The pending issues standing in the way of a thaw in Indo-Pakistan relations could be divided into the following groups:
GROUP 1---INTERNAL SECURITY RELATED: Pakistan's continued use of terrorism against India, inaction against the anti-India terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory and lack of mutual legal assistance in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related cases. High priority for India and low priority for Pakistan.
GROUP 2---TERRITORY RELATED: The Kashmir issue, the Siachen Glacier and the Sir Creek. High priority for Pakistan and low priority for India.
GROUP 3--- ECONOMIC TIES RELATED:Normalisation of bilateral trade and transit rights for Indian trade with Afghanistan. Medium priority for India and low priority for Pakistan.
GROUP 4---- OFFICIAL EXCHANGES RELATED: Exchanges of visits of political leaders, senior bureaucrats and military officers to remove the trust deficit and increase the mutual comfort level. Low priority for both countries
GROUP 5--- OTHER ISSUES: Facilities to the media for better coverage, easier travel, exchanges of visits between relatives, easier access to visa, greater exchange of pilgrim groups, facilities for tourism. Low priority for both.
2. The inflexible line taken by the two countries as indicated below in the past made any progress difficult:
INDIA: No progress on other issues possible until and unless its internal security related concerns are addressed by Pakistan.
PAKISTAN: No progress on other issues possible unless and until its territory-related interests are addressed.
3.To get around this log-jam, the idea of a composite dialogue was devised. That is, discussing all the issues simultaneously through different groups of officials. The composite dialogue was unable to break this log-jam because instead of taking up first issues amenable to an easy solution and proceeding gradually from the easier-to-solve to the more difficult, it made a messy mix of both. As a result, even easier issues, which could have been solved a long time ago such as those relating to econimic ties remained unresolved.
4.There are certain defining characteristics of Indo-Pakistan relations since 1947, namely,
No.1: A greater trust deficit between the two States than between the two civil societies.
No.2: The two political leaderships and civil and military bureaucracies living and working in isolation from each other without an exercise involving periodic exchanges of visits and views.
No.3: Past memories. 1971 in the case of Pakistan and terrorism in the case of India.
No.4: A tendency of the opponents of the ruling dispensation in the two countries to politically exploit any seeming concession to the other side in order to embarrass and discredit the ruling dispensation.
No.5: The role of the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as a deciding factor in determining the future direction of the bilateral ties. No Pakistani political leader, however strong and popular, can overrule the Army and the ISI in matters relating to India.
5. Aware of the sensitivities and difficulties, the leaders of the two countries have tried over the years two formats to ease, if not break, the log jam:
THE FORMAL DIALOGUE: The composite dialogue, which is in a state of suspension since the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, is an example.
BACK CHANNEL CONTACTS: These were between trusted representatives---governmental or non-governmental--- of the leaders of the two countries. Such back channel contacts at the governmental and non-governmental levels existed under Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrasekhar. Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. There were no back channel contacts under V.P.Singh, Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral. Back channel contacts differ from the so-called track II diplomacy. Track II diplomacy is diplomacy through non-governmental initiatives through non-governmental intermediaries. Back channel diplomacy is diplomacy through governmental initiatives through governmental or non-governmental intermediaries. Back channel diplomacy also differs from the formal dialogue in many respects. A formal dialogue has a rigid structure---- a formal pre-agreed agenda, jointly agreed minutes and the relative irreversibility of positions agreed upon if there is a backlash back home. It is held in the full glare of publicity. Back channel diplomacy has no formal structure--- no formal agenda, no joinly-agreed minutes and the easier reversibility of agreed positions in case of a controversy back home. Back channel diplomacy provides a greater wriggle room unlike a formal dialogue.
6.Back channel diplomacy poses a major problem to which no satisfactory solution has been found. That arises from the question: How and when to formalise the progress achieved through informal contacts. Often, political leaderships and bureaucracies have failed in giving a formal shape to the progress made through informal back channel diplomacy. The demilitarisation of Siachen is a good example. Governments keep the opposition informed about a formal dialogue, but in the dark about back channel diplomacy. This adds to the difficulties in formalising the progress made through back channels.
7. One could see once again attempts to break the ice between India and Pakistan. The New Year telephonic conversations between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries about which the media has reported on January 14,2010, is indicative of the beginning of a groping forward once again. The fact that many of the details as given in the media seem to have come from the Government would indicate an attempt by the Government to test the waters of public opinion before making any concrete move towards the resumption of a dialogue.
8. Rigidity is always bad diplomacy. Good diplomacy is a mix of firm adherence to national interests and flexibility in having an open mind to alternative approaches. Has the time come for an alternative approach? If so, what could be that one? The present atmosphere is not conducive to a resumption of the composite dialgue in its past format. Pakistan has not acted against the anti-India terrorist infrastructure. It shows no signs of giving up the use of terrorism against India. It has been dragging its feet in prosecuting its nationals involved in the 26/11 terrorist strikes.
9. While adhering to our reasonable stand that there can be no composite dialogue till Pakistan at least shows an inclination to address our internal security related concerns, the time has come to explore the possibility of initiating a sub-composite dialogue by focussing on other issues. Start with the less difficult first and move to the more difficult later. (14-1-2010)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Inbstitute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )