Constant or composite?

Constant or composite?

By Mani Shankar Aiyar

The quarrel between the two governments has had the most deleterious consequences for precisely those crores of Indians and Pakistanis who have never had anything but “Aman ki Asha” in their breasts.

It is they who have to suffer endless, tense waits to get visas to visit friends and relatives and participate in family festivities. It is they – really poor people – whom inland security authorities in both countries compel to travel hundreds and often thousands of kilometres and sleep in ditches outside visa offices.

It is they whose innocent kith and kin -fishermen eking out a living, airmen who dropped out of the sky 50 years ago, children whose ball fell on the other side of the dividing line – are locked up in jails in the other country in a grotesque game of inhumanity.

It is they whose ghazal singers and qawwals and Bharatanatyam dancers are cruelly parodied as potential terrorists by visa fatwas (as if Ajmal Kasab and his companions sought visas to sail into Mumbai harbour!). It is they who are banned from consuming TV channels, films and magazines that reflect a commonality of cultural heritage not shared by any two other countries in the world. It is they who are the victims of strategies of one-upmanship that are the staple of diplomacy and, worse, of the “intelligence war” between agencies not famed for that particular quality.

As for anti-Hindu and anti-Indian elements in Pakistan, and anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan elements in India, they have in any case never had any desire to reach out to their fellow human beings across the border.

It is they who stoke the tempers of governments while the innocent well-wishers on either side of the Wagha-Attari divide are excoriated for carrying candles of peace to a midnight vigil on the doleful anniversary of Partition.

The resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue is, therefore, to be welcomed with a huge sigh of relief by people of goodwill in both countries. Our only apprehension is that the dialogue will soon be disrupted by one of those diurnal disturbances that crop up with metronomic regularity.

Therefore, the key issue at this juncture is to ensure that the dialogue once resumed is so structured as to make it “uninterrupted and uninterruptible”.

To this end, we first need to recognize that the 13 year-old Composite Dialogue process has run its course. In the first three years of the UPA government, substantive progress in the open Composite Dialogue combined with secret back-channel contacts between Ambassadors Lambah and Tariq have moved matters so far forward that the Composite Dialogue should be brought to a constructive conclusion by negotiating agreed documents to be signed when the Indian prime minister visits Islamabad.

That should set the stage, in terms of atmospherics, for simultaneous “talks about talks” relating to how to move on to the next stage of ensuring an “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” dialogue. Principal among these “remaining issues” from an Indian perspective is terrorism originating from Pakistani soil and, from a Pakistani point of view, the shrinking waters of the Indus river system.

Neither subject figures prominently in the Composite Dialogue process structured 13 years ago. They should. Why shy away from talking?

The writer, a Rajya Sabha MP, was India’s consul general in Karachi from 1978 to 1982

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