The call made by the parliamentary committee on the ministry of external affairs to both India and Pakistan last Friday to impart fresh impetus to bilateral ties with “concrete, comprehensive and long-lasting dialogue process”, and its urging of both countries “to engage afresh and proceed with a step-wise process to dialogue, moving from peripheral to core issues” is a step in the right direction.
The committees of Parliament are non-partisan bodies and reflect the views of all parties in the legislature. Through them is articulated the sentiment of the country. Irrespective of how Parliament’s concern is received in Pakistan, the parliamentary committee has suggested what amounts to unilateral steps on India’s part to move toward normality by taking appropriate measures.
The Parliament panel seems quite clear that Pakistan’s unwillingness to create a conducive environment for improving bilateral ties “should not deter” India from taking steps from its side “so that the situation of stalemate does not linger”.
There is an inherent wisdom in these words. Indeed, after the Musharraf coup against the Nawaz Sharif government, this was the spirit that helped break the ice in India-Pakistan relations and brought a goodwill dividend toward India in our neighbouring country. Some of that helped to dissipate the ill-will that jihadi terrorist outfits seek to spread.
The Pakistan military, which calls the shots in the neighbouring country, and the jihadists, are on the same wave-length. Keeping relations strained is what they aim at. It is, therefore, entirely possible that normalisation of ties with a militarised state will not be practicable.
However, if Indian diplomacy can shape a people-centric approach, while taking appropriate actions on the LoC and the international border to prevent infiltration, there is every chance of reducing animosity among the people of Pakistan. That has a significant impact in Kashmir as well. The discerning people of Kashmir can easily tell who the bad guys are.
The parliamentary body’s recommendation has come at a time when governance in Pakistan is in a fragile state after the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through a judicial ruling that raises eyebrows. The military is stronger than ever on the eve of national election, which the armed forces may well seek to tailor to benefit themselves. In such a situation, the goodwill approach proposed by the parliamentary committee is worthy of serious consideration.
A people-centric approach towards Pakistan is bound to have a wider impact and help expand this country’s soft power, both regionally and internationally. This does not preclude the use of military capabilities but announces the intent of using these only as end resort, in the process enhancing the play of the instruments of diplomacy. The bad vibes in India-Pakistan relations has lasted too long. It has not strengthened either side’s case. It may have hurt both in imperceptible ways.
The Asian Age, January 8, 2018