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Do’s and Don’ts of Indo-Pak Dialogue

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March 2004
Do’s and Don’ts of Indo-Pak Dialogue

A roadmap around the perennial pitfalls

By SIDDHARTH SRIVASTAVA

_______________________________

A historic agreement between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf during the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad earlier last month has resulted in considerable positive momentum and high hopes for peaceful bilateral relations between the two neighbors.

Several such efforts had been made in the past too, and each time, inevitably there has been obstructions that have derailed the peace process. The following is an attempt to list a series of dos and don'ts to avoid obvious pitfalls and quagmires every time a meeting between the two happens:

Heads we win, Tails we lose: The basis of talks should be mutual benefit with both the countries on the same winning side. It is now realized that India and Pakistan are fighting a common enemy?the jehadi terrorist. At the same time the two nations aspire for higher economic growth. If the common aims are thrashed out, the course can be well set.

Any talk better than no talk: The history of conflict is long and cannot be brushed away in a matter of months. There will be differences on both sides, opinions steeped in years of diplomatic and military warfare. No solution will emerge overnight, but it is important to continue to talk even if no results emerge. It has been a long and tortuous ride to the current situation; the efforts should not go to waste. Both sides should approach talks as a beginning not the start of the end. There should be no going back.

Leap of Faith: There is plenty of suspicion between the leadership of the two countries. It is far less among the people of the two nations. Abroad, Indians and Pakistanis are friends. When they do meet either in India or Pakistan, the bonhomie is infectious. This is to do with the fact that essentially we are the same people. Bollywood film stars and songs are part of the staple diet in Pakistan. Indians too are enthralled by Pakistani singers and TV soaps. If there have been doubts, they have been at the highest levels of establishment. Pakistan's military has thrived on a ?bleed India' policy. And Indian politicians often care more about Indian votes than Indo-Pak relations. Both the sides have to begin by trusting each other. No marriage can work without faith. In this Vajpayee and Musharraf play crucial roles.

Don't say Uncle Sam: Everybody knows that USA has a role to play, but nobody wants to admit it. One impression that the leaders of the two countries do not want their people to carry is that the US is cajoling the process. It is, but it's just the kind of words that nobody in the two countries wants to hear. It's an occupational hazard being big brother. Even Collin Powell needs to understand this.

Rambo II: As the talks progress, there will be days of highs and lows that can distract from the mission in hand. There will be pressure to wind up and go home. The main enemy is the vast terrorist infrastructure that will do its best to sabotage the talks. Indians and Pakistanis will require the steel of Rambo, to remain focused on the task at hand rather than be distracted by explosions all around. This will be tough on India.

Big issues versus other issues: There should be a clear demarcation of issues that will require a drawn out negotiation process and those that can be implemented right away. Jammu & Kashmir and cross-border terrorism are the bugbears that will need the maximum thrashing out. Maybe there is no immediate solution to the two problems, given past prejudices, vested interests and political ramifications. But, this should not prevent solution seeking in areas that can be more easily handled at the ground level?the confidence building measures such as rail, road and air links, health and economic co-operation.

Bad news is no news: No talks can be conducted through the media. In the past, representatives of the two countries have chosen to convey their points of view through television, given its powerful impact. With a structural process in place, all interactions and points of discussion should be tackled at the official level. There has been plenty of media grandstanding in the past that has only worsened matters. Rabble-rousers and publicity seekers are always ready with their take on the subject of talks, given the intense media glare. As talks progress, there will be lots of exchanges that can be bad news. There should be no washing of dirty linen in public. It only vitiates an already tense atmosphere.

Playing ball: The two countries are crazy about cricket. While everyone is talking about nuclear secrets being leaked for a price by Pakistani scientists to the rest of the world, Pakistanis are equally concerned about their ace bowler Wasim Akram providing tips to Indian pacers in Australia. The art of reverse swing is clearly the bigger trade secret. If a cricket match is war between two countries, there should be lots of such interaction to reduce the pent up tensions. It will witness the emergence of true sportsman spirit, rather than war on the cricket field each time the two countries clash at neutral venues.

Vajpayee and Musharraf: They are the key players. One is more certain about Vajpayee's credentials?he is 80 years old and has already declared that this is his third and last attempt at peace after the failure of the Lahore and Agra efforts. Musharraf's past has been dubious. If he can rise to the occasion, peace could be just a matter of time.


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