India, Pakistan: Trust Deficit Ad Nauseam
| Ashok Dixit - 01 Oct 2018

India, Pakistan: Trust Deficit Ad Nauseam

By Ashok Dixit

New Delhi, Oct 01, 2018: Relations between India and Pakistan, judging from the recent verbal sabre rattling by the leaderships of the two neighbouring nations, don’t seem to be mending any time soon.

The foreign ministers of the two countries have spoken and so have Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Imran Khan. All four have perceptionally not deviated from status quoist and predetermined responses and scripts, and this should not come as a surprise to the common citizen as also to experts and observers of South Asian affairs on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) or the International Border (IB).

One can have initially assumed that with the election of 65-year-old Imran Khan as Pakistan’s 22nd Prime Minister following the holding of general elections in the third week of July and his first formal declaration a day later (with a rider) that “We want to improve our relations with India, if their leadership also wants it. This blame game that whatever goes wrong in Pakistan is because of India and vice-versa brings us back to square one,” and “This is not how we will grow, and it is detrimental to the subcontinent,” held out both hope and promise for a possible restart of bilateral dialogue, but events and incidents over the next five weeks (ending September 30) have proven otherwise.

Pakistan PM Imran’s assertion on July 26 that “If they (India) take one step towards us, we (Pakistan) will take two, but at least we need a start,” now seems hollow and it would not be farfetched to say that the trust deficit between New Delhi and Islamabad will remain in place for a considerable period of time, Track II diplomacy notwithstanding.

Eminent journalist Karan Thapar rightly said recently that relations between India and Pakistan can only be described as “accident prone and when they go into a tailspin, they usually raise disturbing questions rather than providing meaningful answers.”

Official addresses from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly over the weekend by Foreign Ministers Sushma Swaraj and Shah Mahmood Qureshi have been delivered according to script and support the above conclusion more definitely now than ever before.

If Swaraj pointedly called out Pakistan for “trying to mask malevolence with verbal duplicity”, accused Islamabad of glorifying “killers” (read terrorists) and warning of a “conflagration”, Qureshi was also unhesitant in saying that “Pakistan desires a relationship with India based on sovereign equality and mutual respect. We seek resolution of disputes through a serious and comprehensive dialogue that covers all issues of concern. We (foreign ministers of Pakistan and India) were to meet on the sidelines of this UNGA Session to talk about all issues with India- India called off dialogue the third time for the Modi Government — each time on flimsy grounds. They preferred politics over peace….”

If Swaraj, in her fourth UNGA address, said “Our neighbour’s expertise is not restricted to spawning grounds for terrorism…” and called on the United Nations to act on India’s proposal to pass a comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, which has been pending since 1996 because of a “failure to find common language” to counter this menace on society, Qureshi maintained that “The world faces a moment of inflection. The very foundations, the very principles on which the edifice of global order is constructed are under assault. Inequality within and among nations is on the rise.”

Referring specifically to India, he reiterated, “Dialogue is the only way to address long standing issues that have long bedeviled South Asia, and prevented the region from realising its true potential. The unresolved Jammu and Kashmir dispute hinders the realisation of the goal of durable peace between our two countries…Where the world needs bridges, we see fortifications; where it needs highways, we see blockades…”

After maintaining a studied silence and astutely not reacting to Imran Khan’s Donald Trump-like September 22nd shutting the diplomacy door tweet that said “Disappointed at the arrogant & negative response by India to my call for resumption of the peace dialogue. However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices (Read Modi) who do not have the vision to see the larger picture”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his firm September 30 Mann ki Baat radio address to the nation, said, “It has now been decided that our soldiers will give a befitting reply to whosoever makes an attempt to destroy the atmosphere of peace and progress in our nation,” and added that the ‘Quest for peace will not be at the cost of (losing) one’s self-respect.”

External Affairs Minister Swaraj has returned home to attend delegation-level talks with Uzbekistan, while Qureshi is now in Washington D.C. for bilateral talks with US officials following his trip to New York. He is expected to meet both National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Tuesday.

Where does the international community figure in this largely political squabble in South Asia? Predictably as experts and diplomats have often said, the West will continue to be involved and will always look for ways to intervene.

There are at least three reasons why? (1) The problems that exist in Jammu and Kashmir will continue to viewed by the West (read the United States) as a “territorial dispute” in which Pakistan has both a status and a stake, (2) the threat of and anxiety over conflict breaking between the two South Asian neighbours will remain ever present and (3) the global community is fully and acutely aware of the phenomenon of cross-border terrorism and pan-Islamic militancy, but at opportune moments, chooses to turn a blind eye to this menace, believing that the larger threat to be countered could be that of an impending nuclear confrontation.

The existing trust deficit can only be reduced if both countries and their respective governments possess the will to fundamentally seek to transform discourse and proceed, albeit cautiously, towards ensuring rational engagement for the benefit of their peoples’.

Ends

The writer Ashok Dixit is a senior journalist with 24 years of rich cross-editorial functional experience in covering and reporting on developments in South Asia. He had been associated with ANI as a Senior Editor for more than two decades. He can be contacted at  ashok.dixit26@gmail.com


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