In the spring of 1997 when the Indo-Pak normalization talks began, the two sides were apprehensive of unleashing a peace process. The very term “peace process” was perceived in New Delhi and in Islamabad as a Western jargon having marginal relevance in South Asia. Now, fifteen years after the commencement of Indo-Pak dialogue process, both sides are talking in terms of giving an impetus to the peace process as a way out from the decades of confrontation and polarized relations.
Since 1997 till today, there have been several ups and downs in Indo-Pak relations as the dialogue process which was launched during the second tenure of the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif and the then Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral to seek an “out of box” solution to decades of animosity and unresolved conflicts was suspended many times. The Kargil episode of 1999, attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001 and Mumbai terrorist acts on November 26, 2008 impeded the process of dialogue between India and Pakistan thus deepening the level of pessimism and gloom in the region. If there were two steps forward, there were four steps backwards. Yet, after every suspension of dialogue, India and Pakistan were able to re-start or jump-start the peace process, thus expressing a level of optimism for a better future of South Asia.
When one talks about peace process, four important issues are discussed. First, the existence of conflicts which are of complex and complicated nature. Second, the role of hard liners who consider peace process as a threat to their interests and survival. Third, the fragile nature of “peace constituency” in India and Pakistan which provides space to those forces who leave no opportunity to deepen the level of mistrust, suspicion and antagonism and finally, the lack of commitment and ownership on the part of state actors of the two countries as far as taking peace process to its logical conclusion is concerned. Interestingly, after every breakdown in the Indo-Pak dialogue process, the two sides pledge to take serious measures to resolve their contentious issues but without any tangible success. As a result, the very rationale of peace process is questioned by those who argue that New Delhi and Islamabad cannot pursue a path breaking approach for peace because of lack of seriousness and political will.
This paper will examine in detail the relevance and irrelevance of peace process in the context of Indo-Pakistan relations. By revisiting the peace process, the paper will also discuss how the Indo-Pak peace process was launched and why it has not been able to reach to its logical conclusion. Following questions will be responded in this paper:
What is peace process and what are its different characteristics?
Is peace process a pragmatic option to deal with Indo-Pak contentious issues?
What are the important requirements of peace process in the context of India and Pakistan?
What are the fault lines in the Indo-Pak peace process and how these could be removed?
What is the future of Indo-Pak peace process?
Peace process per se can only yield positive results if the conflicting parties are willing to settle a particular issue and express their readiness to pursue a moderate, instead of an intransigent approach for the management and resolution of conflicts. Given the track record of Indo-Pak relations, the very question of launching a viable peace process appears to be an uphill task. Beyond rhetoric and false notions and assumptions, the possibility of deriving positive results from peace process is bright provided the parties concerned are clear about their objectives, intentions and are willing to give up their intransigent positions. It will be interesting to see how India and Pakistan, as erstwhile neighbors and with a history of armed conflicts and ‘cold peace’, can move forward in the current peace process and how the two sides can remove impediments which since decades subverted efforts for a durable peace in the region.
Conceptual Aspects of Peace Process
Peace is termed as an ideal concept which is difficult to achieve in view of intractable conflicts at inter and intra-state level between and among various countries. Peace cannot be defined only in terms of absence of war but it is a framework which includes the absence of armed outbreak of hostilities. Yet, peace is a requirement for human beings because of colossal destruction which may take place in armed conflicts and wars. Furthermore, as long as human mind is violent, aggressive, militant, intolerant and chauvinistic, the challenge of peace remains along with the threat of war. Peace cannot be understood without having a clear understanding of war and the factors which leads to the outbreak of armed conflict.
