan border in Baluchistan, the Pakistan High Commissioner to India announced (surely with official approval) that the dialogue process between the two countries had been ‘suspended’. He also questioned the ‘reciprocity’, if any, that existed of a possible Indian JIT visit to Pakistan.

The adverse report of the Pakistani JIT team, the suspension of talks with India and the alleged objectionable activities of the Indian spy in Pakistani territory gave an impression of total breakdown of communications between India and Pakistan with no possibility of return to the status quo ante.

However, there is no such thing as ‘normal’ hostility between the two countries.

The foreign secretaries of the two countries did manage to meet in New Delhi on April 26 in the wake of the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference. In their statements, they took diametrically opposed positions on issues dividing the two countries — the Baluchistan spy case; terrorism and Kashmir.

The former high commissioners of the two countries who had assembled in New Delhi met and discussed the India-Pakistan relations but avoided the key issue which has prevented meaningful resumption of the dialogue process  — Kashmir.

It is not clear why Indian interlocutors consider terrorism and Kashmir to be subjects that must be discussed independently of each other. The subjects are indeed intimately linked and need to be discussed in a related context to lead to agreed conclusions. A solution to the Kashmir conflict is necessary to help reduce terrorist violence and contribute to peace-building in South Asia.

A move in this direction had been made under previous regimes by President Parvez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh through the back channel discussions (2005-2007) between representatives of the two countries.

Kurshid Mahmud Kasuri, former foreign minister of Pakistan, in his autobiographical work Neither a Hawk nor a Dove (Penguin-Viking, 2015) provides an account of the back channel dialogue between representatives of the two countries.

His call for the resumption of back channel diplomacy between India and Pakistan is of great importance given the sharp deterioration in bilateral relation after the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May 2014.

Kasuri provides an account of the framework for the resolution of the Kashmir conflict through back channel diplomacy evolved by India and Pakistan under Singh and Musharraf.

The two countries, which had become nuclear-armed in May 1998, commenced a peace process in February 1999 between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leading to the Lahore Declaration followed by a back channel dialogue between representatives of the two prime ministers.

The Agra Summit in July 2001 between Musharraf and Vajpayee failed to produce results with India holding that the draft joint statement did not unequivocally condemn international terrorism and Pakistan called for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Kasuri attributes the failure of Agra Summit (pp. 157-60) to lack of careful preparation. The 2004 SAARC meeting at Islamabad led to a joint statement by Vajpayee and Musharraf which called for a ‘composite dialogue process’.

In India, Singh remained in power from 2004 to 2014. Kasuri met with separatist Kashmiri leaders of the All Party Hurryiat Conference since Pakistan believed that they had a key role to play in resolving the Kashmir dispute.

Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh visited Pakistan in 2005 and the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service was started. India appointed ambassador Lambah as the back channel negotiator.

Musharraf visited India in April 2005 and issued a joint statement with Singh proclaiming the irreversibility of the peace process. LK Advani, India’s leader of the Opposition in Parliament, too visited Pakistan in June 2005. The separatist Kashmiri leaders from India visited Pakistan to facilitate a dialogue between stakeholders. Vajpayee had met with Kashmiri separatist leaders in 2004.

Natwar again visited Pakistan in October 2005 and reviewed the second round of the composite dialogue process and reiterated the need to continue the discussions. The July 2006 Mumbai train bombings led to the setting up of a bilateral anti-terror mechanism in March 2007.

Detailed back channel negotiations from 2004 remained unaffected by the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008. By then, the negotiations had reached a high level.

Musharraf and Singh agreed on a four-point formula for settlement of the Kashmir conflict which included Jammu and Kashmir would not be made independent; ii) borders would not be redrawn; iii) the Line of Control would be made irrelevant; and iv) a joint mechanism would be established for the governance of both parts of Kashmir.

Thus, both countries proved that a solution to the vexed Kashmir and other disputes was feasible.

However, Singh could not visit Pakistan due to state assembly elections and Musharraf left office on account of a conflict with the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court. The achievements of the back channel diplomacy could not be consolidated though they remained valid and actionable.

Modi hardened his stance on Pakistan objecting to any contact between Pakistani leaders and leaders of the separatist All Party Hurriyat Conference in the Kashmir Valley, which had taken place during the earlier negotiations.

Modi insisted that a discussion of cross border terrorism should precede a debate on Kashmir. The talks were stalled.

Modi’s aggressive Pakistan policy seems to have been formulated by his ‘hawkish’ National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. India began supporting Pakistani dissidents in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Doval and Modi are made for each other,” observed an intelligence official. The ‘offensive-defensive’ foreign policy towards India’s neighbors formulated by the Indian NSA has been named ‘Doval Doctrine’. It has affected India’s image across South Asia. The recent defence deal between India and the US is likely to worsen that image in the region.

The non-viability of India’s muscular stance towards Pakistan since May 2014 has been proved by ground level experience recently.

India must immediately resume dialogue with Pakistan for the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute to establish peace and tranquillity in South Asia.

The writer is a former Director of the Research and Policy Division of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and a Director General of Police in Northeast India

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