Indo-Pak ties: Let’s sort it out across the table

Indo-Pak ties: Let’s sort it out across the table

It is ironical that at times diplomatic, political and media viewpoints on an issue can differ substantially. Of late, differences in views expressed on India-Pakistan ties with a specific reference to Kashmir fall in this category. One cannot deny that the two nuclear neighbors are miles apart from resolving their differences on several issues, one of which is Kashmir. The prospects of the two traditional rivals using military option over this issue cannot be ruled out.
Omar Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, recently said that only dialogue between the two sides could help settle the differences on key issues.
“Wars in the past have never solved any problem and will not solve any issue in future.” He also pointed out that only peace in the region can help people in both the countries prosper.
Recent history has been witness to India and Pakistan exploring prospects of enhancing their economic ties. A key pointer in this direction is holding of talks between commerce secretaries of both the countries on sidelines of the SAARC ministerial meeting in New Delhi. This would be followed by a second annual conference on normalizing India-Pakistan trade ties, which would be attended by businessmen, academicians and trade experts from both countries.
Surprisingly, the Indian media and many politicians are skeptical over any major breakthrough in Indo-Pak economic ties. Rather, greater importance has been accorded to internal differences within India, particularly regarding the Kashmir issue. An opinion voiced by an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader over calling for referendum in Jammu and Kashmir (J &K) on deployment of armed forces in J&K has gained substantial media coverage and also ample criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On the other hand, little importance has been accorded to an apparent change in the stance of certain J&K leaders’ approach toward Indian and Pakistani governments. It may be noted that the Hurriyat Conference has always been known for its criticism of New Delhi’s stand on Kashmir. This group and its members have also kept themselves disassociated from the Indian political functioning in J&K. The change in this group’s approach has become visible by the Hurriyat Conference, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, recently describing the “changing” Indo-Pak relations as “encouraging.” This clearly signals that the Hurriyat leaders have accepted that improvement in Indo-Pak relations is necessary to ensure peace in Kashmir and to help resolve the issue.
Despite J&K government led by Omar Abdullah and Hurriyat Conference never known to be politically friendly toward each other, their holding a similar approach on a crucial issue cannot be ignored. This also implies that in essence, most Kashmiris are hopeful of progress in Indo-Pak ties being encouraging for them and their state. Besides, history has taught them that wars will not solve their problems. So, irrespective of how long it takes for the settlement of the Kashmir issue, they want it to be resolved through dialogue and not through war.
Politically, howsoever diverse may be views of non-Kashmiri Indian politicians regarding Kashmir issue and Indo-Pak relations, they have so far succeeded primarily in securing substantial media coverage for the same. Indian media has been to a degree subjective in overplaying the noise made by various politicians, including Congress, BJP and AAP leaders on Kashmir.
Ironically, not much importance has been given to definite steps taken by India and Pakistan to maintain their nuclear diplomacy. This year also began with India and Pakistan exchanging lists of their nuclear facilities. This exchange, a part of a 1988 pact that prevents them from attacking each other’s nuclear installations, has been held each year on New Year’s Day since 1992. India handed over its list to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, while Pakistan handed over its list to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
In keeping with their agreement signed on May 21, 2008, the two countries also exchanged list of nationals held in their respective jails. This list is exchanged twice each year, Jan. 1 and July 1. The lists indicate India has 396 Pakistani prisoners of which 257 are civilians including 139 fishermen. There are 281 Indians in Pakistani jails, among whom 232 are fishermen.
History bears witness to nuclear policies of both India and Pakistan having acted as a deterrent in preventing both countries from indulging in an open conflict. Continuous exchange of their nuclear lists points to the importance given by both sides in maintaining their nuclear diplomacy. Even the United States, known to have always been critical of their nuclear capabilities has apparently toned down its approach. Initially, US experts lashed out at their nuclear policies, making noise about their heading toward Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The US, however, still maintains this approach but has ceased making much noise about it. Stephen P. Cohen, a well-known American political scientist and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, recently expressed his views on Indo-Pak relations while delivering a lecture on peace in South Asia at Administrative Staff College of India in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh). In Cohen’s opinion, nuclear capability was good to some extent, as it would act as a deterrent from aggression from any side. “But, if there is any accident between the two countries resulting in a nuclear war, nobody would exist in the aftermath,” he said.
Whatever be US viewpoint, India and Pakistan have certainly come a long way from even considering indulgence in open conflict. Every year when they exchange lists of their nuclear capabilities and each time they consider options of improving their ties, the important role played by their nuclear diplomacy stands out. Yet, more political noise is made, perhaps to earn media coverage, about differences held regarding Kashmir and other issues as irritants in Indo-Pak ties. Some importance needs to be given to bridge communication gap prevalent in various sections regarding Indo-Pak relations.

- The author is an Indian freelance journalist who has written extensively for national newspapers.
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