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The Continuation Of India Pakistan Dialogue History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

South Asia is a critical region with one of the most complex security situations in the world. It is almost perpetually plagued by various inter and intra-state conflicts. [1] Prospects for peace in South Asia mainly revolve around the relationship between India and Pakistan, which is largely hostile, often violent, and dates from their independence in 1947. In the past, there were efforts made by the international community to bring peace and stability to this region, despite which there has been little progress in this direction.

The efforts to sit down together for dialogue in the past shows that the political leaders and people of these two countries to some extend are interested to settle the issues. Despite this, the previous efforts have remained unsuccessful and unproductive. Since hostility between these two countries distorts the political and economic environment of both countries, inhibits regional cooperation, and inflict suffering upon their inhabitants, it is imperative to discover the missing links to improve relations between the two countries and to move forward to develop cordial relationships which are a pre-perquisite factor to peace and prosperity in the region.

This paper focuses on the continuation of the India-Pakistan dialogue as a way forward in establishing peace and stability in South Asia. First, it reviews and analyzes various official dialogues that were conducted between the two countries during the last 60 years; second, it analyzes the causes of success and failure, and then draws some lessons and puts forward possible recommendations for future dialogues.

Various Dialogues and their Analyzes

Since the partition in 1947, India and Pakistan have been engaged in numerous official dialogues. It would be noteworthy to highlight and analyze the various historical backgrounds under which such dialogues were undertaken by the two countries.

When the situation in Kashmir deteriorated after its alleged accession to India in October, 1947, and hostility broke out between India and Pakistan, Lord Mountbatten tried to arrange a dialogue between Indian Prime Minister (PM) Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan’s first Governor-General Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Although this could not materialize because of the sudden illness of Nehru, the negotiations later took place between Pakistani PM Liaquat Ali Khan and Nehru, during which Nehru agreed to hold a plebiscite and to resolve the issue of Kashmir in a cordial manner as per the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The holding of a referendum under free and fair administration was the most controversial issue between the two prime ministers. [2] Although, both sides were interested in resolving this important dispute, the lack of trust ruined the opportunity to reach a conclusion.

The first Indo-Pak war of 1948 was brought to an end by the Karachi Agreement of 1949. In November 1949, India proposed to Pakistan to settle all bilateral issues through negotiations. Pakistan was concerned about two key issues: the Bengal crisis stemming out of trade dispute, which was later settled through Nehru-Liaquat Agreement in 1950; and those related to the unfinished process of Partition. Areas of contention included Kashmir, the Indus river system, properties of the evacuees and division of British India’s financial assets. Pakistan wanted the disputes to be settled through the arbitration of the UN whilst India proposed a No-War Agreement. [3] Lack of flexibility on both sides hindered them from resolving the issues.

The UN and the Commonwealth made many efforts to solve the Indo-Pak disputes. At the Prime Minister’s Conference of the Commonwealth countries in London in January 1951, Pakistan was interested in discussing the Kashmir dispute but India opposed it. [4] The negotiations that followed between PM Nehru and PM Mohammed Ali Bogra are considered to be the best opportunities for resolution of the Kashmir dispute. US Senator Frank P. Graham, who was acting as the UN representative to Kashmir, had advised India and Pakistan to resume bilateral negotiations on the issue of Kashmir. As there was a change in Pakistani leadership, PM Bogra was eager to establish cordial relations with India, [5] Nehru, on the other hand was interested in pursuing the “regional plebiscite” proposal of Owen Dixon. [6] It can be argued that these dialogues were ruined after Nehru showed signs of discontent, as he was worried that such initiatives might further damage the domestic stability in India. During this time, Pakistan was planning to join the US-led alliance against the Communist bloc while India was keen on advancing better relations with the Soviet Union. It is argued that because of the rapidly changing geostrategic situation, an opportunity to settle this most controversial issue was lost between two democratic governments. [7] 

