Of Shantipath and Hyderabad House
India-Pak Foreign Secretary meet: A ringwise view
By Zafar Choudhary
Whenever a Pakistani dignitary comes to India, particularly the bosses from Foreign Office, the Pakistan High Commission located at Shantipath in Chankyapuri diplomatic enclave in New Delhi becomes centre of attention –for the media, the hawks, the doves and the spies –as separatist leaders from Kashmir fly down for appraisals from and reminders to Islamabad. The capital’s strategic community tells the marathon debates on television that Pakistan has upset the atmosphere by hosting Kashmiri separatists even before the officials meetings. It is Shantipath which engages the debate while as the place of real happening –the Hyderabad House, where most of the India-Pakistan Foreign Secretaries or Foreign Ministers talks have taken place –is relegated to the oblivion of official business. All, the enthusiast and apprehensive separatists, the left, right and the centre of the political spectrum and the strategic community hardly take note of success, failure or even the modest progress on the front channel India, Pakistan dialogue. Notwithstanding the Indian mainstream condemnation of Pakistan for hosting the separatist show at its Delhi High Commission and criticism of own government for allowing them to meet, the meeting of Kashmiri separatists with visiting Pakistani officials is symbolically equally important as is the official dialogue. Then, the crucial point one brings home is that both the events are essentially symbolic in nature with only difference that Hyderabad House offers less symbolism and Shantipath does absolute.
New Delhi and Islamabad have their own Foreign Policy orientations which may not be completely detached from each other’s regional and global ambitions. However, being the neighbours with a bitter past and bumpy journey together, they have some issues between them as well which transcend the logic of foreign policy parameters and are usually influenced by the domestic political concerns, economic calculations and security issues. Overcoming the differences in perception, after decades of scale ups and climb downs, in 1997 Prime Ministers Inder Kumar Gujral and Mian Nawaz Sharief identified eight outstanding issues between India and Pakistan and listed them as: 1, Peace and Security including Confidence Building Measures; 2, Jammu and Kashmir; 3, Wullar Barrage; 4, Sir Creek Estuary; 5, Siachen Glacier; 6, Terrorism and Drug Trafficking; 7, Economic and Commercial Cooperation and 8, Friendly Exchanges in Various Fields. This was the second major development between India and Pakistan in context of how they engage with each other on Kashmir. The first, of course, was the 1997 Shimla agreement which circumvented the future course of action on Kashmir as a bilateral engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad as the former made a smart exit for the United Nation’s role. In 1997, it came to be agreed that Kashmir is ‘one of the eight issues’ between India and Pakistan and not the ‘only issue’ or the ‘core issue’. Soon after came the Musharraf era and then a decade of ‘out of the box’ thinking. India wants Pakistan to engage in enhanced economic ties, evolve joint anti-terrorism mechanism, get into cultural relations and forge unstoppable sporting ties. Islamabad, periodically and reluctantly, believed in this. In past few years New Delhi and Islamabad have been seen working quietly towards a larger India-Pakistan reconciliation in which Kashmir, among the other issues, is sought to be anchored. This is where Pakistan feels stonewalled through Jehadi elements, the right wing political parties and the ‘dubiously unbridled state actors’ back home. The question that is repeatedly asked is ‘where is Kashmir in the India-Pakistan bonhomie’. Therefore, when someone from Pakistan comes down to meet a counterpart in New Delhi on range of issues, the usual drill is to make a big and loud and lasting noise on Kashmir. A meeting with the Hurriyat leaders at the Pakistan High Commission serves that high velocity symbolic purpose. It would be but naive to read much into those meetings which are absolutely symbolic.
Having said that the Shantipath meetings are nothing beyond symbolism, the Hyderabad House meetings are also no less symbolic in context of Kashmir. It is a relatively new and deeply reconciliatory development that in their bilateral meetings New Delhi and Islamabad have been routinely listing Kashmir as one of the agenda items. Earlier Islamabad would stick to Kashmir as ‘core’ and India would insist on Pakistan’s support to terrorism. Now since they have started discussing Kashmir, the crux is just that ‘we are discussing Kashmir, we think we should keep on discussing Kashmir and we think Kashmir should be discussed and resolved’. What are the elements of dispute and what are the agreeable points of negotiations are completely avoided in such meetings. Kashmir as a point on India-Pakistan agenda is, therefore, also hardly anything beyond symbolism. Take out the Kashmir specific paragraph from the joint statements issued after the meetings of Foreign Secretaries or Foreign Ministers, it seems that one from the previous statement is cut to paste in the other. The following just shows that:
- Place: New Delhi. Date July 5, 2012. Across the Table: Foreign Secretaries. Operative Para on Kashmir: The Foreign Secretaries had a comprehensive exchange of views on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir and agreed to continue discussions in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences.
- Place: New Delhi. Date: July 27, 2011. Across the Table: Foreign Ministers. Operative Para on Kashmir: They held discussions on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to the need for continued discussions, in a purposeful and forward-looking manner, with a view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences.
- Place: Islamabad. Date June 24, 2011: Across the Table: Foreign Secretaries. Operative Para on Kashmir: The Foreign Secretaries exchanged views on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir and agreed to continue discussions in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences.
Author is eminent journalist and Honorary Director of Indus Research Foundation. Reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org