Pakistan-India talks are like two sides talking to a brick wall

25 July 2008
The News International
Kaleem Omar

Karachi: The fifth round of foreign secretary-level talks between Pakistan and India in the third week of this month in New Delhi failed to bear any fruit, just like the previous four rounds that have taken place since the start of a peace process in 2004. The Pakistan team at the talks was led by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, while the Indian side was led by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, a former high commissioner to Pakistan. Apart from the usual token reference to the so-called Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), nothing of any significance came out of the talks. This was hardly surprising given the fact that nothing of any significance ever comes out of such talks, other than an agreement to hold more talks and sometimes not even that. Whether its foreign secretary-level talks or summit-level talks, India and Pakistan talking to each other is like two countries talking to a brick wall. Each side puts forward the same arguments and counter-arguments, restates positions that have been stated countless times before, indulges in the same brand of stonewalling on the core issue of Kashmir, and then goes home to tell its own media about how the other sides intransigence had sabotaged the talks. Its a pattern we have seen so many times that we know the script by heart. This time, the talks were clouded even before they began by the Indian governments national security adviser blaming Pakistans intelligence service for a mid-July suicide car-bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed 41 people, including two Indian diplomats. Pakistan denied the charge, reiterating that it has no interest in creating trouble in Afghanistan and wants to see an Afghanistan that is at peace within its borders and with its neighbours. In the summer of 2001, two days after the acting Indian high commissioner in Islamabad had delivered a formal invitation to the Pakistan Foreign Office for President Pervez Musharraf to visit India for talks with then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I had said in a column in The News that nothing was likely to come out of the talks because the positions of the two countries on the core issue of Kashmir were so far apart that there was no middle ground on which they could both agree. Everyone is always wiser after the event. The trick, however, is to be wiser BEFORE the event. So what happened some seven weeks later in Agra? Well, as the whole world now knows, of course, nothing came out of those talks, though Musharraf had scored some brownie points with the Indian media for his frank and articulate explanation of the Pakistani position to a group of senior Indian journalists at a breakfast meeting in Agra. After this months Kabul bomb attack on the Indian embassy, some Indian analysts said that the attack would reinforce Indias fear that Pakistans new government had failed to clamp down on state-sponsored violence towards India. Tensions on account of terrorism will continue, G. Parthasarthy, Indias former high commissioner to Pakistan, was quoted as saying after the Kabul blast. Thats what Indian officials and Indian analysts have been saying for years, conveniently ignoring the fact that any so-called state-sponsored violence that India accuses Pakistan of, pales into insignificance compared to the reign of terror that the Indian Army and Border Security Force (BSF) have been carrying out in the Indian-occupied Kashmir since December 1989, resulting in the killing to date of about 90,000 Kashmiri Muslims, the vast majority of them innocent civilians including women and children. India keeps trying to brush aside its continuing slaughter of Muslims in the Indian-occupied Kashmir by accusing Pakistan of backing a 20-year-old separatist revolt in Kashmir, But what Kashmiri Muslims are fighting for in Indian-occupied Kashmir cannot be called a separatist revolt by any standard legal or moral because the beleaguered valley has never been a part of India. In fact, the Kashmiri Muslims are fighting for the right of self-determination through an UN-supervised plebiscite. More than 700,000 Indian Army troops and BSF personnel are garrisoned in the Indian-occupied Kashmir today, giving the valley the highest troops-to-population ratio for any territory on earth.