Dawn News

No let-up in trust deficit

IN all probability, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Pakistan in November. President Asif Ali Zardari formally invited him last month, saying, “We could use that occasion to arrange a visit to your ancestral town.”

The two leaders are expected to meet in Tehran at the end of this month when both will attend the NAM summit. For good measure, on Sept 7, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will be in Islamabad to resume his talks with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. This would be a rare instance of the leaders preparing for their own summit.

It is not difficult to identify the immediate doables. But the record of India-Pakistan relations is replete with instances of accords being delayed or aborted in their implementation, the euphoria evaporating with distressing consistency. We need to ask ourselves what it is in the equation between these countries which causes the hitches. The agreement on trade is yet to be implemented. Signing of the agreement on visa liberalisation was put off at the last moment.

If India’s newly appointed home minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, were to accompany the prime minister, he could put his signature on the visa agreement. The influence of the respective home ministries on relations between these countries must not be underestimated. Still less that of the intelligence services or the armies.

From 1989 to this day, successive chiefs of the Indian army have blocked any accord on Siachen on the only basis on which accord is possible, namely withdrawal of forces by both sides. Not long ago, the Sir Creek issue was on the verge of settlement, only to come unstuck. These two issues have acquired an importance and complexity far beyond the national interests, strategic or otherwise, of either of the contesting sides.

It is improbable that the summit, if held, will radically improve the situation. Pakistan is due to go to the polls next year and India the year after next. But what can be hoped for is a quiet, unpublicised narrowing of differences so that the successor governments can bridge them with little effort. The leaders can lay the foundations now. That is all the more true of the four-point Pervez Musharraf-Manmohan Singh formula on Kashmir. It cannot be finalised now, but it can be dusted up and brought to life.

There are, besides, a host of immediate doables. To begin with, the sheer obscenity of barter trade across the Line of Control (LoC) must end. It is urgently imperative that conditions indispensable for any trade worth the name are fulfilled — banking facilities, agreement on currency, telecommunication links, opportunities for personal interaction and a mechanism for conflict resolution.

The disclosures by Zulfiqar Abbasi, former president of the Jammu and Kashmir Joint Chambers of Commerce (JKJCC), are shocking. He was in Srinagar last month along with traders from Azad Kashmir to attend a conference. But they had to travel via Wagah. “The authorities on both sides don’t allow us to travel via the Muzaffarabad road,” he explained.

Worse still, the two governments “are not allowing us to hold meetings; earlier we had to fix meetings of the JKJCC in countries like Sri Lanka and Turkey.” Traders from India and Pakistan can freely travel to and fro. If Kashmiris are prevented from doing so across the LoC, it is because both sides have decided not to permit that pending a settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Trust is altogether lacking in relations between India and Pakistan. For the last nearly half a century they have been in a state of frozen sulk. Till as late as 1965 one could get copies of this daily the very same day in Mumbai. Tashkent restored the status quo ante bellum militarily, but no more. Events thereafter did not improve the situation.

There are no cross-border exchanges between universities, think tanks, lawyers who face identical issues pertaining to judicial review and the independence of the judiciary, legislators, and businessmen. It is the governments which prevent the exchanges. ‘Trust deficit’ is a convenient excuse. Were things much better before the Mumbai strikes in November 2008?

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have a historic opportunity to grasp the nettle. They must lift the barriers and allow the peoples of their countries to move across the boundaries and talk to each other. The present impasse is far worse than the regime of communication between Western countries and the Soviet Union, especially in the latter phase of the Cold War.

One fails to understand why the army chiefs cannot meet and dispel doubts about each other’s military doctrines; Cold Start, for example.

There are two tacit assumptions underlying the prolonged and artificial official impediments to people-to-people exchanges: (a) ‘our stand’ might become weaker, domestically and abroad; and (b) if pressed hard, the ‘other side’ will yield. Experience has belied both assumptions.

For all their internal problems, the two governments never enjoyed the domestic support for peace which they do now. In India, all others support conciliation barring the Bharatiya Janata Party. Pakistan is more fortunate. The chief of the main opposition party, Mian Nawaz Sharif, is the proud co-architect of the 1997 charter for composite dialogue and is all for conciliation.

