Pak-India Composite Dialogue: An Analysis

February 20, 2017 OPINION/NEWS


Raja Farrukh Zeb


The two states Pakistan and India started their formal dialogue at the end of 1947, to talk about the payment of money to Pakistan along with a share in the assets, which India denied at first. The two countries also held meetings in 1972 to discuss the issue of the prisoners which India had arrested in the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh.

However, the Composite Dialogue Process which includes all the major issues, dates back to May 1997, when at Malé; the capital of Maldives, the then Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral and his Pakistani counterpart Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif presented the idea of a structured dialogue or the Composite Dialogue Process (CDP).

Moreover, the two states also held several failed meetings to conclude a treaty on water issues until they succeeded to sign the Indus Waters Treaty in September 1960. During Zia ul Haq’s Martial Law period, although there were no considerable developments in that time, skirmishes in Kargil and Sarkreek forced the two sides to negotiate for a cease fire. Since then, the India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue Process has sailed through numerous ups and downs in bilateral relations since 1997.

During the Musharraf era, from 2004 to 2008 the Composite Dialogue Process had gained momentum and tried to address all outstanding issues between the two countries. It had completed four rounds, the fifth in progress when it was stopped in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008. A ray of hope for the revival of good relations between the states was seen when Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan to attend the “Heart of Asia Conference in December 2015. She met PM Nawaz Sharif and Sartaj Aziz; her de-facto counterpart. Furthermore, PM Narendra Modi visited Pakistan on Nawaz Sharif’s birthday as a good-well gesture. Before that Prime Minister Sharif had visited India on the eve of Modi’s oath taking ceremony in 2014. It was also noted that there was an exchange of gifts between the two leaders.

Nevertheless, the state of distrust is so high that at the Pathankot attack, both countries came to a situation of eye ball contact. The Pakistani militant organization was blamed for it and demanded it be banned. A fact finding mission was constituted which found Pakistan pure from any allegations. Yet the Indian Hindutva lobby did not agreed to these terms and carried on their negative propaganda against Pakistan of harboring terrorists, thus deteriorated the smoothening relations between the two states. Both leaders were in a position to resume the composite dialogue process but the involvement of non-state actors are dominating the government planes in this case, which is a matter of concern for both of them. Furthermore, we have also noticed that the Pak-India cricket match at the 2011 World Cup was termed as cricket diplomacy, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik there to watch the semi-final match between the two teams. Nevertheless, the typical narrow mindedness came from the Indian terrorist organization Shiv Sena and alarmed the Pakistani cricket team to lose the match to India.

Nevertheless, after 9/11, new international game rules were set by the United States. The newly coined 9/11 terminology helped New Delhi to bracket Pakistan with the Taliban, a hub of terrorism, and project India as a victim of terrorism. Besides, the situation also offered India and Pakistan a watershed opportunity to transform their diplomatic relations with the USA. New Delhi immediately extended all-out support to Washington’s War on Terror, presenting its war-related facilities for use against the Taliban regime. Meanwhile, Islamabad lost no time in jumping on the US bandwagon and becoming, once again, a frontline state for the USA. Pakistan feared that India might snatch the opportunity to forge an anti-Pakistan alliance with the US. It quickly disappointed New Delhi and created a sense of despair both in the corridors of the Indian establishment and the public.

During this period, a number of events occurred that favored New Delhi; for instance, the UN Resolution 1373 (2001) adopted by the Security Council at its meeting on September 28, 2001, clearly ignored the distinction between the freedom movement and terrorism, whereas the US dubbed all resistance movements for the right to self-determination as terrorist campaigns. Besides a few exceptions, the entire world community accepted this flaw in interpretation. Kashmir was among the first casualties of these new game rules. Soon after, the traditional sympathy towards oppressed people disappeared and the world media and big countries started to call freedom fighters terrorists. India cashed in on this trend and portrayed itself as a victim of terrorism, not a brutal oppressor confronting the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris.

Just three months after the September 11 events, the Indian parliament was attacked. The episode invited condemnation from all over the world and sympathy towards India, while Pakistan was pressurized to rein in militants active inside Indian held Kashmir, IHK. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, according to renowned writer Arundhati Roy, seized the opportunity to compare this attack with the 9/11 attacks. India snapped diplomatic relations and all communication links with Pakistan and manned its border with Pakistan with half a million soldiers, challenging Pakistan to change its Kashmir policy or face dire consequences. Responding in the same vein, Pakistan also mobilized it forces. The standoff created a war-like situation in the region and alarmed the US, which was heavily dependent on Pakistan for its crucial logistic support in the US war in Afghanistan. It was shaky for the US to allow Pakistan to shift its focus from the Afghan border to the eastern one.

In post 9/11 we have also twice seen a change of government in India. First by Congress and now by the Narendra Modi led BJP since 2014. Both governments have adopted an unpredictable approach towards Pakistan. Besides various other factors that caused India and Pakistan to change their policies on the Kashmir issue, back channel diplomacy led by the US played a major role in alleviating the crisis and creating a viable atmosphere for initiatives towards a comprehensive normalization process.

At the same time, economic tycoons and multinational companies were pressurizing the Indian government to normalize relations with Islamabad as hostile relations between the two neighbors and the constant fear of war had a negative impact on business activity and international investment. New Delhi needed peace in the region and internal stability to continue its current annual growth rate of 8-10 percent and obtain further foreign investment. In the past, India and Pakistan were engaged in sporadic dialogues that always ended with zero progress. This is why both countries formally suspended dialogue time and again. Islamabad’s approach was to settle the Kashmir issue first, after which the other problems would get settled almost automatically, whereas India was interested in dilating first on other issues, such as trade and travel. The ice has still not melted down and the process has yet to be resumed.









Raja Farrukh Zeb

Raja Farrukh Zeb is a human rights activist an political commentator. Currently he works with a re-known think tank in Islamabad.


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