Peace-building means an approach based on concerted efforts to resolve issues which cause a threat to human lives through concerted efforts. As examined in the Key Concepts in International Relations,
Peace building means action to identify and support structures that will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict. As preventive diplomacy aims to prevent the outbreak of a conflict, so peace building starts during the course of a conflict to prevent recurrence. Peace building is a matter for countries at all stages of development. For countries emerging from conflict, peace building offers the chance to establish new institutions, social, political and judicial, which can give impetus to development.1
Peace building and peace process are inter-linked as the building of peace cannot be done without launching a process. Negative and positive peace is also relevant in peace process because both dimensions of peace matter in a situation which needs to be changed for the better. As argued by David P. Barish in his book, Introduction to Peace Studies, “negative peace is simply the absence of war. It is a condition in which no active, organized military violence is taking place. Positive peace is more than merely the absence of war or even the absence of violence. It refers to a condition of society in which exploitation is minimized or eliminated altogether, and in which there is neither over violence nor the more subtle phenomenon of structural violence.”2 According to Harold Saunders, an icon in the Arab-Israeli peace process, “peace process involves five distinct phases: defining the problem, committing to a negotiated solution, developing a framework, negotiating and implementing the negotiated settlement.”3
Peace process is primarily a post-second world war phenomenon which got an impetus as a result of three major developments. First, the process of peace launched in war devastated Europe particularly between France and Germany following the Franco-German treaty of peace and reconciliation in 1963. Second, the broadening of scope of peace process in the third world countries or the post-colonial states where inter and intra-state conflicts caused millions of human casualties. Third, intra-state conflicts in the post-cold war era which witnessed the launching of peace process in the conflict zones of Asia, Africa and Latin America. In Europe, peace process in Northern Ireland and Bosnia-Herzegovina also augmented the relevance of peace-building efforts and transformed violent conflicts in a positive manner.
Peace process per se means systematic efforts made by warring parties to diffuse tension by unleashing a process of dialogue for the resolution of issues which cause friction and instability in their relations. On this account, “peace process is a mechanism or a set of negotiations where the parties involved attempt to avoid war or a war-like situation and wish to settle conflicts peacefully by using techniques such as diplomacy, bargaining, secret negotiations, open negotiations, tradeoffs and mediations. It is an exercise where groups or countries with conflicting interests seek to avoid further confrontation through a series of negotiations. Stretched over a period of months and years, a peace process requires substantial patience among the parties concerned before the results of the process can be achieved.”4 Following are important characteristics of peace process which are generally found in many cases where the parties concerned were locked for decades in a state of armed conflicts but were able to move in the direction of establishing a lasting peace.
Expression of political will and determination by the warring parties to accept the need for resolving their conflicts by unleashing the process of dialogue.
The role played by civil society groups in marginalizing hawkish elements by highlighting the costs of conflicts and the benefits of peace.
The role played by the youths to act as an ‘agent of change’ so as to replace ‘enemy images’ and breaking the ‘walls of antagonism.’
The feeling present between warring parties that they cannot win the ‘war process’ and must pursue a pragmatic approach in order to save their people from further pain and agony.
When one actor in a conflict situation becomes weak or ceases to exist thus paving the way for a transformed nature of relationship with its enemy.
The role played by the outside world to pursue the warring parties transforms their relationship and follow a non-violent and prudent approach to resolve their contentious issues.
Sometimes, the element of ‘luck’ is absent to move from the process of war to the process of peace. The two parties, despite their intentions to replace an age-old rivalry and armed conflict with a peaceful mechanism may not work because of lack of courage, boldness and vision. Yet, peace process, if launched with firmness, determination and courage can make a qualitative difference transforming decades of hostile relations to a peaceful one.
There is no short-cut or a ‘quick fix solution’ to resolve a conflict which for decades caused stagnation and instability in relations between the two groups, communities or a country. India and Pakistan, as the neighbors with a history of armed conflicts and ‘cold peace’ are no exception to what is considered as the holding of ‘enemy images’. There are two schools of thought having different positions as far as the Indo-Pak peace process is concerned. First, those who in the last 15 years seem to have changed their perception about the usefulness and relevance of peace process and consider it as a useful approach to end stagnation and stalemate in Islamabad-New Delhi relations. State actors in India and Pakistan, who in the past pursued a cautious approach on peace process now, are willing to give it a try and are openly advocating its usefulness. Second, is the school of thought which is deadly against any peace initiative which can jeopardize their interests. Representing the hard line and extremist sections of society, that school of thought exploits the age-old conflicts and past polemics to sustain enemy images. Any step which aims to better Indo-Pak relations is unacceptable to that school of thought. Whether it is the holding of cricket matches or cultural visits, hard liners from both sides oppose such activities.
