India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue: Back on Track?

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy

Havana meet has certainly removed, though for the time being, the chill in India and Pakistan bilateral relation. Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf had agreed to restart the peace process that has been stalled following the July 11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. The apprehension regarding the break down of composite dialogue process has come to an end. It is a matter of relief that foreign secretaries of the two countries would review the progress of the third round of the composite dialogue in New Delhi on November 14-15, where the two sides are expected to work out modalities of the proposed anti-terror joint mechanism along with other unsettled issues including Kashmir and Siachen. This forthcoming meeting would be logically followed by the meeting of Foreign Ministers to review the progress and most likely to set the stage for fourth round of composite dialogue.

Indubitably, the November talks between the two foreign secretaries will be a ‘litmus test’ of Pakistan’s willingness to act on the anti-terror mechanism. According to the Indian officials, the joint mechanism has been posited by India as a test case on whether Pakistan was prepared to act on evidence of terrorist links on its soil. New Delhi will use the talk to assess Islamabad’s sincerity to act on the anti-terror proclamation. The Indian side is expected to formally hand over to the Pakistani delegation evidence of Pak-based terror outfits’ connection in the Mumbai blasts.

After a successful Europe tour (UK and Finland), Manmohan Singh indicated that India will provide Pakistan with hard evidence. However, Indian officials did make it clear that the evidence would not be handed over before a charge-sheet was filed. India’s foreign secretary has clearly stated that Pakistan’s sincerity in nailing those who had masterminded the Mumbai blasts would be the real test of Islamabad’s commitment to the proposed Indo-Pak joint mechanism. The hope in New Delhi now is that the anti terror joint mechanism would be in place soon after these parleys.

Theoretically, Pakistan has offered to help India to “track down the culprits behind the July 11 terror strikes” but ruled out the possibility of handing them over to India unless it has hard evidence against the alleged culprits.

Indian Army Chief General J. J. Singh, at the conclusion of the Army Commanders’ conference in mid October, reiterated the oft repeated facts that Pak-trained terrorists, armed with sophisticated weapons and gadgets are still infiltrating into India. He pointed out that the infrastructure of terrorism is still very much alive and kicking in Pakistan’s territory, though there are some attempts to make it invisible by frequent shifting of terrorist-training camps. With assurances to work together “in theory”, Islamabad has been maintaining that its support for the so called “armed struggle in Kashmir” would continue. Such a belligerent attitude may lead to breakdown or failure again and must be eluded.

The last couple of years have witnessed significant changes in relations between both the neighbours. There is some optimism that the next round of parley will cover a range of issues including nuclear confidence building measures (CBM). Acknowledging the fact that nuclear weapons remain significant to strategic stability between the two countries, both India and Pakistan have been trying to evolve mechanism for ensuring the long-term nuclear security of the region. The fourth round of India-Pakistan expert-level talks in Islamabad on nuclear CBM made considerable progress with India’s proposal to work out an agreement on reducing risk of nuclear accidents. However, some irritants in the way need to be ironed out through negotiations.

Apart from anti-terror mechanism and CBM, there are other significant issues including trade and economics, which need to be addressed cautiously. Even when the shadow of past conflicts still looms large, a negotiated solution is quite possible. Presently, despite some differences, there is sign of flexibility that will hopefully lead some forward movement in composite dialogue process.

The fervour generated by Indian Prime Minister to resume composite dialogue prompts pragmatism in his approach. It appears that the effect of individual leadership has a greater say than domestic political factors in the resolution of conflicts. A powerful and trusted individual leader can create the right political climate for any negotiation. Both, India and Pakistan, have so far shown the “will to negotiate” with declared objective of resolving all their outstanding disputes but not the “will to settle”.

In the words of President Musharraf: “India and Pakistan have done well in implementing their confidence building measures, but conflict resolution remained stalled.” Although, mutual mistrust is very deep between the two countries, the two governments have shown restraint and time and have again sought solutions to their disputes. The political will to negotiate is as important as the political will to settle the dispute. To tune with the flow of present realities, both countries are trying to put their past behind. However, a lot has to be done keeping in mind the complex nature of India and Pakistan relations.

Author Note
Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, Fellow, Indian Pugwash Society, New Delhi.