India and Pakistan are going to begin their dialogue at the level of the National Security Advisors very soon. Despite the talks still being on track, there is visible tension amongst those who realise how important peace is for the region, as the commitment that should be visible in the two governments is totally missing. Instead, what constitutes war talk on both sides continues with both governments assuring their respective constituencies that they will raise their own pet issues with great determination and force. This of course, constitutes terror for India, and Kashmir for Pakistan.
Last time around, the foreign secretary level talks were called off by India as the Pakistan High Commissioner had, as per established routine, invited the Kashmiri leaders for talks. Pakistan had refused to back down subsequently. This time around, NSA Sartaj Aziz has again invited the separatists for talks on Sunday in Delhi. Delhi has responded by placing the key leaders under house arrest. Modi government is maintaining that it will not be provoked into calling off the talks. Instead, unnamed Indian officials have been quoted in the media as saying that Pakistan has a “surprise” in store for it when Aziz comes here for the talks.
But then this is what one has seen constantly in the India-Pakistan trajectory. Threats, talks, threats, abuse, talks, nothing. Any headway made in one round is diluted in the next; and along the way the peace process keeps grinding to a halt, returning to square one, starting again with many hiccups, progressing, and back to square one.
The Americans are clear that they do not want an India-Pakistan complication at this stage when Afghanistan continues to burn, and the Taliban is actually strengthening after years of the war on terror. The modus operandi in fact has become more vicious, with the groups operating in Afghanistan being more lethal and weaponised. War and conflict between two immediate neighbours is definitely far more than the US can chew at this point in time, and hence it does seem that two warring kids are being dragged to talk across the table, even as they scream and yell in protest.
It is sad, however, and highly regrettable that the militarist forces in both countries have become more strident to the point where the voices for peace are being virtually drowned. It is no secret that the Line of Control is as active, or as quiet, as the political will and the firing goes up and down accordingly.
For talks to be successful, or at least move a centimetre ahead, it is essential for an atmosphere to be built accordingly. Unfortunately, both NSAs are meeting amidst war mongering with the hard line holding sway. There has been no real toning down of rhetoric. And given the positions of both governments and the establishments around them, the commitment remains to war and not to peace.
Diplomatically, India had worked hard over the past years to de-link itself from Pakistan. In fact, it had been almost aggressive in its demand that other countries should treat both as separate nations, and not link New Delhi with Islamabad. This had come as the hostilities between the two countries had attracted world attention to a point where every visiting dignitary to the region visited both capitals, and statements were issued referring to both. Eventually the diplomacy worked, and heads of state and government started pursuing independent foreign policy agendas for each. India’s position at the time was that it was a much bigger country than Pakistan, and if any regional comparisons were to be drawn for the good or the bad, it should be with China and certainly not the tiny neighbour on the western side.
Now, this process too has been overturned completely as the BJP government came to power with the linkages. And for the past year it has been Pakistan, and more of Pakistan, the issue being raised before every state election as well. Terror and Pakistan have come to dominate again, with the government, the ruling party and its various affiliates limiting strategic policy to Pakistan. This, in their view, helps polarise and consolidate voters within India and hence this line is being pursued, regardless of the long term consequences, through aggressive diplomacy.
The military in Pakistan has been strengthened in the process. NSA Aziz has a known reputation as a man preferring peace to war, but his voice has been steadily weakened as the pro-war voices have gained momentum. Interestingly, both NSAs come from completely different backgrounds. Aziz is a diplomat and is perceived as a peacenik in his home turf, one who has been compelled by circumstances and the military to make some hard noises now. Ajit Doval, a former Intelligence and Law Enforcement Officer, regards Pakistan as the enemy, and believes that nothing really can change that.
So perhaps at the end of it all, the cynics cannot be blamed for insisting that the talks are not even going to be about talks, but a virtual dead end. And the optimists? Well there certainly is not even a whisper of hope that can be heard at this point in time. But then miracles do happen, or do they?