Jun 152008

MODES of expression change with time. New terms and phrases replace the old even though the intent or meaning to be conveyed remains the same. For instance, ‘taking into confidence’ has replaced ‘informing’.

Expressions in politics and diplomacy are often used to create the appearance of activity or progress when nothing (or the opposite of that which was expected) is in fact happening. When it is said that action on a certain issue will be taken ‘in due course of time’, the intention is to keep the possibility open that it will never be taken or to discourage questions as to when exactly it will be taken.

At times representatives of rival parties will sit down to see if they can work out a modus vivendi or perhaps even move toward a cooperative relationship. Their negotiations may fail and the outlook for normalisation of their relations remains less than bright. But neither side may want to admit failure or accuse the other of intransigence. There are various ways of taking the outside world ‘into confidence’. If neither side had been willing to make substantive concessions to the other, and if their encounter had been more adversarial than friendly, their joint statement at the end will probably say that the talks were ‘frank and candid’, and that as a result each side had gained a better understanding of the other’s point of view.

If the conferees were rivals but not enemies, and although their differences were not resolved, their interaction remained pleasant, with tea breaks and exchange of reminiscences, jokes and laughs, and if they understood the difficulties each had with making concessions, the announcement at the end may say that the talks had been cordial, and that they had improved the ‘atmosphere’ of their relations. The parties will probably say also that even though agreement on outstanding issues had not yet been reached, they were determined to continue their quest for it, and that the talks would be resumed in the near future.

Some of these terms and phrases have appeared in statements issued at the end of each round of the ‘composite dialogue’ between India and Pakistan. In the fourth round the foreign secretaries and the foreign ministers of the two countries conferred for two days (May 21 and 22). They did no better than agreeing to provide consular access to the citizens of one country languishing in the other’s jails. This was a ‘non-issue’ and its insignificance can be seen in the fact that Indian consular officials in Islamabad paid no heed to one of their spies who had been imprisoned in Pakistan for nearly 30 years in spite of his repeated appeals to the Indian embassy.

No agreement on any of the known disputes between the two countries was announced, but the ‘atmosphere’ of their relations was said to have improved. There were rumours that they might have come close to settling the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes. But even these were left for further consideration during the fifth round scheduled for mid-July. Both sides vowed to continue working towards a settlement of all of their disputes.

How does one explain the sterility of the India-Pakistan ‘dialogue’ during the last 60 years? At the end of the last round, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, announced his government’s intention to have a ‘grand reconciliation’ with India once the major disputes between them (including Kashmir) had been settled. Pranab Mukherjee, his Indian counterpart, countered with the observation that the existing disputes should not be allowed to stop the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. There was ample room, he said, for the expansion of commercial and cultural relations between them.

This, I think, is the crux of the matter: Pakistan wants to expand cooperative relations with India after the major disputes, especially the one relating to Kashmir, have been resolved. India will not accept any significant change in the status quo in Kashmir and possibly in other disputed situations as well. It wants Pakistan to put the Kashmir issue in the freezer and pursue cooperation in areas in which it is feasible and mutually advantageous. In sum, each side wants ‘normalisation’ on its own terms.

A couple of other considerations may be relevant. Both India and Pakistan being nuclear powers, there is no danger of war between them. Interaction between their governments may not be cordial; tensions between them have of late abated. People-to-people relations have improved. There is a good deal of visiting back and forth (even for shopping). Cultural relations are also going forward. Poets, writers, musicians, journalists, and professionals have been exchanging visits. Television in each country projects its culture to viewers in the other. There is no public pressure for the improvement of inter-governmental relations. I see no clamouring in Pakistan for a resolution of the Kashmir and other disputes as a precondition for more cordial people-to-people relations.

Even the two governments do not seem to regard the existing state of affairs as intolerable. This is evident from the fact that the CBMs to which they had agreed sometime ago are not being fully implemented. The opening of an Indian consulate in Karachi and a Pakistani consulate in Mumbai is by no means a big enterprise, but it has not been done in spite of persistent demands from people who want to visit friends and relatives in the other country. One gets the impression that neither government feels any urgency about the further improvement of their relations.

Then why the periodic meetings to pursue the ‘composite dialogue’? It may be partly to calm the outside world which is more scared of a violent conflict between Pakistan and India than the governments or the people of these countries are. Second, the exercise does not cost much. It is a short flight between Delhi and Islamabad. The visit need not last more than a couple of days. Delegates can not only talk with their counterparts but meet the elite in various spheres of life in the host country, and have good food at the dinners to which they are invited.

And, one cannot rule out the possibility that, with the passage of time and change of circumstances, new ways will open and some of the disputes get resolved. Let us then stay with the dialogue, albeit, with a moderate degree of optimism.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, was untilrecently a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics.

Source: Daily Dawn, 15/6/2008

 Posted by at 4:52 pm

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