Fresh paradigms for peace: Evolving a new framework for negotiations in North Southasia

India: Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, executive editor, Kashmir Times Bharat Bhushan, editor, Mail Today
C Rammanohar Reddy, editor, Economic and Political Weekly
N Ravi, editor, The Hindu
Shravan Kumar Garg, group editor, Dainik Bhaskar
Pakistan: Abbas Nazir, editor, Dawn
Arif Nizami, president, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors
Azhar Abbas, executive director, Geo News
Syed Talat Hussain, executive director, Aaj TV
Zahid Hussain, senior editor, Newsline
Afghanistan: Danish Karokhel, director and editor, Pajhwok News
Ehsanullah Arianzai, managing director, Ariana TV
Shahir Zahine, president, Killid Radio
Hussain Yassa, editor-in-chief, Outlook, Afghanistan
Organisers: A S Panneerselvan, executive director Panos South Asia
Mitu Varma, director programmes, Panos South Asia; director, Panos Institute, India
Sahar Ali, country representative, Panos Pakistan
Moderator: Kanak Mani Dixit, editor, Himal Southasian

For seven years running, Panos South Asia and Himal Southasian have brought together top media editors from India and Pakistan, to evolve fresh ideas and thinking on bilateral relations over two-day retreats held annually in conducive surroundings*. The idea has been to keep up the interaction and dialogue between the two countries through good times and bad, in the interests of a safe and prosperous Southasia.
Barcelona 2008 brought to the table the dramatically altered scenario in the region, with the resurgence of the Taliban and the increased presence of US and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) under the command of NATO in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's joining SAARC brought matters even closer to home. There was no way a dialogue for regional peace could be held without bringing Afghanistan into the picture. This was especially important since the Western narrative was dominating all discourse on Afghanistan, with very little initiative or input from within the region.

The 2009 editors' retreat, held in Salzburg, therefore brought in editors from the nascent media in Afghanistan – a media that is earning its colours in extremely trying circumstances, in a country that the UN has branded as the most dangerous place to be born. The atmosphere was electric, tensions sometime palpable, and ideas brimming over as the editors talked over two days to see what kind of a peace initiative could be evolved from within the region. Indian and Pakistani editors listened intently as the Afghan participants spoke. There was significant discussion and debate between the Afghan and Pakistani participants regarding, for example, the situation in Balochistan and cross-border issues. While the addition of Afghanistan brought in a significant element important for the evolving scenario of 'North Southasia', inevitably some discussion was also devoted to the existing unresolved issues between India and Pakistan.

Though many agreed to disagree on history, journalists from Afghanistan, India and Pakistan put their heads together to think of ways forward that would take everyone along. We bring to you excerpts from those discussions, which we hope will help in evolving a regional paradigm for peace.
*Detailed reports of all retreats can be accessed at Himal's website,

A S Panneerselvan
For this meeting, there are a few important things we thought we should look at. One is the framework within which the India-Pakistan relationship functions. The first two frameworks were essentially post-war frameworks. After the 1965 war, we had the Tashkent Declaration with Lal Bahadur Shastri. Then after the Bangladesh War we had the Shimla Agreement between Prime Ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi. The first agreement that was not after a war was the Composite Dialogue framework between Prime Minister I K Gujral and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But that did not anticipate 9/11; that did not anticipate Pokhran; that did not anticipate Kargil; that did not anticipate many of the things which have happened since. Now the Composite Dialogue is 11 years old, and has not been able to deliver on areas which seem to be imminently resolvable. Can we think of a new framework which might work?

Kanak Mani Dixit
What exactly does the term 'North Southasia', as is used in the title of this session, mean? This is a term coined by Panneer and myself in Himal to try to look at Southasia slightly more realistically, because there is a forced attempt in SAARC to look at all of Southasia at the same time, as if Southasia becomes real only when you deal with every country in the region together. This does not always work. You also have to look at Southasia in a disaggregated form – south of the Vindhyas and north of the Vindhyas is one way of doing that. So we make some distinction and get South Southasia and North Southasia. But even when we are talking about North Southasia for the purpose of this discussion, we do not refer to the Northeast of India, for example; even though theoretically it is all north, Bangladesh is not included. We are looking more at North India as  is understood, including Uttar Pradesh and the west, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The reason we are including Afghanistan now in the roundtable is because, with the geo-strategic issues and the involvement of overseas forces and powers in this part of Southasia, it seems suddenly very important to make sure that there is a Southasian response.

Shahir Zahine
Whoever becomes president after the Afghan election will not make much difference to the country's relations with India or Pakistan. Afghanistan's foreign relations are also bound to the 40 nations who are present within the country. They can dictate how we interact with Southasia, because they are contributing to most of
our budget.