So, contrary to the myth, is Pakistan’s army. Gen Kayani said in April that “peaceful coexistence is necessary for both countries. There is no doubt about that.” The situation on the ground has been more peaceful than at any time since militancy erupted in 1989. Even according to Indian army estimates, infiltration across the LoC is down by 90 per cent.

While Pakistan and India conduct their diplomatic exchanges at a leisurely pace, Kashmiris continue to suffer. Besides the curbs on Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was put in house detention to prevent him from leading Eid prayers. Let alone political freedom, even freedom to practise religion is being curbed.

The entire subcontinent has suffered because of the impasse in relations between Pakistan and India. Is it, indeed, beyond their leaders to spare a thought for the lot of their peoples, especially the Kashmiris, and consciously break from a sorry past? That is precisely what summits are meant for.

The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (8) Closed

Jaideep Gupta
Aug 25, 2012 10:12am
Pakistan and India should engage their people in any peace initiative. It is the people who do not want any further war.In the five continents there are very few countries which have hostility with their immediate neighbour.Both the countries have people whose relative stay in each country. So we should abandon any kind of hostility against each other.Ultimately the burden descends upon people We already have four wars between us.We will expect no more war in future only brotherhood should prevail.At the same time our stress will be to eradicate extremism in any form specially no country should abet religious fanaticism.
Aug 25, 2012 11:51pm
Mr. Noorani, living in Mumbai, you should know Pakistan has been carrying out terrorist attacks in India and especially in Mumbai. All proponents of more engagement between two countries have failed for make a case for it. Why do we need to be friends and visit each other just because we are neighbors? The partition between the countries was bitter but final. Most of the people who once lived in undivided India are dead or will be soon. The history has shown that Pakistan has attacked India in all four wars. So why there is any reason for both nations to really interact with each other? Let Pakistanis do what they see fit for their country and let Indians decide their our destiny. Culture is never constant - in last 65 years both countries have changed enough to have less things in common and with passage of time the difference would be even more starker.
Aug 25, 2012 01:18pm
Like always Mr Noorani is biased, selective and dishonest in picking examples. Why is he silent about repeated recent ceasefire violations by Pakistan Rangers and last minute backing out of Pakistan from signing the relaxed visa regime during Indian Home Secretary`s visit to Pakistan ? As far as curbing the religious freedom, Mr Noorani`s allegations are misleading and mischievious. How can house arrest of 2 leaders out of a population of over 170 million muslims in India can be construed as suppression of religious freedom ? It only shows even a shrewed lawyer like Mr Noorani has nothing substantial against India. We all need to be honest to bring India Pakistan relationship out of present quagmire as it will help both countries and entire world.
Aug 25, 2012 12:55pm
Who said it was an easy thing to build trust....Even after 50 years you give us Mumbai like incidents...Pakistan has to learn that it is easy to lose trust rather than building it....
Aug 25, 2012 05:28pm
The trust deficit didn't develop overnight. It took three wars and numerous terrorist attacks in India, particularly Kashmir. So, it will take at least a decade of CBMs to develop trust. Settling boundary disputes is the wrong way to develop trust, that ought to be the last. First we have to develop stakes in each other's economies through trade and more cultural exchanges. Once citizen of both countries calculate the real economic cost of a war and once they stop fearing each other, more difficult disputes will be easier to settle.
Aug 25, 2012 12:25pm
Loc is peaceful by which standards.?just recently a tunnel for infiltration has been. Discovered. There is almost constant small arms fire from pak. Mr noorani please stop this false propaganda.
Aug 25, 2012 04:20am
Some people missed the bus in 1947. They can take now.
P N Eswaran
Aug 30, 2012 02:20pm
Mr. Noorani is all up with the hope in what Gen Kayani said in April that ?peaceful coexistence is necessary for both countries. There is no doubt about that.? Had Kayani said ?peaceful coexistence with India is necessary for the existence of Pakistan? it could have made some vague sense though there would be very few takers in India given the internationally acknowledged duplicity of Pakistan. Mr. Noorani has mistaken noise for a signal. It is another patent instance of futile attempt by an Indian Muslim sympathetic to Pakistan which shows that normalization of ties with India is a very distant prospect.