India-Pakistan Dialogue: A Small Step in the Right Direction

30 Oct, 1998    ·   149

Ashutosh Mishra points out that though the recent Indo-Pak talks held at Islamabad did not achieve anything significant, the fact that the two countries have agreed to talk is by itself an achievement

Recently, India and Pakistan have realised that evolving less hostile relations with each other is a prerequisite to improving their battered images in the eyes of the international community. Also, the Pokhran-Chagai tests have forced the two adversaries to reconsider their confrontationist attitude and act as responsible 'nuclear states'. M.B.Naqvi, a Pakistani political analyst writes,"The policies of India and Pakistan pursued so far, have run their course. They are at a dead end now. There may be scope for new policies but not the old ones with regard to Kashmir . Both sides seem to be realising this very slowly. Hence the decision to go on talking, albiet after a long gap."



The lesson which can be learnt from the just concluded Islamabad talks is that by agreeing to hold talks, the two foreign seretaries have made a small but significant advance towards any prospective cooperation. Though during the talks, no convergence took place on the proposal made by the two sides, yet the basis was laid for future cooperation by exploring common grounds. India and Pakistan , however, promised to minimise the risk of a conflict by building mutual confidence in nuclear and conventional fields and work for a "peaceful settlement" of all outstanding issues, but failed to narrow differences on Kashmir . Significantly, departing from his last June posture, Nawaz Sharif set Pakistan on a course on engaging India in a dialogue without too tighlty linking the process of improving bilateral relations to an immediate progress in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. As a result, talks on Siachen, Sir Creek and Wullar Barrage are to be held in the first week of November and to be resumed in February, from where they left in Islamabad .



"The talks mark the rise of a new  political realism in India and Pakistan . The willingness to be less rigid about Jammu and Kashmir lies at the heart of the new pragmatism in New Delhi and Islamabad.", comments C Raja Mohan.  "After the May tests", " he adds, "the two nations have emphasised the urgent need to stabilise the security situation, and used the language of arms control and deterrence in their nuclear statements". Both the countries acknowledged the need for regular exchange of views on their respective security concepts and nuclear/military doctrines. This consultation would itself go  a long way in allaying fears emerging out of  misperceptions.



Indian foreign secretary K Raghunath said," Dialogue is an extended process and there is no ground for pessimism." His counterpart Shamshad Ahmed shared this perception by opining, "The talks were positive. Our journey can begin with suitable steps on confidence buliding measures which would reduce tensions". Talking of CBMs, they are not just broad assertions of peaceful intentions. Raja Mohan points out that, " the essence of CBMs is to go beyond such banal declarations and credibly communicate to the adversary one's own peaceful intent. This can be acheived only through greater transparecny, expanded exchange of information, and reliable communication at moments of crisis between the two security establishments."



During the talks the 'linkage'between Kashmir and Peace and Security created a major problem. But given the fact that both countries have hardly any common view on Kashmir , holding discussion is itself an achievment. Next February when the two sides resume talks the extent of 'linkage' between the progress in other areas and progress on Kashmir , would play an important role.