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Sharif-Manmohan meet: Need for a roadmap

After much speculation, the stage has been set for Indian Prime Minister to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. Indeed, keeping communication channels open is the only way to negotiate their crisis-ridden issues. It is very important that the talks have a roadmap without which, they may be futile. The key is to take small steps towards resolution of disputes, starting from less sensitive issues like trade and water-sharing mechanisms and gradually proceeding to more serious issues like LoC violations, terrorism and Kashmir. Good diplomacy means meaningful engagement while detachment could make matters worse.


It is not new that occurrences of such crisis, be it terror attacks, terrorist infiltrations or ceasefire violations, have interrupted the dialogue process between the two countries in the past. India and Pakistan are also well aware that their ongoing issues make it impossible to rule out the future occurrence of such crisis from time to time.

Therefore, wisdom does not lie in disrupting talks over and over again. Rather, the nature of engagement should be strategically engineered so that at least the process of communication remains on track.

This makes it important for India to determine how to deal with Pakistan. India is well aware that going to war with Pakistan will not solve anything. It has also experienced Pakistan’s stubbornness on numerous occasions.

Diplomatically isolating Pakistan is also not an easy solution because it could have to face increased isolation itself regionally viz-a-vis China and Pakistan. Thus, India must engage with Pakistan for its own strategic balance.

Once it is reasonably justified that talking to Pakistan is in India’s long term interest, the roadmap for bilateral communication should be established.

First and foremost, India must determinately establish a tolerable limit under which it would continue engagement. The recent ceasefire violations are surely unwarranted attacks and deserve the highest condemnation, but non-engagement only makes the situation more volatile.

In addition, it threatens negotiations on other bilateral issues while disrupting the overall peace process.

Secondly, high level talks like the one scheduled between the two Prime Ministers must not be rendered futile. There should be follow ups to what the leaders have agreed to do in future. So far, it appears these are show off business.

With Nawaz Sharif waiting to appoint his next Army General and Chief of ISI  and Dr Singh nearing the end of his prime ministerial innings, there is a sense that the two are meeting for the sake of meeting and do not really expect much to come out of the meeting. But this attitude is wrong for the long-term prospects of Indo-Pak ties.

Indo-Pak ties are extremely sensitive and crisis ridden. Therefore, what it requires is a strong base, a roadmap which, upon its establishment, ensures that even during crisis situations like the recent ceasefire violations, tensions are not adversely escalated to beyond manageable level.

Having a roadmap means setting certain targets and agendas. The two sides can take up less sensitive issues first, like the Sir Creek and water sharing issues so as to de-escalate some levels of tensions before gradually beginning negotiations on highly sensitive issues like Kashmir and cross-border terrorism.

In addition, the two sides should simultaneously continue consolidating trade and cultural ties. The people-to-people contact between the countries can really transform the peace process and future dialogue at official level too.

India and Pakistan can immensely enhance their relations by increasing trade and commerce. Opening up routes and markets for investment could help them transform the entire region into an integrated economic bloc.

Not only India will gain from such an enterprise, it will also have a strategic edge over Pakistan, which it could use as a wild card during crisis situations. Pakistan too, would hopefully realize that such engagement is more fruitful than other nuances.

While it is plausible that the Pakistani Army and the government are not united on their policies toward India, it is India’s concern to minimize the threat from their differences.

If India continues to treat Pakistan’s nuances in the usual manner of disrupting talks, the only beneficiary is those elements that do not want Indo-Pak dialogue to succeed.  

Disrupting ties and not engaging constantly will enable espionage agencies and terror groups to infiltrate easily which would be an added problem.

Moreover, it would not be wise, especially of the Indian side, to cut all diplomatic and political channels of communication.

Apart from political initiatives, both militaries must talk to each other regularly at highest level. This can reduce the tension at the border and not allow the situation to escalate further to catch the headlines of both the countries.