Hussein Yassa
I don't think the result of the election will affect our relations within Southasia. Afghans went to vote to elect a president. And in the middle you have these big egos of the West, who have some problem with Karzai. The suggestion of Barack Obama's administration is that, since Hamid Karzai was a remnant of the previous era, somehow they wanted to bring a new face. But without taking into consideration this new face: will he be able to deliver? Karzai went through a very good capacity-building process in the last seven years. We don't have time to waste for another man to come and learn on the backs of the Afghan people.

President Obama has given many high-level speeches and he has raised expectations around the world for a different policy. As much as on paper everything has changed, in Afghanistan, on the ground, the situation has not really changed. With the previous administration [of George W Bush], everything was focused on the war – fighting, fighting, fighting and more troops. The current situation is a complex one. The US administration has laid out several new policy papers, several military strategies; but on the ground, the fighting has increased, the number of civilian casualties has increased, the amount of foreign soldiers killed has increased. We don't have the security apparatus to stop interference in our country. We want the international community forces to stay – but not to fight. We want them to build the capacity of our security forces, but not go to the front lines. They can secure our borders, but let us deal with our problem of insurgency, deal with our problems of security, deal with our problem of elections.

At the moment, we have to address this issue of security in order to bring our political institutions up to standard. Until and unless we can do so, we cannot discuss any timeframe. Insofar as our political institutions go, everybody needs to feel that the system is protecting him or her. Same with the others – the Pashtun should not feel negatively that one Hazara had become the president of Afghanistan: it doesn't matter, because the institution is there. The idea of federalism or the de-centralisation of power remains a burning issue since the collapse of the Taliban. But the fact is that nobody is dealing with this phenomenon as a political issue. In Afghanistan, many people think decentralisation means the disintegration of the country, that the federal system will mean the disintegration of the country. We have to make every citizen, sitting on the last mountain of Afghanistan, understand that they are a part of the system. When we discuss Afghanistan at the regional level, we need to discuss how a strong infrastructure can relieve the Afghan people – this is the issue. Not the increase of the foreign troops.

Shahir Zahine
Troop withdrawal would probably help Afghans to think more practically. If I know that NATO is leaving in five years, I would say, Let's take a gun and go fight again, let's go protect our community! Let's go try to do something. I think the majority who are today announcing their security plans, if they had to leave in three or five years, we would have mobilised more and more to secure ourselves.

Bharat Bhushan
How quick should any pullout be, and what would be the consequences of a quick pullout – let's say, within a year or two – for Pakistan? Because I have heard some Pakistani strategic thinkers say that a quick pullout would leave a vacuum to be filled by the Taliban. And this, in turn would impact on people of similar ideology in Pakistan.

Zahid Hussain
Nobody is talking about a quick pullout. It would be disastrous for the region, and disastrous for Pakistan particularly. When we talk about a timeframe, this does not mean that some kind of an exact date should be given for the pullout. But rather, the process should be started, which could facilitate an environment for a tranquil pullout. After all, an indefinite, open-ended US military presence is not going to help anything. What I'm saying is not necessarily that a day needs to be announced, but instead that there has to be a gradual change in focus, from the military option to the political one. That's why power first needs to be shifted to the Afghans.

The second step should not be a surge in troops, because this is again sending the wrong signal – not to mention that it would not provide anything different. Rather, among themselves [ie, US and NATO forces] they need to start talking about it – like it happened in Iraq, when they started to withdraw gradually. They did not pull out in a day, but had a certain timeframe among themselves. But when you say, as a British general did, that we have to stay in Afghanistan till 2040, what signal is that sending? You can't actually expect the other insurgents to come to the negotiating table. Another option could be some sort of multilateral or other forces who can gradually replace the American and NATO forces there. These types of options need to be discussed, but so far we haven't seen any indication of that.

Talat Hussain
Going back to Afghanistan, I think there's another way to define 'pullout'. This could instead be the creation of signposts or milestones, which takes away the timelines and calendars. I think some of that has already started. The [US General Stanley] McCrystal strategy, when it talks about creating an Afghan National Army and creating institutions that are, on their own, able to manage the security situation, is one such timeline or signpost. Eventually, you will have several such signposts and milestones that will be created. If we do this and go to the Taliban and say, now you do that, this is how an environment for a pullout can be created.

Shahir Zahine
There is growing support by the Indian government in the building of infrastructure in Afghanistan, and there is real influence in terms of the amount of funds that they are putting into the country. The Indians have put more than a billion dollars into Afghanistan over the last six or seven years. They have built roads, they are constructing the Parliament building, they have taken more than 10 to 12,000 people for training in the civil services. Naturally, Afghanistan is now seeking a relationship with India, and this of course is not going unnoticed by Pakistan. We have to find a way to tackle this.

Talat Hussain
Indian influence is a consequence of the power that India enjoys at this point. India had an abiding interest in Afghanistan, and this was the case even before 9/11 happened. Seen from Islamabad, India seems to be working in tandem with the US in terms of how Afghanistan needs to be shaped. I think this is where the slippery slope for the Indians will come in, because there aren't many takers inside Afghanistan for American policy. If India is seen to be too closely tied to US policy, this will be problematic for the Indians. I don't believe that the Americans are welcoming them deliberately. I believe the Indians are there and the Americans, frankly, have very little control over how the Indians will conduct themselves. After all, not everything is done in the rooms of conspirators.

