A well known hawk in India's diplomatic circles: Former envoy to India Abdul Basit

ISLAMABAD: Urging the government to remain steadfast on the Kashmir dispute in talks with India, former diplomats and generals have emphasised ascertaining Indian intentions before investing in the process further.

Speaking at the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) webinar on Monday, former defence secretary Lt Gen (r) Asif Yasin Malik, former permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to the UK and US Dr Maleeha Lodhi, and former envoy to India and Germany Abdul Basit feared that Indian move to engage in back-channel could be a tactical one for trapping Pakistan in talks.

The former officials said although the very fact that the two nuclear-armed neighbours have been secretly talking for normalisation of ties sounds reassuring, but the ground realities, context and strategic dilemmas, fuels suspicion about the engagement.

The discussants noted that optimism in Islamabad contrasted New Delhi’s stoic silence. This, it was observed, leads people to question the ground of euphoria in Pakistani officialdom and the seriousness of the Modi government’s commitment to discuss all outstanding issues, including Kashmir.

Gen Malik observed that Pakistan and India have very different perceptions about peace and normalization of ties. For Pakistan, he said, peace meant honourable existence with independent policy pursuance space and rights. Whereas for India, he said, it meant a regional hegemonic posture with the right to bully everyone in the neighbourhood while behaving like a superpower.

The former defence secretary warned that compromise on Kashmir could not be the price for peace with India. Referring to statements from various quarters about the economic dividends of peace with India, he asked if the backchannel process would end India’s fifth-generation warfare against Pakistan; its negative role in Afghanistan; its opposition to Pakistan at the world fora like FATF.

Dr Maleeha Lodhi said that she does not share the optimism being expressed in Pakistan about the Modi government’s readiness to talk about all issues.

“It remains to be ascertained what that actually means when they say India is prepared to talk about all issues. Well, India was always prepared to talk about all issues. It is how it wants to talk about Kashmir,” she maintained.

Abdul Basit said the Indian move to reach out to Pakistan was tactical. Therefore, the Pakistani negotiators taking part in the talks, he suggested, needed to be more circumspect in every step that they took.

The former high commissioner to India, while stressing that Kashmir needed to be kept front and centre in the backchannel talks, warned that resumption of a front channel between the two countries without reversal of the Aug 5 actions would be seen as granting legitimacy to that illegal move.

“If we get invested in a situation where we agree to another round of formal talks, structural talks, that will take us nowhere. The emphasis at this stage should be on ascertaining as to what would be the road map on Jammu and Kashmir,” Basit said.

Echoing Dr Lodhi, the former envoy to India said that viable peace cannot be achieved without a resolution of the Kashmir issue. He, moreover, emphasized the need to involve Kashmiris in the process saying without their participation no process could succeed.

IPI Executive Director Prof. Sajjad Bokhari said that before any commitments are made in the backchannel with India, key segments of society in Pakistan and Kashmir should be taken into confidence.