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CBMs in South Asia

Published Mar 19, 2012 11:45pm

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THOUGH India-Pakistan relations are going through a relatively calm phase, things can change quickly. We must therefore take advantage of the present atmosphere to lock in beneficial patterns of behaviour.

One area where we believe that progress can be made is on the question of military confidence-building measures (CBMs). The idea behind CBMs is well-tested; military establishments agree to avoid actions which are threatening to the other side as a means to help avoid unintended conflicts. Of course, CBMs are not a panacea; if people want to have a conflict CBMs will not prevent it. But CBMs do provide a mechanism whereby states which want to avoid a conflict through accident or misperception can develop ways to help do so.

India and Pakistan have developed extensive CBMs over the years. Often, they have been developed in response to specific problems. There is nothing wrong with this. But we believe that it is time to develop a framework of such measures which can help to more systematically address some of the key issues the two sides face.

That is why we have been participating in a series of meetings involving senior, retired officers from both sides, which is reviewing existing CBMs and suggesting new ones. The process is being organised by the University of Ottawa and the Atlantic Council. We have met twice so far, in Dubai and Bangkok.

Over the course of our meetings, we agreed that most existing CBMs are sound and useful, but we noted a tendency for them to fall into disuse over time. Moreover, some existing CBMs have become dated because of new technologies and doctrines. Thought must be given to ways in which these CBMs can be updated and we have made suggestions to the two governments.

Beyond the existing CBMs, however, there is a pressing need to re-conceptualise the way the two sides approach this topic. In particular, the ad hoc manner in which CBMs have been negotiated to address particular issues must give way to frameworks of CBMs.

The key issue is crisis stability. India and Pakistan have deployed weapons which dramatically reduce the time available for diplomacy in a crisis. Where sober second thought is essential, hair-trigger alerts brought about by lethal weapons close to the borders which can be launched quickly will become the norm in future crises.

Doctrines are evolving in ways which compress the time available for diplomacy and the all-pervasive media reality of South Asia could also push the two sides towards an early resort to force in a future crisis. This is a profoundly dangerous situation. It was therefore agreed at our Bangkok meeting that a useful area for CBMs is the elaboration of a framework for crisis management to provide the two sides with agreed steps that can be taken to prevent a crisis from spinning out of control. There was consensus that an interlocking network of CBMs should be developed which, in the event of a crisis, would:

— Require a political commitment that the two sides’ diplomats and officials come together at the outset of the crisis for discussions on how to resolve it (all too often in South Asia, when a crisis erupts we respond by suspending diplomatic contacts when we should be doing exactly the reverse);

— Require that in times of crisis both sides should take no military actions which could be construed as preparations for an offensive, and adhere to existing CBMs;

— Discussions should begin on new CBMs relevant in these circumstances.

Beyond crisis management, it was agreed by consensus in Bangkok that a CBM should be agreed whereby both sides, including their respective military establishments, should regularly meet to discuss their respective concepts and doctrines with a view to elaborating measures to build confidence in the nuclear and conventional fields.

Also in Bangkok, we discussed intensively the disputes over the Siachen Glacier and the Sir Creek boundary. We will be further discussing these at our next meeting.

Finally, we discussed the question of terror and its impact on stability. Though terror is not a military issue per se, we do believe that intelligence-sharing is a key issue. Some suggested developing a list of terror groups which both sides wish to see stopped leading to the sharing of information on these groups and cooperation on investigations. Other suggestions included:

— Revival of an effective Joint Anti-terror Mechanism at a higher level;

— Hotlines between the interior ministries on terror issues;

— An effort to revive the Saarc mandated Integrated Regional Database on terror;

— Discussions between respective officials on national experiences on such matters as legal frameworks to deal with terror;

— Greater maritime cooperation on terror at sea; and

— Exchanges of views between the immigration, border services and customs authorities.

All of these steps will not end the difficult situation which exists between India and Pakistan. Much larger questions will have to be addressed for that. But these steps, if taken in a good spirit and diligently implemented, have the potential to help transform the atmosphere between the two countries and also to prevent future crises from spinning out of control. In our region, this would be a significant contribution indeed.

Gen Jehangir Karamat (retd) is the former chief of staff of the Pakistan Army and former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States. Air Chief Marshal Shashi Tyagi (retd) is the former chief of staff of the Indian Air Force.

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


Comments (5) Closed



BRR Mar 20, 2012 09:36am
These CBMs are fine, and more may be necessary, but the best CBM is a joint declaration of no-war-pact, and a joint statement of no-first use of nuclear weapons. Everything else is just fluff.
Manek Shergill Mar 20, 2012 06:15pm
A few months ago, I was reading the Times of India published on the eve of partition, and was amused to see an interesting article about defense. It argued with full authority that the defense establishments of both the countries would need to work together as each country by itself was not capable protecting itself. We have seen suspicion, fear and hate divide up our countries. it is sad that so much goes to the military while there is so much poverty in our respective countries. Europe also had this problem, wars and suspicions between England, France, Italy and Germany. However with Economic integration, this problem got resolved, and many of the stumbling political issues became irrelevant. The same thing can happen with India and Pakistan, and some baby steps are being taken. However bolder steps need to be taken.
Falcon Mar 21, 2012 01:03am
Very positive development. Joint efforts in curbing terrorism on both sides of the border would be a really fruitful effort as well.
Safdar Abbas Mar 21, 2012 03:00am
After the observation of history of dialogues and efforts of reconciliation of Indo-Pak Relations, it seems not present is the will to go forward. The suggestions given above by former military officers can be proved effective provided both sides show reciprocity of seriousness.
Surinder Jeet Mar 21, 2012 05:59am
It is my opinion that despite practising different religions we have too many things that we share. Beside clothes, food, languages, culture and history we also share the 'same' DNA. I have no doubt that we are both equally intelligent but are growing in different directions. It is unfair to plant cactus and expect to grow tomatoes. At the same time it is pessimistic to think that a country has gone too far to change. Remember the saying, "No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn back". We neither need CBMs nor the ICBMs let us start helping each other without interfering in the affairs of each other. We will be a trading block of nearly 22% of world's population. If Bangladesh, Nepal and Srilanka join us we will be over 25%. Not a bad deal for either one of us! The cooperation of Pakistani army, ISI and Mullahs will be required. Can the people of Pakistan deliver this?