The speeches of the chief delegates of Pakistan and India at the 70thsession of the United Nations General Assembly hardly create any hope for improvement in the bilateral relations of the two countries in the near future. Pakistan and India are now sticking to their traditional positions on the Kashmir dispute and that does not offer any possibility of accommodation. While Pakistan’s prime minister presented the four-point proposal in his address to break the current stalemate, India’s foreign minister declined to change the Modi government’s current policy of reducing the relationship to a single-issue interaction. India’s current mantra is that Pakistan must satisfy India on terrorism-related issues before other issues can be discussed. The other feature of the Modi government’s Pakistan policy is to keep the country under military and diplomatic pressure, which manifests itself in the form of frequent exchange of fire across the Line of Control (LoC) and a sustained campaign at the international level for designating Pakistan a terrorist state.
All the four points suggested by Nawaz Sharif are not new ideas. Both Pakistan and India have explored these avenues in the past. The first point, relating to respecting ceasefire on the LoC, is based on the understanding reached between the Musharraf government and the BJP government, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in November 2003, to keep the LoC peaceful and stable. This arrangement worked fairly well until the end of 2012. Violence erupted on the LoC from January 2013 onwards. The frequency and intensity of these incidents increased after Narendra Modi assumed power in the last week of May 2014. By the second quarter of 2015, there were firing incidents on the LoC and the Working Boundary every other day.
The second point, regarding the non-use or no threat of the use of force, takes us back to various proposals floated by Pakistani and Indian leaders since the early 1950s for a joint defence arrangement, no-war pact, no first use of nuclear weapons and a nuclear and conventional weapons restraint regime. Neither government pursued these ideas seriously.
The third point pertaining to demilitarisation of Kashmir was discussed by India and Pakistan in the course of the composite dialogue from 2004 till 2007, when both countries explored the option of gradual withdrawal of their military forces from their respective parts of Kashmir. This discussion was inconclusive.
The fourth point, regarding the unconditional withdrawal of Pakistani and Indian troops from the Siachen Glacier, takes us back to the 1989 understanding between the two countries to redeploy troops to the positions they held in April 1984. This would have returned Indian troops to the last demarcated point on the LoC, called NJ 9842. Pakistani troops were also to withdraw from their advance positions. This arrangement soon ran into trouble, mainly because of the opposition by the Indian Army. This issue is currently deadlocked, although the original understanding about the withdrawal is on record.
This four-point proposal was aimed at breaking the stalemate in relations between the two countries. However, it was not surprising that India rejected it because it negated its current hard line on Pakistan, reflecting the biases caused by the BJP’s ultra-nationalism and the anti-Pakistan disposition of the Sangh Pariwar. The grand principle of a bilateral dialogue is that the agenda is mutually agreed upon and includes the concerns of both sides. India is violating this principle when it insists on a single-issue agenda, that Pakistan should tackle terrorism to India’s satisfaction before any other issue is discussed. Instead of insisting on ‘terrorism issues first’, India should opt for ‘terrorism and other issues’ on the lines of Pakistan’s strategy of ‘Kashmir and other issues’. This would mean that for India, terrorism is a priority, but it will take up all other contentious issues in the same way as Pakistan is willing to talk on other issues, whilst prioritising Kashmir.
India made the first attempt at the international level to get Pakistan designated as a terrorist state in 1992-93. That attempt failed. The subsequent attempts, made from time to time, for this purpose, did not materialise. The US and other Western countries may have complaints about Pakistan’s counterterrorism approach. However, they believe in engaging rather than isolating Pakistan. The US may sympathise with India on the issue of the Mumbai attack, but it does not share the Indian agenda of extracting political dividends by maligning Pakistan. The US has encouraged both countries to hold direct talks on contentious issues so as to defuse tension in the region.
Having lost hope for an early initiation of a dialogue with India, Pakistan has adopted a tough diplomatic approach of raising the Kashmir issue on international forums and informing the major states of the world and the UN about what it describes as India’s financial support to terrorist groups in Fata, Balochistan and Karachi. Pakistan’s army chief addressed two important institutes in London last week, pointing out India’s hostility towards his country at a time when it was engaged in countering terrorism within its territory. He also underlined the need of addressing the Kashmir dispute. The diplomatic wrangling between Pakistan and India will further internationalise the Kashmir issue and the current troubles in the bilateral relationship. This will work more against India as it has an agenda for playing an active role at the regional and global levels. It will not be able to isolate its belligerent approach towards Pakistan from the rest of its foreign policy and global economic interaction. The long-term interests of Pakistan and India will be best served by resuming unconditional talks on all contentious issues, including terrorism (India’s priority) and Kashmir (Pakistan’s priority). Any other course of action is unnatural and detracts both countries from coping with poverty and under-development.
No Hope For Peace and Stability | Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2015.