At the same time, it wants to mark a dedicated sphere of influences, spheres of influence where its interest connects with that of other countries. Therefore, India will have engagement with Iran, it will have engagement with Russia and with Afghanistan separately – little spheres. But basically it wants to have a larger sphere of influence. However, India now has no issue in terms of inviting a lot of multilateralism into Southasia. India used to be very conscious of foreign influences inside of Southasia; now, as it begins to move out of the Southasian region, towards the Western side, multilateralism is the option it is exercising.

Bharat Bhushan

At first, the Obama administration wanted to include India in its Af-Pak policy. However, they stepped back due to the Indian administration and due to some internal reassessments within the US, to the effect that if you push India in this manner any potential cooperation with New Delhi will become difficult. The perception was that India would retreat into a shell, and see the whole thing as a move to mediate on Kashmir. One only needs to remember that when the US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, was appointed the Indians went ballistic when they thought that he was also going to address Kashmir – that it was not only Af-Pak but Af-Pak including India. Washington had to quickly clarify that that was not the aim. However, the thinking behind the initial US proposal is still there. The US still wants to insert India into the Af-Pak policy, but now wants to do it informally. Holbrooke still comes to India, and he still meets all the relevant officials.

If you need further evidence of how the US wants to insert India into the Af-Pak policy, this can also be seen in US attempts to try and restart the Composite Dialogue. If this can't be done immediately, at least restart backchannel dialogue, restart Track II, do something for the normalisation of ties. Because if India-Pakistan ties are normalised, then there is the hope that they can be persuaded not to be competitors in Afghanistan, but rather to cooperate with each other. These are the reasons the US wants India to be inserted into the Af-Pak process, but Pakistan also wants it. What are the Pakistani reasons for this, as perceived in India? First, the Indians think that Pakistan is unhappy with the equation created by the US between Afghanistan and Pakistan: 'Af-Pak', with its connotations of extremism, terrorism, failed states, problem states, lack of development, lack of governance or ineffective governance. For a country that has always sought parity with India, this can be extremely insulting. The hyphen was always in India-Pakistan – now it is in Af-Pak, as if both are equally problematic. If the US wants Pakistan's help, then Pakistan wants the US to help remove the perceived Indian threat from the eastern sector. For this, the US needs to pressure India to restart the Composite Dialogue, and get it moving on demilitarisation of Kashmir, even if slowly.

There are many in India who think that even now Pakistan thinks in terms of playing a tactical game with India, while keeping its long-term strategic options open. In that tactical game, the effort of Pakistan is always to deny, wherever possible, any diplomatic advantage that India may gain over Pakistan. To this end, India sees Pakistan moderating its diplomatic discourse and denying any diplomatic advantage to India – whether in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but mostly in Afghanistan. There is a strong belief in New Delhi that a system which refuses to deal transparently and vigorously with the perpetrators of the Mumbai tragedy, refuses to investigate and prosecute Hafiz Saeed, is tolerant of Punjab-based jihadi groups, and a state which refuses to promote even softer areas of cooperation like trade is incapable, and hardliners would even say unwilling, to bring about any radical change in its long-term policies towards India. So they see all this as a tactical move, not a shift in Pakistan's policy. Therefore, this trilateral conversation, including Afghanistan, is seen as a tactical ploy. In the Indian mind, this will have meaning only if you see the signs elsewhere, if you're tackling terrorism or if you're dealing with the jihadis in southern Punjab.

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal

When we're talking of dialogue and a peace process, nowhere do the people of these problematic areas figure. That is one reason the earlier peace process failed. Not only because at that time terrorism wasn't that big an issue, it wasn't holding the other issues hostage; but also because the people of Kashmir at that time were not involved at any stage. Apart from making the Line of Control porous, no other general confidence-building measures were taken. There has to be a simultaneous process for an internal dialogue also with the people – their inclusion is important.

Shahir Zahine
There is a lobby that is important in the US – the armament lobby. It is this lobby that is making the bulk of the money from the war that is going on in our country and in our region. I don't believe that they are leaving in three years. I don't believe they are going to leave this country so that a handful of Taliban can take over. Their stakes are much higher. I think they are here to deter the Chinese and the Russians. It has nothing to do with the Islamic world. I'm not sure they are thinking about disarming Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. I think there are bigger challenges ahead of them – for instance, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced recently that Russia is one of their biggest competitors in the region.

