Faking it till we make it?

India and Pakistan need to come up with new ways to deal with Kashmir or their diplomacy is just empty gesture

Faking it till we make it?
Growing tensions over Kashmir have taken frayed relations between Pakistan and India a step further closer to boiling point.

The eruption of hostilities along the Line of Control (LoC) after months of silence could potentially complicate the already fragile situation. Ceasefire violations have been occurring regularly on the LoC and Working Boundary over the past few years, but this time it is happening when the militaries on both sides are on the edge and the revolt is continuing make them more nervous. There have been roughly 45 incidents of ceasefire violations by India so far.

This provides a sort of forecast of where all this could be headed—a mutually hurtful stalemate.

The tensions started in July after the beginning of the latest uprising in the Valley over the killing of 22-year-old popular Burhan Wani, a militant commander associated with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Indian authorities have since then tried to crush the protests, leaving over 80 people dead and thousands others injured, many of whom have been blinded forever because of the use of pellet guns by the security forces.
On the face of it, the proposals seem like a sound diplomatic tactic, but diplomacy isn't just about meetings. There should have been some solid basis and substance for the dialogue to begin

Pakistan, following its policy of extending diplomatic political support to the Kashmiri struggle, highlighted at different international fora the atrocities committed by Indian forces. The Pakistani support offended the Indians. Delhi responded by accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism. But, its response continued to evolve as Pakistan ramped up its diplomatic support for the movement. India first lowered its participation in the preparatory meetings for the upcoming SAARC Summit and then Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Pakistan of suppressing the rights of people in Balochistan, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan—something seen by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s senior foreign policy aide Tariq Fatemi as crossing the proverbial red line.

The other important change in the Indian approach towards Pakistan has been that it no more accuses Pakistan of just fomenting trouble in Kashmir. Rather it says its neighbor was behind terrorism in the region. The strategy aims at widening the scope of pressure on Pakistan and winning world support. PM Modi did the same at the recently concluded G-20 Summit in China. Pakistan’s strategy, meanwhile, has two strands: flagging human rights violations and offering India dialogue for resolution of the issue, which is at the core of their tense bilateral relationship.

When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addresses the United Nations next week, he will be offering newer ideas to end the dispute, besides reminding world leaders about the plight of Kashmiris in the Occupied Valley.

Pakistan’s earlier offer for a dialogue between the foreign secretaries was spurned by India and it insisted on only talking about terrorism. The fresh offer that PM Sharif intends to make during his UN speech is expected to meet a similar fate. The Pakistan government had made the talks offer to India part of the diplomatic effort to support the Kashmiri movement. The rationale behind the offer was to tell the rest of the world that Pakistan wanted to resolve the dispute, and that it is India that is intransigent.

After all diplomacy is only about seeking political gains and edging out opponents. The Indian response, which for all practical purposes said ‘no’ despite the stated willingness to visit Islamabad for a meeting on terrorism, too was tailored to address the international community. This made the entire exercise that was stillborn from its inception look like fake diplomacy.

On the face of it, the Pakistani proposal seemed like a sound diplomatic tactic, but diplomacy isn’t just about meetings. There should have been some solid basis and substance for the dialogue to begin. That wasn’t there at least in the previous offer; there were no new ideas on how to move forward. As a matter of fact, the two sides that were already too far apart, further hardened their positions.

The gulf between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir dialogue seems to be unbridgeable. More importantly neither of the two has the political will to reach compromises. Pakistan wants “a fair and just solution, as per the United Nations Security Council resolutions and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir”. India, meanwhile, is asking Pakistan to address five issues: cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, incitement to violence and terrorism from Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir, detention and prosecution of UN listed terrorist leaders, closure of terrorist camps and safe haven, shelter and support to terrorists.

Former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed believes that the Pakistani move to invite India for talks on Kashmir was ill-advised. “One just can’t understand what led us to send this letter,” he said. “It was an ill-conceived and ill-timed initiative with no purpose other than bailing out Modi in Kashmir. Besides betraying our own weakness, it was the worst message that we could give to our Kashmiri brothers. They already stand disillusioned by our mode of apathy and indifference to the Kashmir cause.”

Ambassador (retd) Aziz Ahmed Khan has a different take. “Pakistan did the right thing by inviting the Indian foreign secretary. The Kashmir situation is getting worse and India- Pakistan dialogue may have some positive impact on the situation. The Indian counter proposal is playing to the hardline gallery in India,” he said. “Nevertheless Pakistan suggesting dates shows we are serious about addressing the situation.”

It would be naïve to think that the two sides could agree on a common agenda for the meeting because of their divergent views about the issue. The best course for both of them is to return to their bilateral peace process under which all relevant issues were being discussed—from Kashmir to terrorism.

“If Kashmir and terrorism are discussed separately what will be left of the so-called Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue?” Ambassador (retd) Ashraf Jehangir Qazi says. “This is just empty ‘naila par daila’ diplomacy… Anything else is rhetoric, self delusion and hypocrisy.”

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad @bokhari_mr