Mr. Prime Ministers, If You Talk, Stay Away From Media

Published: December 04, 2015 12:42 IST
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India-Pakistan ties are at one of their all-time lows. But are we about to see another turn? Only days ago, Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif met briefly in Paris on the sidelines of the Climate Summit, and in very telling pictures broadcast on television, were seen locked in deep conversation without any aides or officials. This week, I have been in Bangkok, for a Track 2 India-Pakistan media dialogue organised by the Australia India Institute and the Jinnah Institute. This was the 17th Dialogue, where senior journalists from both sides had an open conversation on the state of the relationship, on Kashmir, Afghanistan and terrorism. In this era of instant judgments and social media trials, many ask what purpose these Track 2 dialogues serve. Well, they do. They allow people from both sides to talk, to engage, to find common ground, to try and understand each other's positions, and frankly, to argue. There were many disagreements and differences among all of us, but what we all agreed on was for the need to engage.

What stood out for me was the almost universal opinion among my Pakistani colleagues that Prime Minister Modi was actually NOT interested in peace with Pakistan, that Pakistan is not on his agenda. I don't agree. It is Prime Minister Modi who took the initiative to invite Nawaz Sharif for his swearing in, surprising everyone in the process, and it is Mr. Modi who decided to reach out again and ask for a meeting in Ufa, Russia earlier this year. Ufa fell apart because Pakistan did not honour what was agreed on in the joint statement - to discuss terrorism.

While there appears to be an element of confusion in the Indian government about how to proceed with Pakistan, what is clear is that the terms of engagement need to focus on terrorism. And here, India's demands are not unreasonable. Some of my Pakistani colleagues have still not understood the impact of 26/11 on the Indian psyche. If Pakistan really wants dialogue to move forward, as its leaders say, they just have to walk the talk on the Mumbai trial. Seven years after the horrendous terror attack, the trial in Pakistan has become a joke. Progress of the trial and the prosecution of the accused is the least Islamabad can do. Mr. Modi can take two steps forward with Pakistan, if at least this one big step is taken by the other side. Many colleagues from across the border suggested that the onus was on India to start the dialogue. I believe the onus is on Pakistan to act on 26/11. If Pakistan's army can go after the TTP (The Pakistani Taliban), they need to show they are serious about combating terror and take on the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

India, for its part, also needs to proceed pragmatically. Let us not make red lines that make dialogue more difficult. New Delhi also needs to give Nawaz Sharif some political room. He did, after all, come to India facing great risk and criticism. The absence of Kashmir in the Ufa declaration was perhaps a manifestation of that, but faced with enormous domestic pressure, Pakistan backtracked.

At the Track 2, we all agreed that there are confidence-building measures (CBMs) that need to go on irrespective of the state of the dialogue. I suggested that Kashmir-related CBMs need to be strengthened and implemented in the spirit in which they were first announced. For instance, cross-LOC trade, making it easier for people-to-people contact, and for the governments on both sides to allow the media access. Many years ago, I traveled to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, including Gilgit. There were several Pakistani journalists who were allowed to travel to this side of Kashmir, and for many, it was an eye-opener. Not just in Kashmir, the media presence in both countries needs to be stepped up.

With India and Pakistan, its always been a case of one step forward and two steps back. The best diplomacy frankly is the one that is done away from the glare of the media. Don't conduct foreign policy based on hysterical TV shows or social media. Perhaps it is time for PMs Modi and Sharif to start their own Track Two dialogue.

(Nidhi Razdan is a senior editor with NDTV and the anchor of NDTV 24X7's prime-time show Left, Right and Centre.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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