Talat Hussain
People call General David Petraeus a 'show boy'. Because the way he pulled out of Iraq, he created his own matrix of success – saying that certain levels of improvised explosive devices had come down, that certain levels of suicide attacks had come down, and that therefore they had succeeded. So he created a notional success. In Afghanistan, the notion of success is not an option, yet for now the real success is still notional – when they talk about making headway, that has not been reflected in the performance. Even if you were to enhance the use of force, what next? This 'what next' question after the use of force is something that is not being contemplated at this time. You will see that Americans are not using the term 'victory'. They are not using the term 'win'. They are referring to 'success', a term that is more flexible, it is more adaptable to circumstances. It is not as absolute as 'win' or 'victory'.

I see the US is on the last leg of bilateralism, and on the brink of multilateralism. But it's the twilight of a transition that is going to be hugely problematic for Southasia, because in between lie two or three years. And in these two years, the Americans are going to throw everything they've got at Afghanistan, to create a sense of victory. It's going to be a brutal interregnum. Only thereafter will they bring in the rest of the world and say something along the lines of, 'Let's build on that success.' But the interregnum between unilateralism and multilateralism is going to be very bloody and brutal, and
very troublesome.

Bharat Bhushan
It is incorrect to argue that India-Pakistan relations have been vitiated because of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is but a minor factor in India-Pakistan relations – not by any stretch of the imagination the determining factor. The resolution of India-Pakistan issues, including the issue of Kashmir, is not at all dependent on stabilising Afghanistan, nor is it dependent on India not competing with Pakistan in Afghanistan. There are other things in play in this context. Therefore, it is wrong to assume there would be forward movement in Indo-Pakistani relations if the Afghan imbroglio were to be resolved. So does this rule out any trilateral cooperation? I don't think so. If the thinking of the Pakistan Army were to change, India and Pakistan would be able to work together for a neutral Afghanistan – its neutrality can be guaranteed by Pakistan and India, its other neighbours, and even by outside players like the US and China. However, this requires that Pakistan be freed of Indian strategic fears – and this we have not been able to do for 60 years, and we won't be able to do it for another 60.

It is true that India does not want US mediation on Kashmir, that would be rejected outright. However, India could give a 'non-attack' guarantee to Pakistan, and this could be underwritten or re-guaranteed by the US, as a friend of both countries. I believe that something along these lines will have to be done, what exactly the contours of such an agreement would look like I don't know. But today the US is friendly towards India, unlike in the past; it's also friendly towards Pakistan. Give a non-attack guarantee, get the US to re-guarantee it, and you have no fears on your eastern front. There are, however, two negative factors in any such move. The first is China, which is interested in using Pakistan to batter if not squeeze India. Pakistan, meanwhile, is willing to be used. However, this strategy looks like it will be increasingly ineffective as India moves on the path of strategic growth, as it becomes a larger economic power.

The second factor is the Pakistan Army's attitude and its dominance over civilian government. This dominance must diminish to reasonable levels in order for peace to unfold between India and Pakistan. Here, too, the US can help to ensure that the Pakistan Army comes under reasonable civilian control. This could be done by the US promising aid or threatening to cut aid, both military and civilian. The US has additional leverage in Pakistan through the Pakistani elite, and this too could be used to strengthen the civilian government to reassert itself. However, this is not happening, and it is unlikely to happen in the near future. Why? Because the US needs the Pakistan Army to fight the Taliban, and you can't weaken your main agent in that fight.

Finally, I feel that the matter of Afghan instability cannot be limited to the Southasian geography. The Central Asian states are deeply disturbed by foreign militarisation and drug trafficking. Russia is worried about the impact of Afghan developments on its own Muslim population, and it does not want its Central Asian buffer to collapse. Iran is deeply worried by the radical Sunni ideology of the Taliban. China has a restive Islamic insurgency snapping at its heels in Xinjiang. The issue therefore is much wider in scope, and the concerns shared by these countries are as acute, if not more, than what is raised by India, given that some of them are contiguous neighbours with Afghanistan. The trilateral cooperation between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan must be part of a broader framework of dialogue between Afghanistan, its immediate neighbours and other international stakeholders. This trilateral regional framework cannot replace the broader process, but it can supplement it.

Talat Hussain
There seems to be a neglect of the fact that there is already a framework in place. Afghanistan is the eighth member of SAARC, and this obviously lays down the foundation of a framework. Yet there hasn't been much discussion on the implications for SAARC as a region. So we are proposing there should be a framework that will expand and include Afghanistan as well – Hamid Karzai was there at the summit, and Afghanistan became a part of the largest and most populous group on earth. This means that whether India and Pakistan engage mutually, or whether we have agendas against each other, a certain framework of regional grouping is going to take shape, and this is going to shape the nature of trade, the nature of flow of goods, the nature of the way customs are going to be handled. These are standardised procedures that SAARC, despite the fact that it has been very inefficient, has spent a lot of time on. Furthermore, it's important to realise that a lot of recent agreements in this area are not about only India, Pakistan, Afghanistan – even trade-related matters seem to carry the stamp of the US, as well. So, the US clearly does factor in this regional composition.

