ISLAMABAD: Former diplomats and defence officials, Monday, sounded a note of caution about Pakistan-India backchannel talks and emphasised on ascertaining Indian intentions before investing in the process further without compromising Islamabad’s principled position on Kashmir.
Former Defence Secretary Lt Gen (retired) Asif Yasin Malik, former permanent representative to the United Nations Dr Maleeha Lodhi, and former High Commissioner to India Ambassador (retired) Abdul Basit expressed these views, while speaking at a webinar, organised by the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) on the backchannel contacts between India and Pakistan and prospects of the process leading to normalisation of bilateral ties. They cautioned that Indian move to engage in backchannel could be a tactical one for trapping Pakistan in talks. They pointed out that the backchannel talks have reportedly been continuing since December 2020 and have so far yielded in resumption of ceasefire at the Line of Control (LoC).
Lt Gen (retired) Malik observed that Pakistan and India have a very different perception about peace and normalisation of ties.
For Pakistan, he said, peace meant honourable existence with independent policy pursuance space and rights. Whereas for India, he added, it meant a regional hegemonic posture with the right to bully everyone in the neighbourhood, while behaving like a superpower.
He warned that compromise on Kashmir could not be the price for peace with India.
Referring to statements from various quarters about the economic dividends of peace with India, he asked if the backchannel process would end India’s fifth generation warfare against Pakistan; its negative role in Afghanistan; its opposition to Pakistan at the world fora like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
“Instead of the process yielding selected dimensions of peace, wholesome comprehensive peace is required,” he underscored.
Dr Lodhi said that she does not share the optimism being expressed in Pakistan about Modi government’s readiness to talk about all issues.
“It remains to be ascertained what that actually means when they say India is prepared to talk about all issues. Well India was always prepared to talk about all issues. It is how it wants to talk about Kashmir,” she maintained.
She further stated: “We all seek peace with honour, but not at the expense of compromising our fundamental position on Kashmir because then that kind of normalisation will neither be lasting, nor would it be politically acceptable to the people of Pakistan.”
She asked both sides to appoint and name their backchannel negotiators. That, she maintained, would show seriousness “otherwise, it will look tactical.”
Ambassador (retired) Basit said the Indian move to reach out to Pakistan was tactical. Therefore, he added that the Pakistani negotiators taking part in the talks needed to be more circumspect in every step that they take.
While stressing that Kashmir needed to be kept front and centre in the backchannel talks, he warned that resumption of a front channel between the two countries without reversal of the August 5, 2019, actions would be seen as granting legitimacy to that illegal move. “If we get invested in a situation where we agree to another round of formal talks – structural talks that will take us nowhere…The emphasis at this stage should be on ascertaining as to what would be the road map on Jammu and Kashmir,” he added.
He said that India needs to take steps upfront to show its seriousness about dealing with the dispute.
He said release of Hurriyat leadership and permission for them to travel abroad can be one indication that India is ready to resolve the problem.
The former envoy to India said that viable peace cannot be achieved without resolution of Kashmir issue.
He emphasised the need to involve Kashmiris in the process, saying without their participation no process could succeed. IPI Executive Director Sajjad Bokhari said that before any commitments are made in the backchannel with India, key segments of society in Pakistan and Kashmir should be taken into confidence.
Although the very fact that the two nuclear-armed neighbours have been secretly talking for normalisation of ties sounds reassuring, but the ground realities, context and strategic dilemmas fuels suspicion about the engagement, he added.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021