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India and Pakistan have been on the rocky roads since mid-2014.
On August 18, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi canceled a
scheduled talk between the two countries foreign secretaries that
India and Pakistan have been on the rocky roads since mid-2014. On August 18, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi canceled a scheduled talk between the two countries foreign secretaries that was to occur in Islamabad on August 25. Modis decision came in response to a meeting held between Islamabads envoy in New Delhi and Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah earlier in the day, which he viewed as unacceptable.
The prior week, on August 12, during a speech to Indian army and air force soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir, Modi made reference to "our neighbors attitude" of engaging in a proxy war. Modis remarks prompted a quick response from Pakistan the following day, which called his comments "most unfortunate."
Meanwhile, Pakistan has been experiencing political tumult and anti-government protests, led by politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri. These developments are all the more troubling given that until recently, bilateral ties had appeared to be making considerable progress. Only three months ago, Modis invitation to Sharif to attend his inauguration ceremony, and Sharifs decision to accept the invitation, were viewed as positive signs of new momentum between the two countries. These two countries have come a long way since 1947. Indulging in wars, latest being 1999, Kargil war.
The most recent peace initiative is the Composite Dialogue. The idea for a "structured dialogue" to address multiple issues simultaneously including, but not limited to, Kashmir and terrorism originated during a discussion between Indian and Pakistani leaders in 1997. The Composite Dialogue process is structured along parallel but separate talks on eight issues, including peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, water and border issues, terrorism, and economic cooperation.
Early attempts at a Composite Dialogue began in 1998 between the two governments and were followed by the signing of the historic Lahore Declaration by Nawaz Sharif and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999. However, the process was derailed in 1999 by the Kargil war and continued to flounder as tensions between the two countries increased after a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in 2001. As tensions decreased, the Composite Dialogue restarted in 2004. Several rounds of the Composite Dialogue resulted in the establishment of confidence-building measures, including a ceasefire along the Line of Control, agreement for advanced notification of ballistic missile testing and new overland and air linkages. Unfortunately, the Mumbai terrorist attacks carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba on Nov. 26, 2008, again derailed the fledgling Composite Dialogue process.
Despite these setbacks, the new leaderships in India and Pakistan offer reasons for cautious optimism toward reviving peace efforts. Both Prime Ministers Sharif and Modi have given top billing to better relations between the two countries. Since coming to office, Modi has often spoken about regional relationships in the context of working together to promote economic development and fighting the common enemy, which is poverty.
And yet there are very good reasons to be skeptical as well, and in ways that go beyond the events of the past few weeks. First, given that Modi has repeatedly advocated a position of zero tolerance against terrorism, it seems unlikely that he would show the same degree of restraint as his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, if there is a future terrorist strike committed in India and traced back to Pakistan (recall that Singh chose not to retaliate against Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai attacks). Indeed, the possibility of such attacks is likely to increase significantly next year. With the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, many anti-India militant groups who have been operating in Afghanistan will be deprived of a target, creating incentives to redirect their attention to Kashmir and India on the whole.
Second, Pakistans military, which remains the countrys most powerful institution, continues to be uninterested in moving closer to India through channels other than trade and economics. It also bears mentioning that Pakistans armed forces derive much of their legitimacy as well as their role in politics from an India that remains estranged from Pakistan. In effect, so long as there is no peace with India, Pakistans military can argue that India poses an existential threat, thereby justifying the militarys need to be active across the Pakistani state.
Third, there is disconnecting pattern at play with regard to each countrys desired agenda in future peace talks. Pakistans government has viewed a formal trade relationship with India as a possible springboard for discussions on the bigger issues, such as territorial disputes like Kashmir. By contrast, Indias government sees trade normalization as an end in itself. This latter position is rooted in New Delhis view that Jammu and Kashmir are an inalienable and irrevocable part of India.
So is there any hope that Modis grand gesture to Sharif back in May can trigger a new era in bilateral relations? In the short term, the answer is likely to be no. Historically, bilateral relations have resembled a boomerang: Efforts toward reconciliation have proceeded in fits and starts, with steps forward and hopes raised followed by steps back and hopes dashed. Just when progress is being made, disaster strikes. In the 1950s, India was Pakistans largest trade partner, but by 1965, the two countries were at war. In the short term, it will be difficult for the two countries to extricate themselves from this fits-and-starts pattern, and to find new sustained patterns of relating to one another.
As for the long term, hope for better bilateral relations between the two, focusing on areas that have the potential to bring shared benefits to both countries, not only in commonly discussed areas such as trade and investment but also in other areas such as energy or water resources. This is an objective that would need to be pursued through a renewed Composite Dialogue or quiet back-channel diplomacy