The Indo-Pak peace process, regardless of its limitations and impediments has managed to overcome the tests of time. But, it doesn’t mean that the two sides are committed or own peace process because still there are preconceived notions and reservations at the governmental and non-governmental levels about the intentions of each other. Suspicions, mistrust, ill-will and paranoia against each other which since 1947 till today shape Indo-Pak relations will continue to play a negative role in the years to come unless the two sides take institutional measures to deepen and strengthen peace process.
Peace process is no doubt a pragmatic option to successfully deal with Indo-Pak contentious issues because of three main reasons. First, opposite to peace process is sustained level of confrontation and animosity which is certainly not in the interest of India and Pakistan. For a better future and good quality of life for more than 1.25 billion people of two countries, peace is the only pragmatic option provided it is understood by those who matter in India and Pakistan, including the hard line groups. After 15 years of ups and downs in Indo-Pak relations, it seems a degree of maturity and political wisdom is reflected in the policies pursued by Islamabad and New Delhi. For instance, the terrorist acts in India and Pakistan which took place after Mumbai failed to derail the process of dialogue as the two sides decided not to get bog down because of events which only benefited the hard line groups. Second, since 1947 till today, neither India nor Pakistan is able to annihilate each other. The reality that the two countries will have to live as normal neighbors is perhaps accepted as a fait accompli. Therefore, political realism demands that the only option available for India and Pakistan for a better future is to adopt a pragmatic approach in dealing with contentious issues. These issues, including Jammu & Kashmir may be difficult to resolve, yet, an “out of box” approach can help to pursue a middle path which can de-escalate the conflict and encourage the process of peace thus alleviating the plight of the people living on both sides of the line of control. History has taught an important lesson that the policy of coercion and domination is always counterproductive. A section of Pakistani society is of the opinion that as a bigger and powerful neighbor, India needs to pursue an approach vis-à-vis Pakistan which is just and fair. Unfortunately, both sides hold positions which only benefit those elements whose interest is to resist any positive development in Indo-Pak relations. Third, political realism and a pragmatic approach which form the core of peace process can only succeed in case of India and Pakistan if the two sides take institutional measures by augmenting trade, economic and commercial ties and by adopting a liberal visa regime so that connectivity and people to people interaction can diminish enemy images. Here the question is, despite being aware of the costs and negative implications of not pursuing normal relations, why there is no positive breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations? Why there are two steps forward and four steps backwards?
Requirements in Peace Process
Every peace process, whether launched in Europe or in the developing world has some basic requirements. These requirements may vary from region to region but to a large extent, there is a consensus among the protagonists of peace process that the concerned parties must adhere to these requirements. In case of India and Pakistan, some of the requirements which the two sides must adhere for the better future of the people of the two countries and the South Asian region as a whole are as follows:
Cessation of propaganda against each other, particularly launched in the electronic and print media. Since 1997, one can see the surge of hostile propaganda against each other when there was the Kargil crisis, attack on the Indian parliament and the Mumbai terrorist attack. In all the three cases, hostile propaganda launched by various political groups and segments of media made matters worse. It was only after the post-Mumbai episode that there has been some positive change in countering the hostile propaganda. The initiative launched by the Times of India and Jang Group of Newspapers, Pakistan for promoting peace in the two countries has made a difference in countering hostile propaganda against each other. Other print and electronic media groups in India and Pakistan having moderate leanings are also playing a useful role in neutralizing the influence of hard line groups whose aim is to subvert any effort for the success of peace process.
Avoiding stagnation and stalemate in the process of dialogue is essential in order to prove space to the extremist sections of society. Unfortunately, in the last 15 years of the Indo-Pak peace process, as mentioned above, there have been several ups and downs in the dialogue process as after every unfortunate event, the outcome was the termination of dialogue and the resumption of tirade and propaganda campaign against each other. Since 2010, one can see stability and consistency in the Indo-Pak dialogue process as the two sides are determined not to become a victim of those forces whose purpose has been to derail the process. But, one cannot predict about the future because still peace process is quite nascent and fragile and requires the consistent support of civil society and state actors.
