South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Will the dawn of 2016 bring sustainable peace and amity between India and Pakistan? This question is faced by not only Indians and Pakistanis but also the world at large, as the governments of both countries recently decided to resume comprehensive bilateral dialogue.    

The resumption of the dialogue, which was halted after the deadly 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, is welcome indeed. It raises new hopes as well as expectations as 2015 bids  goodbye. On other occasions in the past too, hopes emerged that the dialogue would be resumed because of some positive acts from both the governments. But the hopes were shattered sooner than later. It was the classic case of one step forward and two steps back. 

The year 2016 will begin with much more hope than the year 2015 had begun. In November 2014, the SAARC conference was held in Kathmandu, Nepal, but it did not lead to anything concrete on the India-Pakistan front. The scenario is different now. The New Year will begin with some hope, at least. The meeting between Indian National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and Pakistan’s NSA Lt Gen Naseer Janjua held in Bangkok on December 6 was a significant. It was held ‘secretly’. Media was totally unaware. Indian and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretaries too attended the meeting. Janjua had replaced Sartaj Aziz as NSA. The Bangkok meeting was held immediately after PM Narendra Modi had an ‘unstructured’ meeting with his Pakistani counterpart on November 30 in Paris on the sidelines of climate change conference. They met only for 167 seconds but it led to the resumption of dialogue.

The NSAs’ meeting was followed by Indian External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s Islamabad visit to participate in Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan. Sushma Swaraj met Nawaz Sharif and his advisor on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz. Again the unexpected happened. The joint statement announced resumption of comprehensive bilateral dialogue. Earlier, it was known as composite dialogue. The dialogue will cover issues like peace and security, CBMs, J&K, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/ Tulbul Navigation project, counter-terrorism, people-to-people exchange, religious tourism etc. The statement was a win-win situation for both. The Indian side was assured of the steps being taken to expedite the early conclusion of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks trial. Mention of J&K satisfied Pakistan. Now foreign secretaries will meet in January and work out the modalities and details of the dialogue.  

The Islamabad statement was more comprehensive than the Ufa statement of July 10, when both the PMs met on the sidelines of Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) meeting. It talked of terrorism but there was no mention of Kashmir. It did not go well with the Pakistani establishment. The statement was criticised. Both the NSAs were to meet in August in Delhi but the meeting could not be held on the issue of Hurriyat. Pakistan was adamant on meeting Hurriyat leaders in Delhi and India was equally adamant against Pakistan’s NSA’s meeting with Hurriyat. The meeting was cancelled. DGMOs of both countries were also to meet but even that did not happen. Only DG of Indian BSF and Pakistan’s Rangers met and it helped in virtually stopping ceasefire violations on the international border / working boundary and LoC.

In September, Modi and Nawaz were in New York for United Nations Peacekeeping Summit. There Nawaz waved at Modi and the Indian PM waved back and smiled. In October, Sartaj Aziz handed over three dossiers to US Secretary of State John Kerry. Pakistan claimed the dossiers were ‘proof’ of Indian agencies’ destabilizing role in Karachi, Baluchistan and FATA. It was the time when relations were at a low and possibility of dialogue was not visible. The same dossier Sartaj Aziz was planning to hand over to Doval in Delhi in August.

US President Obama during his January’s India visit had supported Delhi’s bid to secure a permanent seat in the Security Council. Pakistan was not happy with Obama’s assurance. Nawaz Sharif told Obama that India does not deserve to be a permanent member of UNSC as it is violating UN resolutions on Kashmir.
The year has seen ups and down in the relations. The year did not begin with much hope but the scenario is totally different at the end of the year.

Modi will be visiting Pakistan next year for a SAARC summit. He will be the first Indian PM to visit Pakistan after AB Vajpayee’s 2004 visit. Manmohan Singh did not go to Pakistan during his 10 years’ tenure.

–  Jatin Desai