The crushing defeat of India in the Sino-Indian border conflict in 1962 led to series of talks over Kashmir between India and Pakistan. These official dialogues from December 1962 to May 1963 were led by Foreign Minister (FM) Sardar Swaran Singh from India and FM Z.A. Bhutto from Pakistan. It can be argued that these negotiations were more realistic, as Pakistan was inclined to accept an outcome in Kashmir that was beyond the plebiscite. [8] India agreed to accept Pakistan’s control of Kashmir with an exception of some areas in Kashmir and Poonch a proposal which Pakistan completely rejected. Pakistan was unable to capitalize on this crucial moment in the aftermath of the Sino-India conflict where Indian leaders were shocked by their country’s defeat. [9] 

In the beginning of 1965, India and Pakistan were once again involved in a limited war over the issue of Rann of Kutch. [10] The issue was settled through international mediation which was brokered by Great Britain. After a few months a full scale war broke out between India and Pakistan known as the Second Kashmir War. The war ended in a UN mandated ceasefire and the Tashkent Declaration of January 1966, in which the Soviet Union mediated due to its relatively cordial relations between the two protagonists. Pakistan wanted to include Kashmir in the agenda, but that was discarded by India. To prevent the collapse of the negotiations, the Soviet Union convinced both sides to maintain the status quo in Kashmir. It can be argued that the Tashkent Declaration was a success for Indian diplomacy as Pakistan was unable to convince India to negotiate to end the Kashmir issue. [11] 

In January 1971, the Pakistani government granted asylum to the two Kashmiris who had hijacked an Indian airplane “Ganga” and brought it to Pakistan. Furthermore, Pakistan also played a crucial part in brokering friendly relations between US and China. These incidents made India suspicious of the US-China-Pakistan nexus which further intensified the hostilities between the two sides. Some scholars contend that India used these events to enhance its relationship with Soviet Union by signing a 20-year Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971. [12] 

Indian support to the East Pakistan political crisis led to the outbreak of 1971 war between the two countries and break away of East Pakistan to what is presently know as Bangladesh. [13] During this war, Pakistan was politically and materially supported by the US while the Soviet Union assisted India and the Mukti Bahini [14] with an objective to weaken the US and China. It is estimated that around 300,000 people died in this war and 93,000 Pakistanis were taken as prisoners of war (POWs) by India.

After the defeat of Pakistan by India, PM Indira Gandhi and PM Z.A. Bhutto met for negotiations in Simla in June 1972. The Indian government thought that it was the right time to resolve the Kashmir issue by pressuring Pakistan to accept the present status quo as the permanent boundary. Pakistan was more interested in a withdrawal of the forces to pre-war locations and the release of thousands of Pakistani POWs trapped in India and Bangladesh. Ultimately, Bhutto agreed to the Indian proposal to respect the Line of Control (LoC). Although there was no permanent settlement to the Kashmir dispute but Simla Agreement [15] was a crucial step toward establishing peace in South Asia with number of agreements being signed later on between India and Pakistan. [16] 

The Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in 1979 drastically altered the landscape of South Asia, particularly the Pakistani Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). [17] The US provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan to support the Afghan resistance. The ISI was pivotal in executing the covert operations in Afghanistan and hence played a lead role in the US strategy. The US perceived the role of Islam as an important political tool against the Soviets. [18] As both sides were blaming each other for supporting the Sikh insurgents in India and Sindhi nationalists in Pakistan, the visit of President Zia-ul Haq to India in 1987 to watch a cricket match, opened door for a joint Indo-Pakistan Commission to examine the various aspects of relations between the two countries. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit hosted by PM Benazir Bhutto in 1988 formalized an agreement to avoid attacking each other’s nuclear installations. A year later PM Bhutto and Rajeev Gandhi discussed numerous issues ranging from Siachen Glacier, arms control, and nuclear proliferation but no agreements were reached. [19] The termination of the Afghan War was marred by insurgency in Indian occupied Kashmir where India blamed Pakistan for training the terrorist and Pakistan accused India of killing innocent Kashmiri Muslims. The relations remained tense during most of the 1990s.