More than the sustenance of the dialogue process, it is also essential that such talks must render positive results so that frustration and pessimism which occurs as a result of the futility of dialogue can be prevented. As far as the Indo-Pak composite dialogue is concerned, which is an integral part of the peace process, there has not been any qualitative breakthrough on contentious issues like Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and water related conflicts. However, what has happened as a result of the composite dialogue is the bettering of environment between the two countries which is also necessary for sustaining the process of dialogue. Regrettably, outside the ambit of contentious issues, there is also no major breakthrough between India and Pakistan on easing travel restrictions and causing a boost to bilateral trade despite granting the Most Favored Status (MFN) by Pakistan to India. Indo-Pak visa regime, despite some concessions, which it has given to senior citizens, business community and some privileged sections of society, obtaining a visa for an ordinary Indian or a Pakistani citizen to visit each other country is still an uphill task. Liberal visa regime is a major requirement of peace process which is not to be seen in case of India and Pakistan.
For a viable peace process, it is essential that India and Pakistan must formulate useful defense and military to military contacts and exchanges. At the moment, it seems both neighbors still consider each other as enemies which make it difficult to establish friendly ties between the militaries of the two countries. Meager military contacts are through the Director General Military Operations (DGMOs) in the event of a crisis; exchange of information end of the year on military installations; prior notification on military exercises along the borders and contacts between the officials of Pakistan Rangers and the Indian Border Security Force (BSF).
Progress in Peace Process
Despite slow pace in the Indo-Pak peace process, one can observe some progress as far as keeping a relative momentum is concerned. On the flip side, one can observe the sustenance of some of the measures which were taken almost a decade ago to establish trust and confidence and a degree of restraint by the two countries.
Some of the major areas of Indo-Pak peace process are as follows:-
Holding of ceasefire along with line of control since November 2003.
Demobilization of forces along the borders.
Holding of talks under the composite dialogue on contentious issues like Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and water related conflicts.
Holding of periodic talks between India and Pakistan on the nuclear issue, particularly on maintaining better communication lines for averting nuclear accidents and other nuclear related crisis.
Improving trade, commercial and communication linkages by promoting people to people contacts.
Launching of Srinagar-Muzaffrabad bus service, Tharparker-Monabao bus service, Amrister-Nankana Sahib bus service which has facilitated thousands of Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmirs and has helped reduced enemy images about each other.
Improving ties in education, science and technology.
Peace initiative launched by the Times of India group and the Jang Newspaper group of Pakistan.
Resumption of cricket matches of their cricket teams in their respective countries.
Release of hundreds of fishermen which were detained by India and Pakistan as a show of gesture and goodwill.
Better cooperation for combating terrorism, drugs and narcotics.
Stabilizing their relations in the nuclear field by exchanging every year documents related to their nuclear installation and reaching an agreement on nuclear risk regime.
As rightly observed by a Pakistani writer that,
The peace process has achieved progress only on the CBMs front but so far as the area of conflict resolution is concerned, Pakistan and India have not been able to secure any tangible success. The two countries have not even inked agreements on Siachen and Sir Creek, although, reportedly, major differences over these two issues have been removed. Similarly, there has been no forward movement on Kashmir, despite the fact that the two sides have exchanged a number of idea and proposals on the settlement of the dispute.5
Issues which are discussed under the ambit of Indo-Pak composite dialogue since 2004 are as follows:
Peace and Security including Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs).
Jammu & Kashmir.
Wuller Barrage project/Tulbul Navigation project.
Terrorism and drug trafficking.
Economic and commercial cooperation.
Promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields.
Still the progress on issues which are discussed under the ambit of composite dialogue are not enough and cannot be termed as path breaking steps for providing an institutional shape to the Indo-Pak peace process. The question is: despite such measures, which have been taken at the governmental and non-governmental levels, why it is not “clicking” and why there is no qualitative breakthrough in their relations? Why there is no proper ownership of peace process, particularly by the state actors? These are the questions which are raised from time to time in order to critically evaluate the pros and cons of the Indo-Pak peace process.