Historically, we need to look at the impact of what transpired in Southasia and Afghanistan on the Subcontinent. I think a lot of history provides us with that kind of integrated framework we have to look for with regards to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the future. What happened after Partition in terms of the historical flow of understanding of the Subcontinent is that we tended to neglect Afghanistan, to keep it out of the equation. Now, I think the trade barriers are coming down and goods are flowing freely, yet because transnational threats are still an issue, a global agenda is being forced upon this region. Those historical trends have been very relevant. We also need to look to history in terms of studying what brought these regions together. What sort of shaping influences were there? When I look at the outcome of these discussions, I don't despair. Yes, they have shifted too much to the nitty-gritty in terms of the bilateral equation, but the framework is already in place – we simply need to cement it and take it forward.

Kanak Mani Dixit

In a psycho-social sense, the formal entry of Afghanistan into SAARC means a change in how everyone thinks of Afghanistan as a part of either Southasia or Central Asia. The advantage of Afghanistan being a part of SAARC formally is in our mind – that it is now a part of our region, and a part of all the resolutions that we try to evolve. When SAARC meetings do occur, till now the problem has been that all eight countries have to be involved in the SAARC format, and they have to look for consensus. And when they talk about the SAARC formula, it is forced into a space wherein all eight countries need to be involved. Instead, I think we have to think of a SAARC formula that doesn't always have to be all eight countries. Therefore, if there is an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India sphere, that should also be considered a 'regional', Southasian or SAARC activity. This is the leap we have to take in our minds. Similarly, the moment SAARC-related discussions go beyond the bilateral India-Pakistan relationship, the moment they move into the broader Southasia, the tendency of all the neighbouring countries is to say, 'There we go again – India and Pakistan always talking to each other.' There is a particular element of inferiority in that. When we are talking about the possibilities of discussions across frontiers in order to resolve geo-strategic problems that have come up in North Southasia, it is probably important to look at things more holistically, while remaining alert to the bilateral dimension of India-Pakistan.

Bharat Bhushan
I have a question for my Afghan and Pakistani colleagues: Is hoping for, or trying for, an independent or neutral Afghanistan a realistic goal? Assuming, of course, that the Americans will move out…

Shahir Zahine
I think an independent and neutral Afghanistan is something that is possible and desirable. Afghanistan, in its function as a crossroads, needs neutrality. It needs the Central Asian republics to send their electricity to the Subcontinent; it needs Indians goods to cross Pakistan and go to Central Asia, and it needs Central Asian goods to go the other way. It also needs Iran and the international community goods to come in. But all of this is only possible if we are neutral, or if we are part of regional cooperation. For the time being, however, short-term, egocentric behaviour on the part of all of our neighbours is blocking something that would be for the good of the whole region.

Zahid Hussain
Afghanistan being a part of SAARC makes a lot of trade sense, a lot of structural sense. It also makes geo-strategic sense, from Pakistan's point of view. Something happened in post-9/11 Pakistan that I think also needs to be recognised. The years that Pervez Musharraf was in power delayed the arrival of a new form of thinking, but that thinking was in fact already there. The idea of 'strategic depth' has already been debunked, so what does it mean if this term is used in the present context? For Pakistan, it means that Afghanistan's Pashtuns should look to Kabul, while Pakistan's Pashtuns should look towards Islamabad. 'Strategic depth' implies that there should be stability in Afghanistan, and that this subsequently gives Pakistan secure borders. From Pakistan's point of view, geo-strategically it also makes sense. But I think instead of talking about fancy terms such as 'neutrality', we should be talking about standard terms such as 'sovereignty'. Afghanistan can be neutral, but it can also choose not be neutral if it so wishes – it has to first be a sovereign country. Otherwise, this debate about neutrality can be construed as loaded.

Zahid Hussain
Over the last 30 years, whatever was the concept of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has virtually vanished. When the Americans and other Western countries talk about 'infiltration' in this area – basically crossborder attacks – they do not understand what has really happened over the last 30 years, particularly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent resistance. All of this has contributed to changing the scenario, in particular with Balochistan. If you are familiar with the area, Chaman is a border town where almost 20-30,000 people cross the border each day. There is no checking – you can just drive across the border. I'm not saying they are Pakistani, as the distinction between Afghan and Pakistani has almost vanished here. The Afghan refugees living in these areas have both nationalities, Afghan and Pakistani. Almost 30 percent of the border force on the Afghan side, in the evening goes home to Chaman; and the same situation holds true with the Taliban.

The problem for Pakistan is that the American pressure will be for Islamabad to take action in Balochistan. Number one, this is very difficult – the population here is so integrated. The second problem is that if Pakistani forces were to begin taking action here, the war would expand into western Balochistan. For Pakistani forces, this would be a nightmare scenario. If Balochistan were to become a battleground, it would be disastrous for the entire region – for Pakistan and for Afghanistan. The Americans are much more concerned about Balochistan because they are present now in the border areas, like Kandahar and Helmand. Before, they were not in these areas so there was no pressure.