The negotiations in 1997 between Indian PM Gujral and Pakistani PM Sharif laid the foundation of the Composite Dialogue Process (CDP) to normalize relations between the two countries. The CDP comprises discussions on the following issues: Jammu and Kashmir; peace and security; Sir Creek; Siachen; Terrorism and Drug Trafficking; Wullar Barrage/Tulbul navigation project, and promotion of friendly exchanges. However, both governments were constrained by their domestic politics, Gujral having a weak coalition while Sharif feared antagonizing the military. Ultimately, these dialogues did not achieve enduring results because of the leaders’ weak positions and failure to show flexibility and address intricacies of the issues.

The nuclear test conducted by India and thereafter by Pakistan in May 1998 coupled with Indo-Pakistan conflict in Kargil in 1999, failure of the Agra Summit in July 2001, the attack by terrorists on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, and the military stand-off between the two sides in 2002-03 severely hindered the dialogue process between the two countries. The only success was the Lahore Declaration when PM Vajpayee traveled to Lahore by bus on 20 February 1999. The Lahore Declaration could be categorized as the milestone in the history of Indo-Pakistan diplomacy, had it not been derailed by the Kargil crisis. [20] 

After the recommencement of CDP in 2004, numerous bilateral issues have been discussed to enhance confidence and promote cooperation. One of the first initiatives was to restore the number of staff members at the High Commission in both capitals to 110. Confidence Building Measures (CBM) were developed by strengthening links between the two militaries. On the civilian side, India proposed to reopen consulate general’s offices in Mumbai and Karachi, release arrested fishermen, promote tourism, and initiate exchanges in cultural and educational fields. [21] These were important initiatives in reducing the tensions. After the meeting between President Musharraf and PM Manmohan Singh in New York in September 2004, Pakistan accepted the Indian proposal of initiating a bus service from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad. Some of the other main achievements were the resolution of Siachen issue, opening of the Line of Control after the earthquake in Pakistan, and the All Parties Hurriyat leaders Conference in Pakistan in June 2005. [22] These dialogues were significant in enhancing better relations and reducing tensions between the two countries.

On the sidelines of the SAARC Summit in Thimphu, Bhutan in April 2010, PM Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani agreed to resume bilateral talks, which were stalled after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. Later the negotiations between the foreign and home ministers of both countries ended in a positive outcome paving the way for furthering the CDP. Both sides have realized the importance and urgency of solving their disputes to promote peace and stability in the region. Although PM Singh has been criticized for his managing of the Mumbai attacks and his post-Mumbai approach towards Pakistan, [23] others have praised the resumption of the stalled dialogue as a way forward in establishing peace in the region.

Main Reasons for the Lack of Success

Military interests: Except for Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto’s term from 1971-1977, the Pakistan military since 1958 has always interfered and influenced politics to pursue their own interests. The position of the Pakistan military has been to engage India in a proxy war. This has always been an obstacle in reaching to an amicable settlement on various crucial disputes between the two countries. This strategy has backfired since 2007, as the jihadists have been involved in numerous suicides bombing all across Pakistan. [24] It is argued that since the jihadists are operating all over Pakistan, fatalities along the border have decreased but the terror in both India and Pakistan has increased.

Lack of trust: India has been skeptical of negotiation because of the lack of political legitimacy on the part of the Pakistani government. Being the largest democratic country in the world, India aspires for a true democracy in Pakistan before it can seriously negotiate with Pakistan. Some observers have noted that whenever Pakistan has had a democratic government, the dialogues produced tangible results. The Simla Agreement in 1972 between PM Z.A. Bhutto and Indira Gandhi and, the two agreements signed between PM Benazir Bhutto and PM Rajiv Gandhi agreeing not to attack each others nuclear facilities and to respect the Simla Accord are some of the more successful examples. [25] 

Terrorism: Pakistan has been alleging India’s support of a separatist movement in Baluchistan and insurgency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. [26] The present dialogues between India and Pakistan will not produce any concrete results unless India shuns its delaying tactics and cultivate confidence and trust within Pakistan to sincerely resolve these critical issues. There are no chances of success through an arm-twisting and coercive diplomacy, as demonstrated by India’s failure to secure Pakistan’s agreement to its demands in 2001-2002, where it had deployed half a million troops along the Indo-Pak border.

