Former Pakistani and Indian diplomats have urged the immediate resumption of long-stalled peace talks between the two nuclear neighbours to resolve a raft of disputes, mainly Jammu and Kashmir.
On the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the Kargil war, which was part of the broader Kashmir dispute, falling on July 26, Pakistan's former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, and ex-Indian diplomat and politician Mani Shankar Aiyar, told Anadolu Agency that the two countries have no choice but to resolve the differences through dialogue.
The two arch-rivals fought a three-week skirmish in the hills of the disputed Himalayan valley in July 1999, which ended with the intervention of then-US President Bill Clinton.
Kasuri, who served his post from 2002 to 2007, emphasised the need to resume talks.
“Both Pakistan and India are nuclear states and have large standing armies. Forget about the nuclear war. Even a conventional war would cause incalculable damage on both sides,” he said.
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The two countries, he said, despite constant hostility and fighting four wars since 1947, had neither been able to make the other side change its stand on Kashmir nor had they been able to capture an inch of territory from the other side. Only the Kashmiris have suffered and their suffering is increasing, he said, adding that tensions have increased to dangerous levels because of maltreatment of Kashmiri and Indian Muslims.
“Therefore, on the anniversary of the end of the Kargil war, I urge the two sides to restore the dialogue for peace and security of South Asia,” he said.
Seconding Kasuri's view, Aiyar said there should be "uninterrupted and uninterruptible" dialogue.
"To me, it is imperative because neither of us has any other means, certainly not war, of resolving issues and unless we resolve these issues, neither Pakistan nor specifically India, can really take its due place in the international polity," said Aiyar, who served as Indian consul general in Karachi in the 1990s.
Already fraught relations further intensified the situation in August 2019 when New Delhi stripped Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) of its longstanding semiautonomous status.
The controversial move instantly prompted Islamabad to downgrade diplomatic ties and halt trade with New Delhi.
Ever since the two neighbours have not missed an opportunity to denounce each other at international and regional forums.
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A February 2021 treaty that brought an end to nearly daily clashes along the Line of Control (LoC) — a de facto border that divides the picturesque Jammu and Kashmir territory between the two nations, has been the "sole" positive development in terms of relations.
Dozens of soldiers and civilians from both sides were killed, while scores were injured in the fighting, which has taken a toll on residents of bordering areas.
Kasuri suggested "confidence-building" measures such as the revival of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), liberalisation of the visa regime, and people-to-people contact "to improve the atmosphere and create an enabling environment for the resumption of the dialogue."
Endorsing Kasuri's suggestions, which he presented at a virtual meeting by the India-based Centre for Peace and Progress last week, Aiyar said: "His suggestions are the most constructive ones."
'Resolution of Kashmir dispute is essential'
Insisting that the resolution of Kashmir is essential to restore peace and stability in South Asia, Kasuri said: "It is New Delhi, which has been resisting the resumption of a dialogue since the current government of India believed that polarisation inside the country leading to persecution of Muslim minorities and hostility towards Pakistan yielded electoral dividends to the ruling party (Bharatiya Janata Party)."
“There can be no permanent peace in South Asia until the Kashmir issue is resolved in accordance with the will of Kashmiris, and to the satisfaction of both Pakistan and India which is what the so-called four-point formula on Kashmir envisaged,” he said.
It is generally regarded that Kasuri's four-point formula set a foundation for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
The proposal contained the framework for a solution to the dispute, as well as India’s concerns like terrorism, and thus could be regarded as a benchmark for the future.
Citing events that preceded the agreement between Islamabad and New Delhi on a proposed framework to resolve the dispute, Kasuri said: “Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was then president of Pakistan, and the then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had jointly agreed to a framework to resolve the Kashmir dispute."
"Manmohan Singh was supposed to visit Pakistan in August 2006; however, we received a message (from New Delhi) that he could not visit at that time since there were elections in some states of India, including Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest and politically most important state," he said.
Kasuri said Singh may have felt his visit could have been exploited by the opposition in India, and it was decided that he should instead visit in March 2007.
Kasuri wished that Singh had been invited in January or February of 2007 rather than in March when Musharraf filed a judicial reference against former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, which resulted in a lawyers’ movement and subsequently led to his ouster.
He noted that the language used in the February 2021 LoC cease-fire was political and diplomatic, and is therefore likely to represent the views of the two governments rather than merely the military.
“Perhaps, the government of Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi did not wish to directly say these things because of its anti-Pakistan rhetoric in order to reap political dividends. Therefore, it used its DGMO (director of general military operations) to convey the message. So there is a need to build upon it,” he said.
Limited interactions between two sides
According to Kasuri, peace is in the interest of India and Pakistan and the two countries should reflect on why other regions in the world, which were behind Pakistan and India in 1947, have gone far ahead of them in development and progress.
“Countries in the Southeast Asian region, and even many in Africa, are developing faster than Pakistan and India. In South Asia, Bangladesh has left the two counties behind in socio-economic indicators because of the constant tension between them," he said.
Asked if there is any backdoor diplomacy going on to pave the way for the resumption of talks, the former Indian diplomat said he was not sure.
"I don't know. I suspect (currently) there are some limited connections at military and intelligence levels," he said.
In fact, if you discount these minor interactions, there is an absolutely total standoff at the diplomatic and political levels between India and Pakistan over the last eight years."
There has never been a longer period of noninteraction between India and Pakistan, he added.