If the past of the Indo-Pak peace process was complicated and not result oriented, the present is also not yielding positive results. Therefore, there is a question mark as far as the future of peace process of the two neighbors is concerned. If there is a relative progress in their dialogue process, still there are several fault lines which cannot ensure a promising indication as far as the future of peace process is concerned. Furthermore, some of the fault lines in the Indo-Pak peace process depict the failure of state and non-state actors of the two countries and missed opportunities for taking the normalization process to a logical conclusion. Some of the fault lines which one can identify in the Indo-Pak peace process are as follows:-
Terrorism and militancy.
Mistrust and suspicions.
How these fault lines since 1947 till today impeded the normalization process and to what extent the removal of such fault lines can pave the way for giving an impetus to Indo-Pak peace process? When the two countries are engaged in conventional and nuclear arms race and are spending huge amount of resources of military hardware, the situation cannot be made conducive for peace. Surely, peace process cannot be sustained when at the same time the two neighbors are engaged in augmenting their military arsenal. Likewise, unresolved conflicts of contentious nature also pose a serious challenge to the survival of peace process particularly when there are hawkish groups from both sides who exploit such conflicts in order to pre-empt any effort which can help the strengthening of peace process. If India and Pakistan, despite their declared positions on their unresolved issues, agree to de-escalate such conflicts and through a process of dialogue seek their just and pragmatic solution, one can raise the level of optimism in taking peace process to its logical conclusion. As rightly said by an Indian writer that,
The uneasy nature of relations between India and Pakistan, with certain issues, including the Kashmir issue, having remained unresolved thus far, creates a potential source of conflict between the two countries and during the past six decades, both countries have engaged in four wars.6
Even before September 11, 2011, terrorism was an issue in South Asia as the third SAARC summit held in Bangalore, India in 1987 discussed that important matter and urged the member states to seek coordination while dealing with the menace of terrorism. However, after 9/11, terrorism became a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan as the former was blaming Islamabad of promoting “cross border terrorism” and Pakistan was blaming New Delhi of sponsoring “state sponsored terrorism.” In that sense, terrorism became a major fault line in the Indo-Pak peace process and the Mumbai terrorist acts and the act of terror on the Samjotha Express” no doubt made things worse between the two neighbors.7 The incident which took place near Paniput killed a large number of passengers, particularly those from Pakistan. The Pakistan government asked New Delhi to conduct a thorough inquiry so as to punish those responsible for terrorist act aboard Samjotha Express.8
It is only recently that one can observe some pragmatism and wisdom in the leadership of India and Pakistan as the issue of terrorism has not been made a hostage in their normalization process. Mistrust and suspicion in Indo-Pak relations is as old as the emergence of the two countries as independent states in August 1947 and it emerged as a major fault line in peace process. Paranoia, enemy images and ill-will against each other shaped Indo-Pak relations and can rightly be held responsible for derailing various normalization efforts and wasting opportunities for peace in the region.
Unfortunately, since the launching of composite dialogue till today, not much headway has been made in addressing issues which deepen mistrust and suspicion between the two erstwhile neighbors. Behind every failure and debacle in the Indo-Pak peace process is deep rooted mistrust and suspicion which didn’t allow the two sides to seek “out of box” solution to contentious issues. That fault line can only be removed by launching programs at the societal levels of the two countries which portray a positive, instead of a negative image of each other.
How the fault lines in Indo-Pak peace process could be removed depends on two things. First, the level of ownership for peace process both at the state and societal level and second, transforming the mindset of those who are at the helm of affairs and the common people for a positive change. It is an uphill task but not impossible because history is replete with examples where centuries or decades of animosity and antagonism causing colossal destruction was replaced with accommodation, tolerance, respect about each other and a better sense of understanding. In addition to ownership and transforming the parochial mindset, the most important thing which counts in the Indo-Pak peace process is vision. Without farsightedness and ability to perceive things beyond tunnel vision, the very rationale of peace process will become meaningless.
