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Untitled Document
Structuring The Peace Dialogue
Dr. Akmal Hussain
Newspaper:The Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, 14th August 2003

The South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) has made a significant contribution to Track-II diplomacy by organizing a conference earlier this week in Islamabad, on the Indo Pakistan peace dialogue. On this occasion parliamentarians of the major political parties, prominent journalists and experts from both India and Pakistan conferred on why and how to move forward.

In a remarkable demonstration of the popular will, a consensus for peace was reached amongst public representatives from across the political spectrum in both countries. From the flamboyant religious rhetoric of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the right wing, to the grave tones of Chaudhary Shujaat’s carefully worded statement in the centre, and the passionate iconoclasm of Abid Hassan Minto on the left, inspite of differing premises, the common denominator was peace. Similarly on the Indian side Laloo Prasad used pre-modern imagery of the munn (heart), while Swaraj Kaushal combined cold analytical logic with Amrita Preetam’s poetry. MJ Akbar in his post-modern style wove resonant human images into a rich tapestry of historical discourse. As in the case of the Pakistanis, the common refrain from the Indian speakers was to replace the pain of the past with a healing process of peace.

A significant section of the Indian delegates argued that the prerequisite for the peace process is the creation of a “conducive” atmosphere. This is a euphemism for the view of some Indian government officials that an end to cross border terrorism should precede the peace talks. My argument during the conference was that placing pre-conditions to a dialogue is inconsistent with the invitation for a dialogue. Clearly India’s most important concern is the issue of cross border terrorism while that of Pakistan is the unresolved Kashmir dispute. Essential to the idea of an India-Pakistan dialogue is that both sides would address each other’s concerns. Thus, during the dialogue Pakistan should address India’s core concern about cross border terrorism, while India should address Pakistan’s core concern of the Kashmir dispute. Clearly, it is illogical for one side to demand the resolution of what it sees as the most important issue of contention, prior to the dialogue. For India to demand a resolution of the problem of cross border terrorism before a dialogue on other issues, is equivalent to Pakistan’s earlier position that the Kashmir dispute should be resolved before a dialogue on economic cooperation.

If a “conducive” atmosphere has to be created before a dialogue begins, then even if Pakistan does its best to control cross border terrorism, the two sides could continue to argue indefinitely, whether adequate efforts have been made in this regard and what constitutes a “conducive” atmosphere. In such a situation the dialogue would never begin. Therefore for a dialogue to begin and end successfully it must have four features: (i) It must be unconditional, i.e. there should be no pre-conditions attached to starting it. (ii) If it is not to become a dialogue of the deaf, both sides should be prepared to address each other’s concerns. These concerns must be simultaneously addressed so that the sequencing of the discussion does not reflect the priorities of any one side. (iii) The dialogue should be uninterrupted and as Mr. Manishanker Iyer so wisely pointed out, it should be uninterruptible. An uninterrupted dialogue is necessary for success to provide confidence to both sides that all issues will continue to be discussed until resolution, even though the time scale of resolution of various issues is necessarily quite different. Similarly an uninterruptible dialogue is necessary in view of the possibility that exogenous factors (such as terrorist acts to derail the dialogue by entities hostile to the dialogue but uncontrollable by either side) could end the dialogue before its successful completion. (iv) Both sides should be prepared to negotiate all issues and allow the dialogue to have its own dynamic without demanding preconceived outcomes i.e. both sides should seek to persuade and be prepared to get persuaded by the other on the basis of logical argument and a spirit of give and take. As Wittgenstein postulated, “all philosophy is an act of persuasion”. Perhaps the same holds true for diplomacy.

The above four features of an India-Pakistan dialogue imply that the commitment to start a dialogue should be as total as the commitment to see it through to fruition. The question that now arises is, why should a dialogue with these four features be on the historical agenda for India and Pakistan? The answer may lie in the recognition of the following three propositions by State and society on both sides:

  1. A balance of military power exists between Pakistan and India at both the conventional and nuclear levels, thereby making any military initiative by either side infeasible. This is illustrated by the fact that the Kargil initiative by Pakistan was counter productive just as was the Indian attempt at “coercive diplomacy” through large scale mobilization of conventional forces in a war like posture.

  2. A state of no war, no peace with a simmering Kashmir dispute between nuclear armed neighbours creates two grave dangers that are unacceptable for both sides in particular and by the international community in general: (a) An unacceptably high risk of an accidental nuclear war resulting from a misconception about the adversary’s intent at any moment during a continued state of military tension. (b) A low threshold of a conventional conflict escalating into a nuclear exchange.

  3. The imperative to escalate military expenditure in a state of continued confrontation between the two countries would make the conventional and military deterrence in the long run unstable. This is because the pace of up-gradation of weapon systems may differ between the two sides.

At the same time such an arms race would draw away such a large proportion of the economic resources of the two countries that their ability to overcome poverty and provide economic well being to their people would be undermined. In such a situation where a significant proportion of the population does not have an economic stake in citizenship, the resulting social polarization and violence could place an unacceptable stress on society and State. Thus, at the current moment in history, national security in the sense of security of both the Citizen and the State, requires peace between India and Pakistan.

The deliberations at the SAFMA conference earlier this week clearly showed that there is a consensus to pursue peace amongst the citizens and their elected representatives in India and Pakistan. The change in mindset that one has been advocating in these columns appears to be occurring amongst public representatives as well as professionals. The imperative of the economic and political forces impelling the two countries towards peace is also apparent. Now is the time to bring our respective civilizations to bear to remove the shadow of war and enhance life. This is the moment to lay the foundations of a lasting peace in the Sub-continent and a better life for the next generation. Will the governments of both countries have the courage and wisdom to grasp this opportunity?

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