Feb 24, 2010

Only way forward

The thirteenth BALUSA Group meeting was held between India and Pakistan last month in Lahore

By Mahmud Ali Durrani and Bharat Bhushan

Titled "India and Pakistan, The way forward", the thirteenth BALUSA Group meeting was held between India and Pakistan in Lahore on January 25-27, 2010 with the aim to speed up efforts of bringing about peace in the region. The BALUSA, meaning ‘peace’ in an ancient Indian language, was attended by Salman Haider, Bharat Bhushan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Manvendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh Dulat, Sushoba Barve, Suhasini Haider, Syed Babar Ali, and Mahmud Ali Durrani among others. Excerpts from the report of the meeting.

The thirteenth meeting of Balusa was hosted by Syed Babar Ali at the inspiring campus of LUMS. The last meeting of the BALUSA Group was also held at LUMS in December 2005.

The two day programme focused on a number of themes relevant to the present state of relationship between India and Pakistan. In spite of Mumbai and the current acrimony, do India and Pakistan have common long term interests in the bilateral and the regional context? The Indian speakers highlighted the following points. India and Pakistan need to come together for the short and long term interests of India and develop a warm, cordial and co-operative relationship. It is in the over-riding interest of India to engage with Pakistan for India to play its full role within and beyond the region.

The fault is with the current structuring of the dialogue. The composite dialogue needs to be replaced by a continuous and un-interruptible dialogue structure, isolated from the ups and downs of the relationship. Instead of speaking on a large number of subjects (eight), one or two subjects should be selected for discussion with a common objective. A single interlocutor would be more effective than eight interlocutors. The single interlocutor should be a political entity with a cabinet minister’s rank. Isolated from disturbances, the back channel has a useful role in the dialogue process and needs to be encouraged.

The secret peace talks at the Majestic Hotel in Paris, related to the North South Vietnam conflict and the peace talks between North and South Korea at Pan Mun Jom "peace village" were cited as useful examples of a successful dialogue structures. Highlighting secrecy with sufficient transparency. The parliamentary concept of "Zero Hour" should be used to allow either side to complain about whatever it wants to complain about. After that the two sides must get down to business. All talk of war must be banned. Triumphalism on either side will not help.

Regional harmony and engagement with Pakistan is essential for India in its strategic interest. However, there are those who feel that what India needs in its neighborhood is restraint rather than activism. However, engagement with our neighbours is important no matter how we define our interests. The back channel should be used to address the Kashmir issue. In the past, the back channel had proven useful. We need to move beyond Sir Creek, Wuller and Siachen. These are all resolvable issues but the petty attitude on both sides keeps us from reaching solutions.

The Pakistani speakers said Mumbai is a big step back for the relationship. It is an inflammatory issue (in India). The young — the third generation of Pakistan has an open mind. It wants to leave the shackles of history behind. The present youth in Pakistan is bright and wants to move forward and would like to develop a good relationship with India; they are not coloured by the baggage of Partition. They wonder why India and Pakistan cannot do what has happened in the European Union. If countries that have fought two world wars can come together, why can’t India and Pakistan?

In the overall context people of both countries want friendship and there is a lot of latent good will. This is evident whenever there is people-to-people contact, like at the cricket matches between the two countries.

Mumbai was a victory for the terrorists and hard liners. Pakistan was accused by India for 26/11. Pakistan went into denial and compounded the problem because all the things that were denied came out to be true.

Those who attacked Mumbai and Parliament may have had some links earlier with our intelligence agencies but are now acting independently. These very people are now attacking our women and children. Our army is ranged against them.

So, blaming the GOP for Bombay is not fair. We must overcome the mistrust and rancor of Mumbai and heal the wound that has resulted. We must identify the common enemy — the evil force that exists here. We must not allow terrorists to dictate the state of relationship between India and Pakistan.

Both countries should move forward in a step-by-step approach. There should be no big bang or solve Kashmir first approach. Resolve what is easily resolvable first. Allow the latent goodwill that exists to re-establish itself and then build on it. We must not allow governments and the media to take away from that goodwill.

It is unwise to allow such incidents to ruin the relationship. Every effort should be made to restart the dialogue process. Good relations between the two countries will unlock the region’s economic potential and benefit the common man.

In the discussion that followed it was agreed both by the India and Pakistan participants that India and Pakistan are bound by geography and have a number of common long term interests in both the regional and bilateral context. There were, however, some differences of opinion on how to move forward. Some felt that no mechanical process could ensure a dialogue and that there has to be political acceptability for it. It was also pointed out that back channel diplomacy necessarily has to be conducted with secrecy – because when things come out, there is an immediate reaction. Continuous and permanent machinery for India-Pakistan dialogue should not rule out back channel efforts.

The political leadership in both the countries has repeatedly spoken of a common threat of terrorism, yet the level of cooperation has been woefully inadequate. What steps need to be taken to redress this issue?

The Pakistani speakers said there is a need for cooperation in the field of intelligence to defeat terrorism.

How effective is the current Joint Anti-terror mechanism? The distrust between India and Pakistan is so high that sensitive intelligence perhaps cannot be shared. Intelligence agencies normally don’t even share information with their sister organizations. So we will have to identify areas where this can be done.

The Joint anti-terror mechanism should be headed by senior intelligence officials and not left to proxies like additional secretaries from the Ministries of Foreign and External Affairs. An occurrence like the Bombay carnage should be investigated by a joint investigating team, working at the scene of the crime.

What advice can we offer to the media on both sides so that they are able to contribute significantly to the peace process? The Indian speakers said media is a powerful tool and helps form opinion; however it does not seem to know whether it should sell peace or war. The state of mind of a TV channel in reflected by the selection of the people they want to bring on TV, the usual choice is hawks. Market demand takes over reasonableness. The TV coverage of an event also affects the print media, which in turn affects the politicians who eventually mould public opinion. In India, in times of crisis, the media goes jingoistic and supports the government.

Aman ki Asha seems to be a branding exercise. It might peter out after some time. However, Aman ki Asha can be a good initiative to help stabilise the relationship and silences the negatives.

We have Pakistanis writing for Indian newspapers and appearing on Indian TV channels, likewise Indians should write for Pakistani newspapers and appear on Pakistan TV channels. Media networks of the two countries should exchange reporters to write on domestic issues.

The Balusa Group concluded its meeting and resolved to continue to contribute towards peace between India and Pakistan for the betterment of the common man. It was agreed that rather than address a large number of issues, an effort will be made to focus on two or three issues in the next meeting. It was also agreed that efforts will be made to prepare and present joint papers by selected Balusa members on specific issues. It was agreed that the next Balusa meeting will be held in India, hopefully within six to nine months.

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