Divergence in values and principles: There are divergences manifested in values and principles applied in governance and statecraft. The Indian political system has been a blend of democracy, federalism and secularism whereas Pakistan has been mostly ruled by the military, and is an Islamic state where the influence of religion runs very high as an instrument of political advantage rather than sign of prevailing public opinion. [27] 

Preconditions to dialogue: Whenever there have been pre-conditions, it was always likely that the dialogues would end in failure. The dialogues in 1997 were resumed as there were no preconditions attached. India stalled the negotiations after the Mumbai attacks in November, 2008, demanding prosecution of those involved. India’s attitude of India led to the hardening of the Pakistani position and lot of time was wasted until the resumption of CDP in July 2010. [28] 

Kashmir Issue: In the past, dialogues have mainly ended in deadlock with Pakistan being adamant in prioritizing the Kashmir issue. The four rounds of CDP have taught both countries that the contentious issue of Kashmir can only be resolved through a step by step approach. The two sides have also learned the importance of dealing with the situation by establishing citizen to citizen contacts on both sides of the LoC.

Lessons learned

Both India and Pakistan have ruled out any possibility of resolving the Kashmir issue through military means. They are aware that the way forward is through diplomacy and dialogue with the first step being to build trust between both sides. The following are some of the lessons learned from the past and recommendations for future actions:

Strengthening the role of SAARC as a platform for dialogue: SAARC was established primarily in response to the domestic political and economic needs for South Asian countries [29] and it has been successful in bringing the rivals together in one place, although there is question about its effectiveness. In the future, its role as a platform to furthering the dialogues between the two countries should be strengthened. This can be done through the mediation of a neutral third party.

Trust building: India’s firm belief in bilateralism has not succeeded because of its deep suspicion of Pakistan, rooted in history, and the huge difference in its size and power in comparison to its neighbor. Indian actions are perceived by Pakistan as threatening and involvement of Kashmiris in the dialogue process further aggravates the problem. As Pakistan has always advocated for involving the UN, a mediator can help generate Pakistani and Kashmiri confidence to compromise and come to a conclusion. The mediator should be a party or person whom all sides can trust and accept. As the Soviet Union during Tashkent Declaration in 1965 and the US during 2002 played a crucial role in resolving and preventing conflict, it seems that an outside mediator could greatly facilitate the negotiations. However, the mediator should be able to gain confidence of both parties. Regardless of who serves as the mediator, peace dialogue has to be governed by actions, events and the public utterances of political leaders.

Economic integration: Peace dialogue between India and Pakistan cannot take place in a vacuum, learning from past experiences where the contentious political issue of Kashmir has lead to failure. Future discussions must focus on common interests such as economic prosperity and the well being of the people. This process could garner support from the people to facilitate both governments to cooperate. For India too, stability in the region is important for its overall economic growth and regional superiority.

Continued involvement of civil society and increasing people to people contact: Analysis of past efforts shows that involvement of civil society and increasing people to people contact has helped in developing better relationships at the community level. The most prominent citizen forum are the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, and expatriate Indians and Pakistanis have also been actively involved in protest and joint actions for peace and reconciliation. Measures should be taken in cultivating ties among the people across the LoC. These initiatives should encourage the Kashmiris on both sides to take ownership in bringing normalcy to their lives. This approach could facilitate addressing the problems related to political fragmentation, terrorism and strategic dependence on militancy.


India and Pakistan have engaged in numerous dialogues at different levels with frequent failures and limited successes. Unlike many other parts of the world, five decades of talks and diplomacy has been unable to resolve these complex disputes existing between these two adversaries. The hostility is so strong that it has reduced the capacity to compromise on their positions. It is high time that the international community and all stakeholders, mainly the US, Russia and China take initiative in building trust and confidence among these countries. They should address these critical issues by linking up the dialogue with common interests such as economic prosperity and the well being of the people; involvement of civil society and making people and politicians realize that better relations between the countries would yield positive outcomes for over one and half billion people living in this region, and for India and Pakistan generally. Ultimately, continuation of dialogue either bilaterally or with the help of a mediator is the only way forward, and it must be based on sincerity, genuine trust and transparently honest motives.

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