The initiation of backchannel talks between India and Pakistan has certainly been a good omen in the combustible South Asian region. With the melting of ice, toning down of the bellicose rhetoric, and silencing of gunshots over the volatile line of control, hopes are raised for a peaceful South Asia where geo-economics can determine the course of future bilateral ties and consequent regional prosperity.
Even though wishing for peace and the emergence of positivity in the relations between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals in the region is a prospect laudable in itself, overlooking reality might be too simple-minded or overtly optimistic at the backdrop of multiple incidents that dominated the region’s geopolitics.
There are numerous stumbling blocks that the two neighbors need to excavate as they decide to enter into a substantive dialogue of critical issues of mutual concern. It is because a lot has happened over the course of two years and most importantly, the enthusiasm of high-level talks from the Pakistani side is not met with the proportionate zeal of the Indian side.
It is because even though media reports highlight concrete progress made in the backdrop of the bilateral talks, whereby India has agreed to cooperate on certain contentious issues-particularly Kashmir, such affirmative statements are missing from the Indian officials.
The Indian foreign ministry had elucidated the effectiveness of such a mediation channel but that does not pinpoint the amount of seriousness the BJP government has allotted for this initiative designed to address key critical issues including Kashmir.
Diplomacy breaking deadlocks
As an effective and viable tool of diplomacy, backchannel talks have always served the purpose of breaking deadlocks and probe into issues in a secretive manner which if made public, might lead to public outrage or scrutiny.
If history is the guide, the Cuban Missile Crisis, where two superpowers, USSR and the USA were close to a nuclear war that promised complete annihilation was resolved by this mode of diplomacy.
In this respect, if Indo-Pak history is taken into consideration, this mode of diplomacy helped the two countries extensively to deal with multiple thorny and volatile issues such as Sir Creek, Siachen, water issues, and certain aspects of the Kashmir conundrum which otherwise would not have been possible through open negotiations.
Thus, events such as the 1999 Lahore process, the momentous arrival of Vajpayee twice first in Lahore and then in Islamabad, the four-point formula that made LOC irrelevant, and the range of CBMS and the Golden handshake added a personal touch to the prevalent frosty ties between India and Pakistan in the course of history and nodded to the success of the back-channel talks.
More than that, what made the backchannel talks achieve their purpose was a strong commitment and political will between India and Pakistan to settle these contentious issues although the negotiations were conducted secretly.
Major misdemeanors by India
However, the situation at present is diametrically different from the earlier normalization process. A populist, nationalist, Xenophobic, and fascist government is installed which sets its political agenda and national goals at the backdrop of RSS-inspired Hindutva ideology that aims to cleanse and purify the state of India from migrants and various ethnic communities.
It placed its agenda into practice first by usurping the semi-autonomous status of Indian-occupied Kashmir through the slashing of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution in the quest of changing the demography of the region.
Furthermore, by passing controversial citizen amendment acts, it fostered its fascist ambitions that triggered a massive refugee crisis as refugees and migrants were stripped of their Indian citizenship.
More than that, the Balakot misadventure at the start of 2019, and the surgical strike by the Indian military brought the two countries close to nuclear war with the BJP government beating the drums of war through such provocative actions.
With these volatile situations dominating the mode of Indo-Pak relations, the obvious modus operandi by Pakistan was to refuse bilateral negotiations unless the unilateral annexation of Kashmir was addressed.
Although the Indian leaders have refused to budge an inch from their Kashmir position, the high officials have shown some flexibility which Pakistan can diplomatically synergize for its Kashmir brethren.
Pakistan needs to take calculated steps
At this point, the whole concept of backchannel talks comes full circle as it can be used to break the stalemate between India and Pakistan. Although the ceasefire on LOC and the revival of the Indus Water Treaty are positive developments, they are overshadowed by the prevailing military presence in IIJOK and the human rights abuses that continue to haunt the lives of the Kashmiris.
Perhaps one of the reasons why these backchannel talks between India and Pakistan are unable to reap their full potential is the fact that they are now dominated by intelligence chiefs.
Such interference limits the diplomatic and political scope of the discussions centering on these core issues and one is reduced to questioning whether the security establishment or the civilian government is in charge of these negotiations.
In the realm of international politics, war has never been the means to achieve an end. In fact, the results of war and aggression are highly unpredictable, destructive, and not without massive, human and economic costs.
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In this respect, if bilateral talks are the best way forward, they should be backed by prudence, calculated efforts, latent power, and cautiousness from the Pakistani side as they relate to conflict resolution that determines the fate of 1.5 billion people residing in South Asia.
The author is a geopolitical analyst residing in Karachi with a keen interest in international politics and extensive research experience. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.