August 15, 2013

All about biryani

It is again that time in the current government's calender that we re-engage high level talks with Pakistan. And splat! Right in the face of every Indian is the not so humble pie by the Pakistani Army. The blood of five jawans ambushed on the Indian side of the LOC is what we are left with. One can argue it was not the army but extremists running loose in Pakistan. But this is hardly convincing and it is not an argument that absolves Pakistan. Instead it places more question marks on the efficacy of it's government.

In this current backdrop, must the Indian government call off the high level prime ministerial level talks scheduled in the UN next month? The main opposition party definitely thinks so and want the ruling government to take to task the neighbours for this. While the government decides what to do exactly and not appear divided on this issue, the rest of the country rages on with debate - to talk or not. An overwhelming majority of the population will say nay to talks and yay to shoot. Is that really the right option for us to take?

What needs to percolate through our parliamentarians is - why would Pakistan violate the ceasefire agreement, incessantly, just before the prime ministers of the two countries are to meet? It is important to answer this question objectively. Which is difficult. I am sure most of us experience an emotional rush of anger and patriotism whenever there is a skirmish on the border. But we, and most importantly, our government should not respond in the same primitive manner. Not at least before some thought.

I think it is also in the interest of Pakistan that they come to the table. At least they want to. Nawaz Sharif has clearly reiterated that he wants 'the talk' at the UN and is looking forward to it. The question is, should Manmonhan Singh have biryani with Sharif in NYC? He must. For one, pushing down the peace process is not in the interest of either of us. Continued tension on the border will bleed the countries' economy and military. If we can somehow kiss and make up, the problem of dealing with extremists in Kashmir and in Pakistan can also be dealt with - together. Sounds too far fetched for this to happen. Cause, even if we decide to restart the peace process, it is doomed to stall in the start line itself.

Why the peace talks will stall if not fail -
Speaking of the main reason - Kashmir - Indians do not ever want to let go of it. Kashmir is and always has been an integral part of India. That means, Pakistan vacating the illegally occupied part of it will be the main precondition for us to resume talks from ground zero. No Indian government will consider the current demarcation of Kashmir as ground zero for talks. This, Pakistan will not accept. Although I believe there are ways we can arm twist Pakistan to accept our precondition (more on that later). Strike 1.

Secondly, every time the diplomatic process is started, we hand to Pakistan a dossier with the names of the most wanted Pakistani terrorists residing in Pakistan to be handed over to India. Plainly they are not going to do it. And I understand that. Would Russia hand over their citizens to America for crimes committed on American soil and vice versa? Ha! But the best we can do is to pressure the Pakistani government to prosecute them and justice be served there itself. Herein lies the difficulty. Pakistan does not acknowledge the existence of those extremists within their territory or even if it does, has not found them guilty much to our chagrin. Prime examples - Hafiz Saeed & Dawood Ibrahim. Strike 2.

And lastly, failure of confidence building measures. Or more appropriately, the constant 'resetting' of CBMs every time an ugly incident happens like the 2008 Mumbai attacks or every time there is a government change in Pakistan. No number of bus services to and from Pakistan will be useful to tackle the situation in hand. The same goes with cricket matches. Trade has always been stop-start, never really taking off and realizing it's full potential. Trading with neighbours is easier and more beneficial than exporting to countries farther away, but the prevailing political environment is flushing trade down the drain. Coupled with mutual distrust/hatred, every effort to step forward is herculean. Strike 3. Out.

Therefore the ultimate question is - why even talk if the whole process is doomed anyway? If both countries want lasting peace and stability, Kashmir would have been resolved. Which in-turn would mean normalization of trade, no extremism and cricket! I think deep down both of us know why. That is the reason relations between the two are not really moving in the 'positive direction'. Because we don't have a positive direction. Neither of us have aces in our cards - yet. That is why we maintain status quo and hope things don't turn for the worse. 

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