WHAT can one realistically expect for Pak-India relations in 2018? A repeat of a barren 2017? Or a teasing show of progress through predictably wasteful talks? It is some comfort that the countries’ national security advisers met in Bangkok on Dec 27. One can only hope that Ajit Doval and retired Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua discussed how to restore the long-interrupted dialogue. On Nov 10, a delegation led by the DG Rangers Sindh and DG Border Security Force met on the Wagah-Attari border. That this ‘bi-annual meeting’ had not been held for 18 months prior speaks a lot for the state of relations. It would be rash to read too much into both meetings.

In December, India’s minister for external affairs firmly ruled out even reviving cricket matches between the two countries. Around the same time, India decided to tap fully its share of the Indus River’s waters, under the Indus Waters Treaty, 1960 — reportedly “to strike back at Pakistan”.

Several false notions underlie India’s present policy towards Pakistan. One is the ‘absence of trust’ — as if one should only talk to those with whom one’s relations are close enough to inspire trust. This is as unrealistic in personal relations as it is in relations between states. International politics expert Yan Xuetong holds that existence of trust is not a precondition to talks. It is foolish to think otherwise. (Undoubtedly, some equally false notions warp Pakistan’s policy too.)

It is foolish to make trust a precondition for talks.

That would have ruled out parleys between the US and Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Despite profound mutual distrust, they negotiated because armed conflict was in neither’s interest, and a fair accord was in the interests of both. The same is true of similar crises in European history. As Yan writes, “There are countless examples throughout history of cooperation between major powers that lacked any of this so-called mutual trust. In fact, the lack of trust has been the norm in successful international relationships.” His advice is pre-eminently sound. States should build “realistic relationship[s] based on their interests ... mutual trust is a result rather than a premise of long-term co-operation”. Trust is built by pledging to and maintaining an accord, not prior to it.

The late Amanullah Khan, chairman of the J&K Liberation Front, in an interview in 1990 claimed that the Kashmir uprising was planned for months and the attack on a government establishment on July 31, 1988 was the starting point of the new militancy. But could it have succeeded were it not for the fact that the long-suffering populace was seething over Indian repression and in a mood to rebel? The situation is no better 30 years later; in some respects it is worse. The youth are prepared to die; they listen neither to their parents nor the Hurriyat leaders.

On the police’s ‘achievements’ in 2017, a Srinagar correspondent reported, “The officers did not deliberate on the causes of local Kashmiri youth continuously joining militancy.” There was a surge in militancy after Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016. A correspondent reported that the number of locals joining terror outfits in 2017 was the highest it had been in seven years. The men who attacked the Central Reserve Police Force on Dec 31 were locals. One was the 16-year-old son of a policeman who had joined the militants only a few months earlier. The family’s desperate appeal for his return did not move him; nor did the fear of certain death deter him.

It is worse than unrealistic to deny the root cause of the problem — the Kashmiris’ deep sense of alienation. It is stupid to think that the youth’s outlook can be changed by the centre’s proposal to introduce a ‘nationalistic curriculum’ in schools. The puppet regime of Mehbooba Mufti will acquiesce in this invasion of Kashmir’s autonomy.

In attributing the unrest to Pakistan, New Delhi stultifies its diplomacy vis-à-vis Pakistan and avoids conciliation in Kashmir. The thousands who throng the funerals of slain militants and the women who crowd at the windows in mourning as the processions pass by are not instigated by Pakistan. They share the wrath and desperation of those who took to the gun. They might have listened to the Hurriyat’s leaders if these worthies had not been busy posturing and offering nothing better than hartals. They still offer neither effective strategy nor a sound policy.

India must resume diplomacy with Pakistan, beginning with the full restoration of the 2013 ceasefire and moving on to a meaningful dialogue. It must abandon its unrealistic policy in Kashmir. Neither the centre’s interlocutor nor the cases against some separatists will help. What is sorely needed is a realistic policy on Kashmir, on both its external and internal dimensions.

The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2018

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