India,Pakistan should talk specifics of peace

Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj's two-day visit to Pakistan to attend the Heart of Asia conference last week made many a headline. What should be looked at as a normal governmental practice in any other country was heralded as a major diplomatic breakthrough. And that is the face of the relationship, or lack there of, between the two apparently hostile neighbours, Pakistan and India. Much is to be attained before the two are on cordial terms, and to talk about friendship is not merely utopian but fallacious in the context of the status quo. There is no denying the significance of one-step-at-a-time, as long as the goal is clear: long-term peace. The rest is details that are to be taken care of one by one.

Amidst the noise of naysayers, jingoistic hardliners, and hate-happy detractors, Swaraj made the brief Delhi-to-Islamabad journey, shook hands with Pakistan's Advisor for Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, held a talk with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and returned after the two sides issued a positive joint statement. After the National Security Advisor meeting in Bangkok earlier this month, which was kept away from the glare of TV cameras, and blare of hyper-nationalists, the joint statement is a welcome development. Let us just call it the much-needed thaw in the almost-icy relationship between Pakistan and India, hoping it would help dismantle the huge wall that is keeping not just the aggressive elements out but also the peace-seekers. It is no rocket science that national foreign policies cannot be formed simply as an endorsement of domestic political point-scoring, shortsighted knee-jerk reactions and vested interests of isolationist lobbies. The foreign policy of Pakistan and that of India must include an agenda of resolving of issues in the context of national and regional stability. Why bicker on such a basic reality that is in the good of all involved?

While Pakistan starts and ends at the Kashmir dispute, India seeks to distance itself from the core issue, bringing to fore the immediacy of resolving the threat of terror that it alleges is perpetrated by the Pakistani establishment, rogue elements of Pakistani establishment, or the non-sate actors enabled by the Pakistani establishment. Mainstream media rings loud with the mostly rhetorical statements of generally disgruntled politicians, analysts, and anchors, whereas social media becomes a ground for mud-wrestling, where the real issue is buried under blame-throwing, epithet-tossing, and adjectivising the other side. Amidst demonisation "Moody-is-a-terrorist" (no idea why many Pakistani analysts/anchors add an extra O to a tiny name), and "Pakistan-is-a-terrorist-state", important factors like pragmatism, tolerance, and a desire to break the deadlock look for the exit-mechanism, like teetotalers in a noisy bar. Perseverance commands success, and nowhere does this Aitchison College motto makes more sense than when it comes to the tug-of-war between sabre-rattlers and peace-seekers between Pakistan and India.

The peace process between Pakistan and India must be more than clichés, and it must be more than piecemeal efforts put into place every few months of open hostility, and long sulking, accompanied by covert and blatant threats. Depends on which side you happen to be. As Pakistan and India sit down to start that mother of all bilateral dialogues, now renamed Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, let us hope the sky would not be expected to be reached in the first meeting. A system of sustainable dialogue must commence, which strengthened by implementation of points agreed upon by both sides, may become the bedrock of future diplomatic and governmental framework of the two countries. All issues are resolvable: from Kashmir to that of water; respecting the Line of Control; cessation of firing at the working boundary; formation of mechanism to address the issue of terrorism. India could seriously address the Pakistan-allegation of Indian-funded-sponsored mayhem in Balochistan, and Pakistan could ensure the full and fair trial of the alleged perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. India could exercise restraint when it came to blaming Pakistan for every terror attack in India, and Pakistan could do the same. A joint system of intelligence-sharing, investigation, evidence-gathering and judicial penalisation could be another goal to tackle the mammoth issue of terrorism that affects not only Pakistan and India, but destablises the entire region.

It is time to walk the talk. Mere words are not going to suffice. Pakistan must move forward in its agenda of prosperity and peace, and there would no tangible gains if promises, words, and plans are not translated into action. As India is involved in its global rebranding, it is imperative for its policy-makers to repackage its stance vis-à-vis Pakistan, with whom it has a history of war and perpetual hostility. The inevitability and indispensability of dialogue must be taken as the sign to move forward. Without dialogue, there would be no fruitful action, and without action, there would be no change in an environment of mistrust and phobia that becomes conducive for anti-peace activities. As icy silence is replaced by sustained dialogue, followed by tangible resolving of issues; there is no way Pakistan and India cannot co-exist as cordial neighbours. It is time to practise another famous Aitchison College motto: facta non verba (deeds not words). The road is perilous, the history murky, the overtures repetitive, but slow and steady, there is no way Pakistan and India would not look at one another differently. Peaceful, positive, pragmatic.

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