India-Pakistan Peace riddle could not be unravelled in six decades. Apart from politico-military hurdles, non-state actors on both sides in the form of militants and extremists groups have haunted the peace process time and again. Yet there is only one plausible way forward–and it is dialogue.
New Year jubilations have not lasted long for the international peace and security. The turn of events in the first week of January, from deteriorating Saudi-Iran relations and North Korea’s claim of Hydrogen bomb test to the endangered derailment of India Pakistan Peace talks, seems bad omen for 2016. Happening of these dramatic events at the start of the new year evinces that 2016 is going to be as challenging for international and regional peace and security as unfortunately were preceding years.
An Optimistic Start
The year 2015 ended with a very remarkable turn for South Asian arch rivals who have fought three major wars in the annals of their history with two primarily over the Kashmir: an issue that has been bone of contention between the two countries since independence. Prime Ministers of both countries met in Paris and Bangkok but the jaw dropping was the Prime Minister Modi‘s surprise-stopover in Pakistan on President Nawaz’s birthday. The event grabbed attention of everyone and made it to the earth shaking news in national and international media alike. The promises to restart dialogue were made. The agreed plan was that foreign secretaries of both countries would meet in mid-January followed by National Security Advisor meetings the following month.
The Terrorist Attack Endangers Peace Talks
But as the year turned around, there was a massive blow to this short-lived euphoria in the form of Pathankot terrorist attack on 2nd January, an attack on Indian air force base in Pathankot killing 7 soldiers.
It is not the first time that such incident happened following diplomatic revitalization. The 2007 Samjhauta Express (a twice weekly train from Lahore to Delhi) bombing occurred just a day before Pakistan’s defense minister was to visit India to resume peace talks. The 2008 Mumbai attack caused death of dialogue initiated by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee, a peace process that was expected to mark a historic resolution of Kashmir issue. The intermittent border skirmishes from July 2014 to September 2015 undermined the previous achievements in the realm of trade and visa policies.
And the recent Pathankot attack again happened two weeks before the scheduled dialogue. United Jihad Council (A confederation of Kashmiri Jihadi Groups) claimed the responsibility but Indian officials remained skeptical and alleged Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistani based banned militant organization for carrying out attack. Although there is no certain evidence at this moment regarding the perpetrators of attack but its impact on scheduled peace-talks has become visible hitherto. There has already been media frenzy questioning the future of the proposed peace process amid such terrorist attacks. Indian Home Affairs Minister Rajnath Singh stated, “Pakistan is our neighbouring country. We want good relations with not just Pakistan but with all our neighbours. We also want peace but if there is any terror attack on India, we will give a befitting reply”. On the other hand Irfan Siddique, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ´s special assistant, contended that India is hurling baseless allegations and “India should understand that Pakistan itself had been one of the greatest victims of terrorist attacks on its soil”. The allegations were seen as an effort to tarnish Pakistan’s image. However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured his Indian counterpart that Pakistan will cooperate in every manner in this regard and that this incident should not impact scheduled peace talks. In the wake of the ongoing developments, however, the prospects of conducting uninterrupted dialogue are bleak.
Both governments are soft to their own militants
Every time both countries start peace process, such incidents happen as force them to hold the strings back. It means that there are non-state actors in the form of militant organizations and extremists groups on both sides that do not want to see both countries at peace. The situation has been further aggravated by the fact that governments on both sides have adopted soft approach to deal with the criminals who are linked to organizations enjoying state patronage. For example, the granting of bail by Indian high court and reluctance of Bharitiya Janta Party (BJP) government to take action against Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS ) activist Swami Aseemanand, despite his confession of involvement in Samjhauta Express attack which killed at least 50 Pakistani citizens caused outcry in Pakistan. India was agitated on the other side when Pakistan followed the suit by showing its reluctance to take action against Hafiz Saeed and granting bail to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind behind Mumbai attacks. The onus lies on both countries in this regard. In Pakistan seminaries training religious militants are being run by those present in mainstream politics and are patronized by Pakistani intelligence agency. But on the other end of the spectrum extremists groups in India are linked to Bhartiya Janta Party, which is a major right wing political party. In 2013 Indian home minister Sushilkumar Sambhajirao Shinde claimed that RSS and BJP are involved in promotion of Hindu terrorism through training camps. Moreover, India claims the involvement of Pakistan in terrorist attacks on its soil while Pakistan held the former responsible for instigating separatism in Baluchistan and anti Pakistan activities in Afghanistan. This has created trust deficit between both countries. Therefore, responsibility to bring those liable for cross border terrorism to justice lies on both countries.
Pakistan cannot be safer with the presence of cross border terrorism nor can India laud its claim of secularism with the presence of radicalized Hindu extremists. The growing militancy and terrorism in the region pose serious challenges for both countries. Therefore, dealing with these non-state actors operational in both countries to sabotage peace process is a daunting task to deal with. In the past, unfortunately, the two more pronounced strategies to get a handle on such incidents have been either blame game or cancellation and resumption of dialogue every now and then. This behavior has made these groups to believe that their actions have desirable impact. It is critical, therefore, that both countries opt for a rational stance to deal with these groups.
The only successful way is bilateral peace talks
The rational way to pave the successful road is uninterrupted bilateral peace talks along with cooperation to thwart such forces by not falling for their wishes again. It is paramount that both countries work together to defeat such groups that have virtually jeopardized the security of the region. But having said that it is significant that military establishment and intelligence agencies in both countries are on board along with political leadership. The possible way out for this is collaborated effort to gather and share complete intelligence between agencies in the case of such terrorist attacks along with stringent suspension of state’s patronage for such criminals. Both countries should bring their own house in order instead of blame game and help each other in countering common threats. In the absence of such measures the alleviation of terrorism from South Asia will be dream unrealized.
Negotiation is key for resolving conflicts
It is crystal clear from the retrospect that the politics of hatred and warfare have not brought anything but suffering. Therefore negotiation is the key for resolution of disputes. But what remains to be seen is how much more suffering it entails before there is the charismatic leadership ready to leave its legacy that would be hailed for centuries to come. It is encouraging that in the aftermath of recent attack, India has shared some intelligence with Pakistan on the basis of which Pakistan has made some arrests. But it will be fruitful only if this case is not handled in a similar manner, as were previous cases. It is pertinent to mention here that the resolution of Kashmir, which has been a cynosure for long, has to be central to the negotiations process.
Octavio Paz has rightly stated in his book In Light of India, which sounds a surefire solution to wriggle out of the predicament that India and Pakistan have been into:
“Of course, it is impossible to foresee the future turns of events. In politics and history, perhaps in everything, that unknown power the ancients called fate is always at work. Without forgetting this, I must add that, in politics as well as private life, the surest method for resolving conflicts, however slowly, is dialogue”
By Sehar Mushtaq, Master of Philosophy in Political Science from the University of the Punjab, Pakistan