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You can't go far these days without bumping into an India-Pakistan Track-2 shindig. Dotted across swish locales, funded by "do-gooder" organisations and think tanks, these are fantastic sinecures for a growing tribe of public intellectuals in both countries.
The Pakistanis are the more enthusiastic lot - a small army of extremely articulate people, blessed and briefed by their country's all-pervasive security establishment, come by to say more or less the same things. First, it's absolutely imperative for Indians to step off the Siachen glacier. Second, all resolutions on Kashmir, or Sir Creek or water issues need "political will" - which is a euphemism for 'India must concede, because India is the badaa bhai'. They will refuse to put "Jammu & Kashmir" into reports and hesitate to acknowledge Gen Pervez Musharraf, because he is no longer the flavour of the season there. But Pakistan wants to make peace with India, that's apparently the new thinking.
You would be forgiven for thinking such Track-2 is replacing national negotiations between governments, even though none of the participants enjoy anything more than the occasional ear of high level government functionaries in their respective countries. Neither Indians nor Pakistanis in these forums seem capable of thinking beyond the groove. No Track-2 group has deviated from the joys of saying the same things on Sir Creek and Siachen, Kashmir or terrorism. People celebrate (or reject, as the case may be) if one group has mentioned "delineation" before "demarcation" on Siachen, or if they can go through an entire session without mentioning the words "26/11". Almost everybody will have a take on the Kashmir resolution that does not waver from the line taken by their respective governments. In the face of such presumption, what can one say, except that even as we speak, fundamental shifts are taking place.
First is in India and Pakistan's strategic context. India's strategic calculations openly incorporate not merely Pakistan, but China and beyond. That puts a completely different spin on the Siachen issue. Although Pakistanis are loath to acknowledge it, 26/11 has deeply affected Indian security thinking. That shows itself in different ways. For instance, buoyed by an effective electronic fence on the LOC, Indian security forces are contemplating submersible electronic fencing on other parts of the border to protect fishermen and keep out drug smugglers. Added to the fact that energy companies might be looking for shale gas puts a new complexion on the Sir Creek dispute.
While the 2004-07 Kashmir agreement between Indian and Pakistani special envoys, S K Lambah and Tariq Aziz was predicated on the so-called "Musharraf formula" and our PM Manmohan Singh's belief that borders should be made irrelevant, it has had to be significantly modified after terrorists came from the sea to attack Mumbai. It's difficult to get Pakistanis to smell the coffee here, but India now prefers "secure" borders to open ones.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has bred more terrorists, and created an Afghanistan security problem bigger than ever before. While they're celebrating the first full term of a civilian government there, Pakistan's realities include an economy under severe stress, a society fast losing the sheen that made Pakistan attractive to much of the world, miniaturised nuclear weapons capable of being moved around in trucks, drone attacks and sectarian wars. Afghans of all shades - except the Pak-funded Taliban - dislike them intensely. Relations with Washington has soured to the extent that there is virtually no constituency that supports better ties with Pakistan. Pentagon officials are now openly saying that the next attack on their homeland may have a Pakistani footprint.
Ironically, Pakistan's best bet, at this moment, is India. Because while India is for "secure" borders, India's new economic strategy is "connectivity". Manmohan Singh is a big believer. It is very likely that any successor will also be an equally lusty votary of the concept. It means three things: physical connectivity, and you can see the lines being laid down between India and Southeast Asia. As Geoff Pyatt, one of America's best diplomats, observes, "An Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor would allow cars made in Chennai to reach Ho Chi Minh City, through multi-modal transport across the Bay of Bengal, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. " Connectivity also means India can integrate more closely into the highgrowth Asian economies, by creating alternative supply chains. Pakistan needs to work on a connectivity strategy with India. There is enough opportunity, as a result of MFN, or visa liberalisation. Business can be done, economic linkages can be made, and this will only extend the peace constituency. That is the job of the Track-2-wallahs - to increase convergence among peoples.
It can't happen if Pakistanis declare that Pakistan should be a check on Indian power.
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