There's a feeling in Pakistan that the Indians are using construction work and other activities [in Afghanistan] for intelligence-gathering. I'm not saying that the insurgency has been created by India, but certainly there is a view that it is being stoked by India. I was told that almost 2000 Balochs were trained in camps by the Indians, and were arrested recently. Of course, some of these concerns may be exaggerated.

Azhar Abbas
There must be something happening in Balochistan, given the fact that there has been a discussion at the prime-ministerial level. Prime Minister Gillani must have showed Manmohan Singh something, convinced him in such a manner that they actually put Balochistan into their joint declaration. So obviously there is something that is of serious concern to Pakistan. The Balochistan problem is an internal problem, but there are other issues linked to that problem. It's the same as how we used to say there's an indigenous uprising in Kashmir, and Pakistan is giving moral support, or whatever.

N Ravi
The question remains as to whether Balochistan is going to emerge as Pakistan's own Kashmir. I think that Indian influence, or the Western coalition's control over southern Afghanistan, would possibly prevent such an emergence. I also don't think India would be inclined to do much in that area. It would want to expand its influence in Afghanistan, but I'm not sure whether the Indian political or strategic establishment, or even the intelligence apparatus, would want to create a Kashmir-like situation in Balochistan. Still, it is an issue that has to be addressed squarely – it can't be pushed anymore under the carpet, now that it has been brought up at the highest level of dialogue.

Yassa Hussain
Pakistan is pushing for dialogue with Taliban leaders, saying the fight will go on for ten more years if you try to completely crush the Taliban. But the same Pakistani leaders are beginning a huge operation. In Afghanistan, too, thousands of people have already surrendered their weapons and are now living with their families. And most of the people who don't lay down their weapons are not sitting in Afghanistan – they are in Quetta. The Taliban commanders can be seen moving around very openly. I don't mean that the entire Pakistani establishment is running the same policy they were using a couple of years back. But there are still circles who have sympathy and who are shields, they don't want that these people should be hurt, in Pakistan or in Afghanistan.

Talat Hussain
There seems to be a pretension in this room that geography doesn't matter. Of course geography matters! When the Khan of Kalat was force to sign a deed of accession, and his son wanted to resist, where did he go? He went to Afghanistan. When Bhutto started his operation, where did the Baloch nationalists go? They went to Afghanistan. When Russians invaded Afghanistan, where did the Afghans go? They came to Pakistan. You speak of the Taliban offices – I can show you Karzai's office in Quetta. Half the people in Kandahar and in the south of Afghanistan do daily wage work in Afghanistan and have bank accounts in Quetta. That's the fact of the matter. One person that I used as a fixer in Kandahar, he told me he had bought a plot in the Defence Housing society in Islamabad. That's not because there is an agenda at work – that's geography at work. This is the way this unfortunate situation is going to play itself out, because of the long border. The issue is this: that the operational infrastructure of insurgency lies squarely in the south and the east. And that is where the blame has to be. Otherwise, we just can sit here and pontificate. We need to blame it on that infrastructure that thrives, and survives and expands inside Afghanistan.

Zahid Hussain
During these talks we have brought forth the American side, the Indian side, the Pakistani side, the global agenda. But we have missed out what is probably the most important factor – the Iranian factor. Right now, nobody seems to be focusing much on the Iranian factor in Afghanistan due to the American presence. But the moment the Americans leave, you will see the debate about the future of Afghanistan and its neutrality or sovereignty becoming a trilateral conversation primarily between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

Shahir Zahine
Iranians have incredible influence in Afghanistan – they control almost two-third of the country's television stations. And they have given 9 to 15 million dollars to start television broadcasting in Afghanistan, which is now frequently speaking with a Farsi accent, even the way of thinking seems influenced. We have a few national words that were guaranteed by the constitution, and we don't want to change them. For instance, we say qunatum for university, while Iranian-backed influences changed this to damishkar. Iran is absolutely not neutral in Afghanistan's affairs. Iran is everywhere in the country, and the Iranians have a very strong influence in our media sector, and in our Parliament. Altogether, in monetary terms, Iran's influence amounts up to some USD 500 million per year!

Danish Karokhel
In the last couple years, Iran has been a silent country in our neighbourhood, as the Iranians have mainly focused on Iraq. But this doesn't mean that they don't have any interest, legitimate or otherwise, inside Afghanistan. Even as they have focused on Iraq, the Iranians have mostly wanted to ensure simply that Afghanistan is not converted into a base from which militants could attack Iran. They have made a few moves among our parliamentarians and media people, during which times they emphasised that Afghan territory should not be used against its neighbours. But about the Iranians, it should be remembered that their deputy foreign minister once said that Afghanistan is 'no less important for us than the Gulf'. Most likely, the Iranians see something of a 'greater Persian zone', which runs from Iran into parts of Afghanistan and on up to Kazakhstan. At the moment, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran stand on the same side, because both of the latter two are observing NATO in Afghanistan. But Iran and Pakistan were rivals when there were no foreign forces in Afghanistan, and such a situation should not be repeated. When these forces are withdrawn, will we again witness another serious regional tussle?

