Peaceniks discuss what if BJP takes over Delhi

NEW DELHI: The fourth Delhi Dialogue organized by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconstruction (CDR) and Jinnah Institute (JI) was dominated by one concern: Should, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) come to power at the centre with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, what would it imply for Pakistan? 

According to The News there was concurrence that a BJP-led government in India would carry forward previous policies, but fears were expressed that the BJP could hesitate for at least a year before taking any new initiative on Pakistan, as one Indian participant said, “The BJP has boxed itself in a corner and the Congress and the Aam Admi Party (AAP) will exploit it if it moves on Pakistan and if Islamabad insists on resuming the composite dialogue, it will not be very helpful.” 

Participants in the dialogue found comfort in the fact that many members of the new Aam Admi Party (AAP) have been in the forefront of peace initiatives with Pakistan, although its leader Arvind Kejriwal is yet to express his own views on the issue. “Pakistan is hungry for sound relations, while India is equally keen. Any new government will have to reiterate good relations”, an Indian participant said, in AAP’s context. 

Pakistan’s Ambassador Sherry Rehman viewed India not as forthcoming as Pakistan, to build bridges at a time when there is political consensus for peace with India in Pakistan. She said, “In India I sensed and saw a wall of ‘strategic indifference’, Pakistan does not understand why India finds reasons not to talk post Mumbai. Is there a peace fatigue?”

Pakistani participants also felt that unlike Pakistan, India tends to add caveats to peace agreements-  “The read back from India is conditional,”  one person said, expressing the hope that India’s continued `indifference’, would not lead to Pakistan losing interest in the form of dialogue that Delhi wants in fits and starts, while avoiding a full fledged Composite Dialogue.

Kashmiri participants added candour to the dialogue as one observer remarked, “Normalcy has become the enemy of resolution of the Kashmir issue.”

Several Kashmiris held a vigil for Syed Ali Gilani outside the conference hall, as he was hospitalised in Delhi. They felt a post-Gilani era would bring anarchy, as they said, “this one man army is keeping a lid on the entry of sectarianism and religious extremism from coming into the Valley.” But in contrast inside the conference the view from Jammu was that it was time to divide problems of Kashmiri speaking and non-Kashmiri speaking people- a view that found no takers. Voices from Jammu felt “As long as Ali Gilani is around India cannot find a solution to Kashmir.” 

Meanwhile the Pakistani delegation listened in silence as a Kashmiri observer went straight for the jugular saying that the problems in Kashmir would continue, with or without Pakistan, but that Islamabad’s intervention has harmed Kashmir rather than helped it.

Mariana Baabar writes, “Questions were asked and observations made. “Did the Kashmiris make a mistake to demilitarize? This peace dialogue is a ‘whore of a dialogue’. Rape cannot be a bonafide law”, the Pakistani delegates heard in pin drop silence.”

Some Indian voices also acknowledged the ‘wrong’ done to Kashmiris over the decades by Indian security forces, but when asked whether it was time for closure and admission of wrongs, the response was, “This is a political move, no Indian government can afford to make.”

Other voices from the Valley said that post Mumbai, India has become more internal looking, while Pakistan has its own concerns, so Kashmir is no longer a priority. “Kashmir is looking for autonomy in politics. Kashmir stands for peace and not confrontation. Vacuum in Kashmir needs to be filled,” they said. 

On the issue of trade with Pakistan, one Indian panelist expressed the view that too much time and resource was being wasted to normalize business relations, on what is essentially too small a market. While Pakistani textile owners are overwhelmed with the response in the Indian market with one brand holding an exhibition every week in India, some Indian distributors are requesting that textiles and packaged masalas should not bear the sign, Made in Pakistan, reports Mariana Baabar in The News.

Concerns were also expressed about the delay in opening Indian bank branches in Pakistan. A Pakistani businessman cut through the red tape to say: “Let us not reinvent the wheel as there are other countries around the world which also have border trade.”

Regardless of the obstacles in resuming bilateral talks, a former Pakistani army officer brought cheer to the dialogue when he said, “At least we have come a long way from the era of Mast Gul to Gul Ahmed.”

Mast Gul is the dreaded former commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen behind the siege of the Charer-e-Sharif shrine in May 1995, now living in Pakistan, while Gul Ahmed is a Pakistani network of composite textile mills which manufacture everything from yarn to finished products. Trans Asia News

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