New Delhi: With Kashmir now pulled off the negotiation table, the Narendra Modi government is planning to revise the “talking points” with Pakistan that may render the composite dialogue process redundant. The issue of cross-border terrorism is likely to become the single-point agenda between New Delhi and Islamabad.
The composite dialogue process was established between India and Pakistan by former prime ministers, I.K. Gujral and Nawaz Sharif, respectively, on the sidelines of the 1997 SAARC summit in Maldives.
It was the first time that the two sides agreed to discuss “all outstanding issues including Jammu and Kashmir” as part of the structured dialogue.
However, a senior government official told ThePrint that the “Kashmir chapter is now over”.
“The talking points will now have to be revised. Although there is no room for a dialogue at this end, India has to be seen as a statesman,” said the official on condition of anonymity.
India now plans to increasingly portray an image of a statesman in front of the world, as far as the South Asian region is concerned, that is keen on having a normal and stable relationship with its neighbour, the official added.
How Modi govt sees the composite dialogue
The composite dialogue process has been suspended several times in the past, but it underwent a complete transformation under the Modi government’s first tenure when both sides agreed to discuss terror and violence and delink the issue with talks.
The process was regularly reviewed between both sides until it was suspended in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. It had been suspended on a couple of instances prior to that too, especially during the 1999 Kargil War, but the credibility of the process came under severe scrutiny after the Mumbai attack. In 2010, the process was resumed under a different nomenclature and it included new talking points such as counter terrorism.
Under the Modi government the composite dialogue transformed into what came to be known as ‘Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue’. This was announced by former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process in Islamabad on 8-9 December, 2015.
However, in the wake of the September 2016 Uri attack, the Modi government said “terror and talks won’t go together”.
“The problem in India-Pakistan relations is not the absence of good talking points or dialogue mechanisms… Notwithstanding what new items are listed for dialogue by diplomats, the test of the relationship will remain the irreversible end of terrorism and walking away from viewing each other as enemies who must be outwitted and defeated at all costs,” said Husain Haqqani, former ambassador of Pakistan to the US.
Terror and talks
According to former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, the main talking point that India needs to sort out with Islamabad is terrorism, with particular reference to cross-border terrorism.
“At this time, talks are out of question. But at a later stage, India has to discuss terrorism with Pakistan, which remains the biggest unfinished agenda. Besides, agreement on nuclear sites also remains a crucial part of the composite dialogue,” said Sibal.
Unlike the previous dialogue process that had eight subjects, the comprehensive bilateral dialogue included over ten: Peace and security, confidence building measures, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counter-terrorism, narcotics control, humanitarian issues, people to people exchanges and religious tourism.
T.C.A. Raghavan, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, said while it is too early for both the nuclear-armed neighbours to have a dialogue, the issue of counter-terrorism will now rule the roost.
“As neighbours there are a number of issues that both the countries have to discuss. The issue of Kashmir is not over yet. The question of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) has to be settled.
“But Pakistan is clearly overreacting at the moment. We want a stable relationship with Pakistan,” Raghavan, director general of Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA).
The real issue between both countries right now is whether they can overcome “mistrust”, said Haqqani, who is also director (South & Central Asia), Hudson Institute and author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military and Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.
“Terrorism has muddied the water since the 1980s but even before that, the 1965 war came right after the 1963 ministerial level talks on Kashmir and the 1971 war was not long after the Tashkent Declaration of 1966.
“The Simla Accord of 1972 lays the foundation for dealing with all issues, including Kashmir, bilaterally. It also calls upon India and Pakistan to end the propaganda that breeds hostility,” added Haqqani.
Before the Kashmir issue sprang up earlier this month, the Imran Khan government had urged India for a dialogue on many occasions, even after the Balakot air strikes. However, with the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Islamabad has refused to engage with for a dialogue.
On Friday, post the UN Security Council closed-door meeting on the Kashmir issue, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said “there is no question of a dialogue with India” after its Kashmir move.