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Shahir Zahine
How has the media in India and Pakistan contributed to the dialogue between these two countries? As media players, what role and responsibilities do we have in changing this, or is this not even possible? After all, today, in all sectors, we are all victims of or accomplices to the fact that we are driven by income. Income is coming from the ministries, listeners or readership, and most of our media is playing a populist role. So anything that pleases our listeners or readership we will give to them, without really taking any responsibility. So my question is, how much of this has contributed to the dialogue – and can we change this or can we find neutrality?

Abbas Nazir
In the 21st century, particularly during a recession, media can only survive on the back of advertising revenue. To my mind, television is both a very high-impact and a double-edged sword – that is the nature of electronic media. Now, India, where the electronic media is far more advanced, with a bigger resource base and a much larger audience, must have more stability in terms of revenue. But I don't know what is their imperative in terms of dumbing down issues, not taking positions, and perhaps to even stoke emotions – I wouldn't call that responsible journalism. While it's easy for me to talk about the Indian media, I must say that in the Pakistani media it's also the situation where you have a multi-channel television world in its infancy. But I do think that around-the-clock television coverage sometime generates its own content, which falls in the category of self-fulfilling prophecy. In Pakistan, the media and the establishment have always had an adversarial relationship because democracy has rarely taken root in the country. In India, there has been consensus on certain key issues, for example, where Pakistan is concerned. Of late, you are beginning to hear some argument, but for years and years, one couldn't tell the Indian media and establishment apart from where we were looking.

N Ravi
On the media, I would hesitate to prescribe any kind of benign or particularly positive role as peacekeeper. But that said, most responsible journalists do promote peace and social values. In the Indian context, I find there is a difference between the print medium and television. Possibly because you could say things in a two-minute TV clip which you wouldn't want to see in print. That makes it more reflective, rather than some kind of print knee-jerk reaction. The media in India should reflect the diversity of viewpoints across India, but that is probably curtailed by two factors. One is the national-security issue related to Pakistan, which looms large. Where national security is concerned, Kashmir or even the Northeast or relations with Pakistan, the media as rule tend to side with the official policy, tend to further the official line. The second constraint is the market: television channels especially assume that viewers want some kind of hard-hitting debate or some kind of hardliner on terrorism or security issues. These two constraints I think operate to a greater extent on television, but also within the print media.

Talat Hussain
The problem with TV is that you are rolling in real time, and therefore there isn't much accompanying cerebral activity. I'm sure that in 50 percent of what gets said on TV, the journalists aren't even aware of the implications, because they don't have time to reflect on what's being said. That's why I say that technology at times begins to drive more than the personal agendas of reporters – we all rush to fill those hours, but nothing is happening and you are regurgitating an old story which is not even complete. It is very problematic. The other 50 percent is where our attention has to be. What I am perturbed about is that there increasingly seems to be a narrowing of the gap between what gets said on TV and what gets written, the latter supposedly after careful thought. This is a trend that needs to be watched.
The problem with media in both India and Pakistan is that there isn't enough understanding developing on either side of the divide, because officially the media is not allowed to have that kind of interface. What gets said therefore gets said in the cocoon of your own country, you end up reinforcing the images.

Zahid Hussain
In Pakistan, why is electronic media much more powerful than in India? Due to the absence of strong democratic institutions. Instead of debate taking place in the Parliament on various policy matters, it takes place on the TV channels. In India, I think, this is probably not the same, because the Parliament is much stronger, the traditions are much stronger, the institutions are much stronger.

Bharat Bhushan
Content-sharing is taking place between India and Pakistan – they are already sharing visual content. But the terrible thing is that, for the same visual content, the commentary is completely different. Where do you think we get all the visuals for the Police Training Academy attack or the Sri Lankan cricketers being attacked? From Pakistani TV – they sell their footage, but the commentary is Indian. Why is the gap narrowing between TV and print? I think one of the issues is cross-media ownership, and because of the subsequent cross-promotion of branding. So there is the Times of India and Times Now, the latter of which is one of the most hawkish channels. If these ownership laws were changed, if this kind of monopoly was not allowed, we'd be able to check this to some extent.

Bharat Bhushan
If there is another Mumbai-type attack, it will blast whatever prospect there might be of restarting the Composite Dialogue. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might be a somewhat sedentary person, but the public mood, the opposition will be: force the government to take drastic action. Pakistan has to distance itself, visibly, from the terrorist attacks in India. Nobody in India believes that the Mumbai attack did not have direct or indirect, tacit, support from the Pakistani establishment. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation, for instance, has given details to Indian intelligence of something called SCO – Signals Communication Organisation, helping the Mumbai terrorists with Voiceover Internet Protocol. There are strong signs that it was not an operation of which the Pakistani establishment, or section of the establishment, was completely unaware.

