India-Pakistan relations have deteriorated mainly due to frequent skirmishes on the LoC and terror attacks in different parts of India. The perpetrators of these crimes have unfortunately gone scot-free, which adversely affects the implementation of confidence-building measures.
The cancellation of foreign secretary- and NSA-level meetings, on different pretexts, belies the expectation of resolving contentious issues through dialogue. The international community has genuinely been concerned about the escalating tension between the two countries.
Knowing the belligerent attitude and behaviour of the Pakistani leadership, particularly in the context of alleged terror activities in India, a re-examination of India’s response and handling of the meetings is urgently called for. While India should be commended for adhering to the principles of the preset agenda of the two meetings, it has missed the opportunity of advancing its own interests: Evolving joint mechanisms for containing terror as well as promoting economic engagement, critical for durable peace. In the last one year, the diplomatic errors committed by our leaders are unprecedented.
First, the foreign secretary talks in August last year were called off because Pakistan had invited Hurriyat leaders for a meeting. But Hurriyat leaders have, in the past, met with top-most Indian leaders, including the home and prime ministers, as well as senior officials of Pakistan. The ISI and IB are also in touch with them. So what have we gained by cancelling the talks on the pretext of the Hurriyat meeting with the Pakistani leadership?
Second, India has been unfairly ignoring the concerns and grievances of people living in PoK, as no attempt has been made by leaders to reach out to them or take up with Pakistan issues for ameliorating their socio-economic difficulties. After all, as per the provisions of the Constitution and the resolutions passed by Parliament, the people of PoK are Indian citizens and the government has the responsibility to do everything possible to realise their political and economic rights.
Third, an understanding was reached between the two countries at Ufa for holding an NSA-level meeting in New Delhi. While the challenge of laying a roadmap for the resolution of all contentious issues is daunting indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly said in his address on August 17 in Dubai that all political differences can be resolved through active engagement of stakeholders in a meaningful dialogue process. But this line of action was not adhered to. The NSA-level meeting was cancelled mainly because India insisted on a discussion of terror-related issues, whereas Pakistan was inclined to include the K issue as well.
But this insistence of Pakistan is not new. There was no justification for shying away from discussions on Kashmir. India’s positions on all contentious issues are well known and the same could have been maintained or reiterated, rather than cancelling the meeting. India has missed an opportunity to place on the record facts about the heinous crimes committed by individuals and terror organisations operating from Pakistan.
Fourth, it is pertinent to mention that, in the context of the inhuman treatment of PoWs by Pakistan which has been violating the Geneva Convention, the Supreme Court has lamented that the Central government hasn’t taken it up with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to expose the inhuman treatment of Indian soldiers by Pakistan. This has a demoralising effect on the army.
Senior SC advocate Ram Jethmalani, who is also an ardent supporter of the BJP government, suggests that India should refer the Kashmir dispute to the ICJ. If such voices gather momentum, the resolution of the Kashmir issue may become even more complex. Therefore, critical issues facing the country should not be relegated to a lower level of importance, especially not ones that require the active cooperation of neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan.
Clearly, India has erred in handling diplomatic relations with Pakistan and, as a result, huge opportunities have been missed to take appropriate decisions for promoting mutually beneficial political and economic relations. It’s almost certain that Pakistan will raise the issue of Kashmir as and when a meeting is convened, at any level and anywhere, to embarrass the Indian leadership.
The writer was interlocutor for J&K.