The perils and shortcomings of Indo-Pak bilateral Diplomacy

SRINAGAR: India and Pakistan – nuclear armed arch rivals who, to some extent, derive their identities as being each others’ ‘Other’- appear to be on the cusp of a new relational paradigm.  Both sides have agreed to resume what they have termed as comprehensive dialogue process which will include Kashmir. On the face of it, this appears to be salubrious given the costs-especially human ones- that hostility between two exacts and has historically exacted.The injection of Kashmir is also a welcome step. What more can be prudent and salubrious than two nuclear armed neighbors entering into a process of dialogue and reconciliation? But, scratch the surface, and a problem appears.This pertains to the exclusion of Kashmiris- major stakeholder s and prime victims of the dispute between India and Pakistan.This exclusion will axiomatically have repercussions and consequences given that the aspirations of a people in conflict are being decided over their heads. History demonstrates eloquently that if and when a peoples’ destiny is shaped by others, conflict is the natural consequence.In this sense, both India and Pakistan are being short termist and looking the other way when it comes to the critical aspect and feature of the dispute- like the proverbial Ostrich burying his head in the sand.

The core problem with the new template of dialogue chosen by India and Pakistan is that their bilateral diplomatic approach is state centric; not people centric. This is as conventional as can be. Diplomacy is one among the gamut of the foreign policy tools and arsenal of states. The function of diplomacy, from a conventional standpoint, is to play an ordering role in an anarchic system of states. (In international relations, anarchy refers to the absence there is no higher authority to regulate relations between states). Interstate diplomacy can at times prevent conflict and war.  Here primacy is accorded to security and material interests.

But then this is too conventional and too staid to work effectively in a world where actors other than states are players. In this sense, India and Pakistan may agree on a range of issues including Kashmir but the terms of reference will necessarily state centric, interest and security oriented. This would obviously exclude people- especially the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir.  While this approach may or may not lead to interstate stability between India and Pakistan, but it ignore the essential character of modern history: the dynamic forces and matrix of nationalism. Nationalist eruptions, as history demonstrates eloquently, can rip apart treaties or other paradigms which states commit to.  Peace, under these circumstances can only be fleeing and ephemeral.

What is needed is a paradigm shift from the conventional state centric diplomacy to a more varied, open ended and nuanced view and practice of diplomacy.  Termed as multi-stakeholder diplomacy, this diplomacy would involve Kashmiris in both parleys and negotiating the final terms of settlement over Jammu and Kashmir. A catalytic approach that galvanizes and includes both peoples and states is then needed.  The implications and consequences of this approach would mean and entail connecting states, peoples, individuals, groups in ways that redound to both domestic as well as systemic stability-that is, an approach that has elements of realism as well as constructivism.

The world that we inhabit is defined by a certain fluidity and porosity. The gravamen of the world order emanating from this fluidity is unknown. However, what is certain and sure is that actions taken now will have either immediate or even future repercussions. Conflicts like the one over and in Kashmir that appear to be frozen at this point in time may relapse into recrudescence .No interstate, bilateral bargains might be able to prevent this recrudescence. The Shimla Agreement signed between India and Pakistan springs to mind here. It neither prevented the emergence and prevalence of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and neither led to peace between India and Pakistan. The powers that be , in India and Pakistan, should not be carried away by the spur of the moment but they should take a long duree view on the conflict between them in and over Kashmir. This would entail a robust understanding of history and the historical process and the forces of nationalism that undergird these. Specifically, this would entail involvement of Kashmiris in the dialogue process. The alternatives are too bleak too countenance. Let prudence and sobriety take over and a measured, ‘catalytic’ and stakeholder diplomacy be instituted. The time for this is now.

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