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Our Indian agenda

May 22, 2012

MY last column (May 8) in this paper talked about the vicious cycle of untoward events and entrenched negotiating postures blocking progress in the direction of genuine rapprochement between India and Pakistan.

I felt that by contextualising negotiating habits I would show history as their true and transient provenance; that, history need not be deterministic and that statesmen have often changed its course with visionary paradigm shifts.

Admittedly, opinions differ on both sides of the divide if the time for subcontinental reconciliation has come. Nevertheless, some positive trends are clearly discernible. Pakistan has a vociferous minority that clings to the post-1947 iron curtain with the same arguments as employed during the initial stages of nation-formation and state-building.

On the other hand, it is certain that Musharraf’s Kargil incursion was the last of its kind; the army has travelled far in grasping regional and global strategic realities and more importantly, the non-military dynamics of the social and economic sectors.

In India, unfortunately, the doctrine of a limited war under a nuclear overhang has not been finally abandoned. Even there, the sheer futility of huge military confrontations in 1986 (Operation Brasstacks), 1990 (Kashmir uprising) and 2001-2002 (terrorist attack on Indian parliament) is convincing decision-makers that the prevailing strategic stalemate cannot be easily overturned. It is also true that some Indian hawks, in an exact replica of the Cold War, reduce it to a numbers game and wait for a tipping point when India would militarily prevail.

Economic factors too are beginning to underline the uses of a cooperative relationship. Eminent experts have written in this newspaper to urge Islamabad to take the most-favoured nation status (MFN) for India to its logical conclusion, albeit with negotiations on Indian non-tariff barriers, visa restrictions and other issues. For India too, trade with Pakistan and perhaps later through Pakistan with Afghanistan and Central Asia, seems significant. The self-intoxicating phase of shining India has faded a little and though India still posts a healthy GDP growth rate, the economy is slowing down; the GDP growth actually fell from 9.83 per cent in Q2 2009 to 4.25 per cent in Q4 2011. India is also vulnerable to the recurring crises in the western system.

The arrogant argument that India does not need to transact business with Pakistan already looks flat. There is a fair chance of the current direct India-Pakistan trade of $2.7bn rising to $6bn in the next few years though targets beyond that would require bigger political and economic decisions. So even if increasing trade is not exactly a game-changer, it should help create a more conducive environment.

There has been talk in both the countries of ‘doables’, the low-hanging fruit, in particular Siachen and Sir Creek. On Siachen, the forthcoming meeting in June may turn out to be as unproductive as the one last June because of the Indian army’s veto on disengagement. Its insistence on the ‘authentication’ of the Actual Ground Position Line or AGPL — the Saltoro ridge — is seen in Pakistan to be integrally linked to high-cost projects portending indefinite physical occupation. Pakistani planners would not overlook the possibility that India would use blood, treasure and technology to jeopardise Pakistan’s land link with China.

Pakistan will not undertake unilateral disengagement because of several apprehensions: India wants to dominate Pakistan’s northern areas and Shaksgam valley; Siachen is a triangular ‘strategic wedge’ between Pakistan and China, with the Karakoram pass being the primary focus; Indian ambitions to use Nubra valley and Siachen glacier’s Saser La pass for access to Central Asia; and finally, the belief that India will resume its northwest march the moment Pakistan lowers its guard.

The fact that Pakistanis cannot go up and take the Saltoro ridge and that the Indians cannot come down to implement the imputed agenda should enable the political leadership to take the initiative to implement the once agreed disengagement. For potential future betrayals, there will be credible safeguards and iron-clad guarantees.

The Indian contention that Sir Creek could not be settled on the basis of 1914 maps led to a fresh state-of-the-art joint survey; its resolution is just a flourish of the pen away. Recently, Michael Krepon, a co-founder of Stimson Centre, hinted that “the continuing dispute over Sir Creek revolves around the extension of the land border seaward”. This is surprising as both India and Pakistan are under the pressure of international law to determine soon the reference point on the land for their maritime boundary and economic zones.

Pakistan should energise the discussion on mutual strategic restraint. Given the Indian preoccupation with China, an across-the-board regime is impossible but considerable mutual assurance is achievable. India is now globally recognised as amongst the top military spenders. The more menacing the Indian posture towards Pakistan, the greater would be Pakistan’s counter-action to fortify its ‘minimum deterrence’; it has already waded into the domain of ‘tactical nuclear weapons’. There should be no let-up in efforts to make Indian leaders aware of the perils of the growing militarisation of Indian policy towards Pakistan just when the Pakistan Army was signalling support for a détente.

Notwithstanding inflexible negotiating habits, progress in many areas is possible as neither side now insists on any core issue: Kashmir from Pakistan, and Mumbai and overland transit to Afghanistan from India, being a pre-condition for it. A settlement of Jammu and Kashmir, however, remains indispensable to the quest for permanent peace. It may take time for ideas for a solution acceptable to India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir to gain traction. Kashmir remains the worst example of India treating ambition as entitlement.

Nevertheless, the resumed dialogue should be nudged towards renunciation of violence by all concerned, progressive demilitarisation, retrenchment of laws incompatible with freedom and dignity, strengthening of Kashmiri state institutions and devolution of power to them from the centre, and freedom of trade — intra-Kashmir and with India and Pakistan. Progress in each and every sub-theme will make it easier to proceed to the grand finale some day.

The write is a former foreign secretary.