Path to Nowhere

HERE we go again. Another high-level meeting between senior Indian and Pakistani officials with lots of hype and low expectations.

Meanwhile, Cyprus is heading towards reunification as leaders of the Turkish and Greek communities realise that in this day and age, endless conflict is harmful to both sides. Pakistan, however, is still fixated on its single-point agenda of Kashmir.

So much so, in fact, that our Foreign Office has, in its usual wisdom, arranged a meeting between Sartaj Aziz, our national security adviser, and the separatist leaders of Hurriyat at a reception during his New Delhi visit. This has incensed the Indian establishment, and cast a cloud over the discussions on terrorism scheduled between Mr Aziz and his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval.

It does not need somebody with a doctorate in international relations to see that you don’t go out of your way to antagonise your host on the eve of an important meeting. And for his part, Mr Modi, the Indian prime minister did nothing to smooth the way when he was in the UAE recently with a pointed joint declaration clearly meant to put Pakistan on the defensive.

But we did give him an opening when we refused to enter the Yemen conflict on the side of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. While I agree wholeheartedly with that sensible decision, the fact is that actions and policies have repercussions. During the Modi visit, there was talk of major UAE investments in the Indian infrastructure.

And as a result of being prevented by Pakistan to use the overland route to Afghanistan, India is now pursuing an alternate path by talking to Iran about expanding and modernising its Persian Gulf port of Chabahar, close to the Pakistani border. The perception in Tehran is that Pakistan’s Shias are being persecuted, and we are in the Saudi camp in the rivalry between the kingdom and Iran. This increases the chances of closer ties between Delhi and Tehran.

As an editorial in this newspaper noted: “It’s time to emerge from the old world, and recognise the changes happening in our region before it’s too late.” For decades, the thinking of our diplomats has been shaped by the Kashmir conflict, and they still view the region through this narrow prism. 

The reality is that nobody supports our claims over Kashmir, and even Kashmiris do not want to join Pakistan. Indeed, those fighting there are doing so for independence. And yet our diplomats continue banging the drum for archaic UN resolutions calling for a referendum that limits the choices for Kashmiris to merge with either India or Pakistan. 

As Iran is poised to rejoin the international community as a powerful regional player, we need to build bridges with Tehran. In Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani, while a pragmatic man, is under pressure to take a harder line with Pakistan. Our relations with India continue to be marked by armed clashes and extended sulks.

And while China continues to be supportive, it has urged us many times to improve relations with India and solve the festering Kashmir issue. In fact, it has set an example we would do well to follow by trading profitably with Taiwan while maintaining its claims of sovereignty. 

Across the globe, India is viewed as too profitable a market to antagonise. As a major importer, as well as a popular holiday destination, it dwarfs Pakistan in the eyes of the whole world. Einstein once said that madness was defined by doing the same thing over and over again in the expectation of a different outcome.

This is what we have been doing over Kashmir. By now, we should realise that neither warfare nor diplomacy is going to change the status quo. Musharraf had initiated back-channel talks that had made considerable progress, but they were derailed by the political storm that unseated the military ruler. 

Since then, there has been no fresh thinking on either side. And while India has proceeded to broaden its horizons to encompass traditional Pakistani friends like Iran and the UAE, we continue on our lonely path to nowhere. Of course, calcified thinking at GHQ has prevented our mandarins and our politicians from shaking off the shackles of the past.

India hasn’t helped matters either. The official admission that it has supported terrorists in Pakistan robs it of the moral high ground it had enjoyed earlier. Now, those sponsoring jihadis against India will be able to justify their actions, and the tit-for-tat covert war will go on, souring relations between the two neighbours.

Although Nawaz Sharif personally would like improved relations so that trade could play the role of lubricant, thus far our generals have resisted granting MFN status to India. We have also refused transit facilities to India-Afghanistan traffic. And while we remain stuck in decades-old animosities, the rest of the world marches on.

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