By Abdul Basit
I am leaving New Delhi shortly, after completing my tenure. I regret our two countries could not commence the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue as agreed in December 2015. Be that as it may, i for one would not like to think we are destined to live in perpetual hostility.
In a significant move, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi’s inauguration along with other SAARC leaders. That reflected our sincere desire to make a new beginning. The two PMs in their maiden meeting agreed to resume bilateral dialogue as soon as possible. After such a propitious start, the press conference by the then Indian foreign secretary issuing a charge sheet against Pakistan, when PM Sharif was still in town, was unhelpful to say the least.
We also found India’s decision to cancel its foreign secretary’s scheduled visit to Islamabad in August 2014 in reaction to my interaction with the Hurriyat leadership quite baffling. It is imperative to find an amicable solution to the Jammu & Kashmir dispute. And a solution that does not find resonance among Kashmiris would ineluctably fall flat. Simply put, we cannot put the J&K dispute on the back burner.
We must settle this once and for all, as well as Siachen and Sir Creek, to build a permanent peace between the two countries. I am aware that many in India are not yet convinced that J&K is the root cause of our troubled relationship. They hold the view that terrorism is the major issue. To them my submission is that the wars our two countries have fought during the last 70 years all predated the Samjhauta Express blast (2007), the Mumbai attacks (2008) and Pathankot (2016). Effective diplomacy is not about glossing over or shelving seemingly intractable issues but to address them conclusively and satisfactorily.
This is not to say the menace of terrorism can be ignored and left unaddressed. During the last three years, the “Zarb-i-Azb” operation has successfully achieved its objectives. Now the all-encompassing “Raddul Fasaad” operation is underway to take the counter-terrorism drive to its logical conclusion. The public discourse aside, Islamabad and New Delhi have exchanged letters on Mumbai. Some proposals are under consideration to expedite the trial.
As for Pathankot, it is in our mutual interest to determine beyond a shadow of doubt its fons et origo and bring the culprits to book. Meanwhile, it is necessary to eschew the temptation of jumping the gun about perpetrators of the crime. Convicting the perpetrators of the Samjhauta Express blast in which 42 Pakistanis lost their lives is equally important. The people of Pakistan are concerned at the glacial pace of the trial.
To move from conflict management to conflict resolution, a few suggestions. First, it is time to return to the negotiating table without further ado and preconditions. Talks are not a favour by one country to another. Dialogue is unavoidable. Since it will happen sooner or later, why waste time?
Second, it is incumbent to maintain peace and tranquillity along the LoC. In his 2015 address to the UNGA, Prime Minister Sharif proposed to formalise the 2003 ceasefire understanding, entrusting UNMOGIP to monitor. Third, all the other existing CBMs/agreements should also be adhered to in letter and spirit. Fourth, Pakistan in not interested in a Sisyphean arms race but will maintain the credibility of its full spectrum deterrence under all circumstances. Our 1998 Strategic Restraint Regime proposal is still on the table. Maintaining regional strategic stability should be one of our top most priorities.
I may mention here that while foreign secretary S Jaishankar never denied me an official meeting, i wish we could also meet privately to discuss bilateral issues informally. Similarly, i met NSA Ajit Doval many times. We also exchanged gifts on the occasions of Eid and Diwali. As bilateral relations deteriorated, Doval Sahab’s interest in meeting me also apparently sapped somewhat. I strongly feel that diplomatic interaction becomes all the more necessary in strained situations to avoid culs de sac.
To conclude, i thank the people of India for their warmth and affection. These three years have been very exciting. I and my wife Summiya have made many friends across India. We would always cherish their friendship and look forward to staying in touch with them.
Times of India, August 1, 2017