Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

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OVER A COFFEE: Composite to comprehensive: feeling the pulse ,Daily Times, December 12, 2015

Those who have invested heavily in the business of hatred and extremism will not be very happy with the announcement of comprehensive dialogue by Indian Foreign Minister SushmaSwaraj in Islamabad. It seems that doves have something to celebrate after all. If Narendra Modi in a solicitous chat with Nawaz Sharif on the eve of the climate change meeting in Paris vented a sense of purpose, the Indian foreign minister exhaled even warmer feelings of cordiality and goodwill.
No one can labour under the illusion that the theatrical performance of politically correct diplomatic overtures between Sushma and Sartaj in Islamabad means normalisation of relations and can be termed as thedawn of a new era for the two belligerent nations. However, an event is important not just because of what it has achieved but rather by the vibes that it generates. No change can ever happen unless the narrative of change precedes it. The Heart of Asia Conference has helped India and Pakistan listen to each other and thus try to rectify major abnormal heart rhythms that plague the South Asian region.
Composite has become comprehensive in this new round of bilateral talks between India and Pakistan.Whether a rose or talks, names hardly matter. Earlier in July this year a good initiative was made after Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi met on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) Summit in Ufa.The two Prime Ministers (PMs)had then rightly focused upon eliminating terrorism in all its forms. They had agreed on five steps in this regard, which included a meeting in New Delhi between the two National Security Advisors(NSAs) to discuss all issues connected to terrorism, meetings of the Director General (DG) of the Border Security Force(BSF) and DG of the Pakistan Rangers followed by that of the DGs of Military Operations (MOs) to minimise Line of Control(LoC) related tensions, release of fishermen in each other’s custody, along with their boats, within a period of 15 days, mechanism for facilitating religious tourism and expediting the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples. The goodwill achieved in Ufa, however, proved short-lived as extremists in both countries geared into action to bulldoze the newly launched peace initiative.
Listening to analysts and media voices in both countries one can notice a mutual lack of readiness to appreciate the concerns of one other. Some Pakistani media personalities and analysts raisedan uproar over Kashmir while a few Indian anchors sound like Shiv Sena activists on their talk shows. The use of ostentatious titles like composite or comprehensive talks, therefore, to some degree is helpful in calming the most vociferous in the two countries. The patriotic or nationalist viewpoint, however, should not debilitate our ability to do an honest appraisal of the concerns of the two countries.
When India raises the issue of terrorism its cause is helped by three factors. One, India is an emerging economic powerhouse and major international players like the US, EU and Russia give a passionate ear to the concerns of India. Second, if communism was the major occupation of the post World War II NATO countries, terrorism is the new unifying theme of the developed countries. When India raises terrorism as an issue it strikes a chord with the western leaders who themselves are grappling with the menace at an international level. The emergence of Islamic State(IS) and the recent bloodbath in Paris have ushered in a new sense of urgency and firm resolve to tackle terrorism. Third, the resolution of the Afghanistan crisis on a stable basis relies heavily on the promotion of regional tripartite trade between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Trade routes through Afghanistan to Central Asia can only be feasible if there is peace in the region and international observers believe that if Pakistan, India and Afghanistan work in tandem then the marginalised terrorist outfits can be eradicated sooner or later.
Now let us turn to our advocacy of Kashmir as a precondition of peace talks. Three factors work against this proposition. One, there is little appetite for this issue at the international level, including the Muslim countries represented by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation(OIC). Second, the religious overtones of groups struggling for the Kashmir cause do not go well with the current realities of the world. The jihadi narrative of those who want Kashmir to be free of Indian rule does not make Kashmir a worthy investment project for the international community. Third, the profile of the advocate itself weakens the cause of the plaintiff. When a country ruled by martial law dictators for many decades in the past and where the military establishment acts like a big brother over civilian rulers makes a case of right of self-determination for others hardly anyone gets impressed.
There is no harm in raising issues like Kashmir at a moral level. But mortgaging the future of Pakistan over an issue that is of little concern to the international community is not a very sensible approach. It is the issue of terrorism that affects every single Pakistani today. When New York was attacked the US crossed many oceans to bomb the alleged hideouts of the planners of the attack. When IS claimed responsibility for bringing down a Russian plane and attacking Paris, both Russia and France vowed to bomb IS out of existence. We have to make an effort to understand the frustration India feels when alleged schemers roam freely within Pakistan. We need to feel the pulse of the times and work towards the eradication of terrorism at the regional level.