Peace Tango

Both India and Pakistan have agreed to resume formal peace talks and have pledged to work together to fight terrorism, ending a two-month interruption triggered by tension over the train bombings in Mumbai in July. The place Havana and the occasion the NAM summit could not have been more appropriate for the two leaders, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s President, Pervez Musharraf to talk peace again. But gestures alone will not serve the purpose and for the peace process to find legitimate acceptance, Pakistan in particular must do more to stop cross border terrorism. That the peace process has suffered from several road blocks only goes to show that sincerity must come from the political leadership in both the country more so from President Musharraf.  Both New Delhi and Islamabad needs to give priority in developing mutually beneficial interaction while at the same time taking measures of the political complexities involved. The historic ‘Havana Handshake’ between Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharaff should be used not only as a photo opportunity but as a real partnership to strengthen the peace process from the top.

It goes without saying that the decision to set up a joint agency to combat terrorism is a welcome new development though there is mixed reactions and how far India can rely on this commitment from Islamabad. As such, Pakistan’s explicit commitment to join India in the fight against terrorism, through the joint mechanism will come to nothing if President Musharaff does not stick to his words. Action, in combating terrorism operating through Islamabad’s overt or covert support, will therefore speak louder than words if Pakistan is able to inspire enough confidence to allow India to take forward the process with support of its own domestic constituencies. On the diplomatic front, both countries should be prepared to leave enough room for flexibility from their old stated position on Kashmir. As far as the peace process goes, both countries would have to involve the people at some point or the other. Given the complexity of the political dimensions involved, it also makes sense to secure micro agreements which will rebuild enough trust in helping to push forward the peace process to its logical end. The process will take time and much effort but the political leadership in both countries should ensure that the dialogue process remains on course. 

After the Havana Handshake, what should be of immense satisfaction for New Delhi is to have got Pakistan on board to address the issue of terrorism, which had all along formed part of the composite dialogue but Islamabad’s intransigence on following a Kashmir first policy had narrowed the scope for New Delhi. Hopefully now with the agreement to put in place a joint mechanism specifically in combating terror, India should be in a better position to get the much needed cooperation from Pakistan and give credence to New Delhi’s effort of forward movement taking place on a wide range of issues as agreed under the composite dialogue structure. Along with this latest decision to combat terrorism, the earlier agreement signed requiring both country to notify the other of plans for ballistic missile tests; an agreement in principle to withdraw troops from Siachen; re-establishing panels to promote economic cooperation, starting bus services to promote people to people contact etc are all steps aimed at fully implementing the provision of the composite dialogue and must be pursued. Islamabad moving away from its Kashmir first policy will better ensure that the peace process remains on track.