By vision in any peace process, including the one between India and Pakistan means the capability of the leaders of the two neighbors to think in terms of the future of their people instead of matters which only serves the interests of handful of people. Those societies where vision emerged as a pillar in foreign and domestic policies, it became possible to break the deadlock and move forward for resolving contentious issues. In the absence of vision, there is only stagnation, gloom and pessimism with no hope for a better future. While revisiting the Indo-Pak peace process, it becomes clear that the two countries after several ups and downs in their relations are now entering a phase of stability. That has been made possible by a degree of vision by the state actors and civil society groups of the two countries. One can identify four phases while visiting the Indo-Pak peace process since 1997 in the following table.
Negatives and Positives in the Indo-Pak Peace Process
Launching of Indo-Pak normalization process and proclamation of Lahore Declaration
Nuclear tests and the Kargil crisis
Agra summit in July 2001.
Pakistan’s unilateral ceasefire along the Line of Control in November, 2003
Suspension of the dialogue process after the attack on the Indian parliament
Commencement of composite dialogue after the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Atal Vihari Vajpai to Islamabad in January 2004. Launching of Sri-Muzaffrabad bus service and other measures to facilitate people to people interaction
Suspension of composite dialogue after the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008
2009 till to-date
Resumption of composite dialogue. Increase in trade and cultural relations. Easing of propaganda campaign. Strengthening of Track-I, Track-II and Track III dialogue, including the peace initiative launched by the Times of Indian Group and the Jang Group of Newspapers
No breakthrough on resolving contentious issues
From the above table, it appears that the current phase in the Indo-Pak peace process is better because despite sporadic terrorist incidents in India, the Indian government has not abandoned the dialogue process and has not succumbed to the pressure of hard liners.
Future of Peace Process?
Revisiting the Indo-Pak peace process however, brings into light some of the realities which New Delhi and Islamabad cannot escape. First, there is a question mark as far as the future of Indo-Pak peace process is concerned because still, there is lack of proper ownership, commitment and vision from both sides to seek peace dividends by utilizing opportunities for bettering their hostile relations. Mistrust, suspicion, ill-will and paranoia which since 1947 shaped the dynamics of Indo-Pak relations still influence the perceptions and thinking of the two sides. Therefore, it is the third generation of India and Pakistan, which is carrying the baggage of the past. Second, in the years to come, there is a possibility of civil society of the two countries breaking the other “walls” which form the core of major impediment in taking peace process to a logical conclusion. In 21st century when globalization and information technology play a major role in connectivity and making borders irrelevant, the situation in South Asia is different. Connectivity and people to people interaction which should have been the priority of the countries of the region seem to play no role and even now, for an ordinary person in the region, traveling in the neighborhood is an uphill task because of undue visa restrictions and lack of modern, direct and fast traveling facilities.
Peace process in any conflict-ridden region of the world gets an impetus when opportunities for economic, cultural and educational linkages are strengthened. This is still not the case in South Asia primarily because of Indo-Pak conflicts and the state policies which favor status quo rather than qualitative change. Yet, one needs to be optimistic for a better shape of things to come in Indo-Pak relations and for a viable peace in South Asia. One thing is certain about the future of Indo-Pak peace process: only through indigenous measures and policies the two countries can sort out issues which since 1947 till today are responsible for heavy expenditures on defense, poverty, under-development, backwardness and enemy images. Peace dividends can only reach the people of India and Pakistan when the priority of ruling elites is on human development and human security rather than on non-development expenditures. If peace process is a source of attraction to the people of India and Pakistan and there is enough knowledge, clarity and civil society groups strive to create a constituency of peace, one can expect the marginalization of hawkish elements despite the fact that conflict is their bread and butter. Peace dividends can only reach the people of India and Pakistan when the priority of ruling elites is on human development and human security rather than on non-development expenditures. If peace process is a source of attraction to the people of India and Pakistan and there is enough knowledge, clarity and civil society groups strive to create a constituency of peace, one can expect the marginalization of hawkish elements despite the fact that conflict is their bread and butter.
Revisiting the Indo-Pak Peace Process
Dr. Moonis Ahmar is Professor of International Relations, former Chairman, Department of International Relation at University of Karachi, Pakistan and presently Director, Area Study Center for Europe.
Centre for Defence Sciences Research & Development