N Ravi
I think start with Hafiz Saeed. Some kind of strong action under the law is necessary, rather than qualifying and saying, 'We are following the legal process, but it's slow, the courts have their own viewpoints on this, and we can't take arbitrary action and so on.' Something needs to be seen as a serious action taken under Pakistani law. And most likely, doing so won't apply to the others who are under arrest for the Mumbai blasts. But Hafiz Saeed has become one of the most visible individuals on this issue. At the moment, nobody in India really believes that Pakistan's can't do more within its own laws, and that's the basic problem.

Bharat Bhushan
More than anything else, Hafiz Saeed has become a symbol of a certain kind of ideology that encourages this kind of action against India. The Indian home minister, P Chidambaram, says that Pakistan says that Hafiz Saeed's case is 'half-baked', to which he responded, 'Well you bake it – he operates in your territory, you investigate him in your territory. We cannot investigate him there.

Zahid Hussain
A couple of points should be clarified regarding the investigation into the Mumbai terrorist attack and Pakistan. I've seen the dossier that Pakistan sent to India. It was quite extensively investigated and included a lot of details, from how the planning was done, where it was done, what kind of logistical support they had, the people involved in the operation. Whether or not this was to India's satisfaction, this did show the seriousness of the Pakistani government in investigating this matter.

Bharat Bhushan
Indeed, I think people in India were amazed by the kind of investigation that was done in Pakistan. But the fact remains that these investigations and their results are not being shared cooperatively – they are being shared competitively. That's not the idea. The idea is actually to get hold of the culprits, smash their networks and see that they don't do it again. Yet that cooperative framework is lacking.

Mitu Varma

I have been following the ideas around the table, and here's a brief summary. We started with the Afghan presentation, where it was very clear that despite the election being called 'fraudulent', the Afghans feel very strongly that Hamid Karzai is a legitimate president. There appeared to be a huge trust deficit with Pakistan, somewhat like the trust deficit between India and Pakistan. There is, the Afghan participants also said, a need for the support of foreign troops till their own security structure is in place. Further, Afghanistan needs support for institution-building. They also asked for transparency on what the foreign troops are in the country for and their future timetable. They said that international forces had destabilised the Loya Jirga and put in a presidential system, which can be seen as an outside imposition. There is a need for something more organic – including some system that will include the warlords, certain sections of the Taliban who are willing to subscribe to political pluralism and a democratic set-up. There is also a need to secure gains in terms of institution-building – education, women's rights and, above all, in the media. The Afghans want a regional involvement, but don't want regional rivalries to affect Afghanistan. Most of all, they don't want the India-Pakistan rivalry to be played out in Afghanistan.

For Pakistan, security is of paramount concern, surrounded as the country is on all four sides by opposing forces. The Pakistanis want to maintain their bilateral negotiations with the neighbours, instead of a multilateral framework. There is an ongoing trust deficit with India, which Pakistan also sees as aligning its interests with the US to leverage its influence in the region. There is also the expectation of a massive foreign troops surge before there is a change in course. They see the key to the insurgency in Afghanistan as the need to de-Islamicise, de-ethnicise, de-Americanise, de-Indianise, and de-Pakistanise it. In terms of the regional approach, it could either be cooperative, competitive or confrontational. There was also mention that American pressure to take action in Waziristan would expand the battle to Balochistan. If power within Afghanistan is shifted to the Afghans, it will improve the situation dramatically. Furthermore, the growing influence of India in Afghanistan is a concern in Islamabad. In terms of international forces, there needs to be a gradual pullout of troops, marked by milestones. The debate needs to take into account larger players in the region – America, China, Russia, Iran and the Central Asian states. There was mention of the fact that the internal aspect of the problem in Balochistan definitely needsto be studied.

India, meanwhile, does not want to become part of the Af-Pak dialogue, due to various factors, including the possible pressure to resolve Kashmir. It is also seen that India was not responsible for the current situation or involved in stoking tensions in Afghanistan. As a result, it can't see why it should be a key to resolving the situation. Officially, there's also a suspicion of Pakistan's role and intentions in Afghanistan. At the same time, India-Pakistan issues have not gotten vitiated because of Afghanistan. However, if the Indo-Pak dialogue is to be resumed, then the Afghanistan issue can also be brought into focus. India would prefer something in a larger framework including Iran, China and Russia and Pakistan, to put the trilateral conversation within this larger framework.

So, in terms of possible frameworks, there are two or three things that emerge. One, there is SAARC, in which Afghanistan is now included, and which could provide a regional platform. The Pakistan-Afghan trade agreement would open up the meeting further.  Finally, there is also the larger framework that include the countries of the Southasian region and beyond.

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