Pakistan-India Peace Process: Running Out of Steam ?

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Arif Nizami  By Arif Nizami

The much-hyped meeting between President Zardari and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Tehran proved to be somewhat of a damp squib. Apart from perfunctory platitudes from both sides, no solid progress could be detected.

It is obvious that despite the declared intention, the Indian prime minister is not visiting Islamabad anytime soon. Singh merely sufficed with informing Zardari that he would visit Islamabad ‘at an appropriate time’. To be fair to him, since he agreed in principle to visit Islamabad earlier this year, the Indian prime minister has always maintained that the visit should be result-oriented for it to be fruitful.

Judging from past history, the scorecard of progress in India-Pakistan relations, although not spectacular, is not bad either. Since the dargah diplomacy of President Zardari last April, the deadlock which had plagued relations in the previous two years was broken. And, at least on paper, considerable progress has been made on the economic front.

India and Pakistan began talks to improve trade relations last May when the commerce secretaries of the two countries met and successfully laid down a roadmap for improving trade ties. Since then, Islamabad has agreed to grant the Most-Favored Nation (MFN) status by December.

On imports from Pakistan, New Delhi has shifted to a system of negative list with 1209 items. Once the MFN status is granted, the two countries have agreed to phase out the negative list. According to the Times of India, in the next few days, the Indian finance ministry would announce a 30 per cent cut in the sensitive list of imports from Pakistan.

Judging by the acrimonious and bitter history of India-Pakistan relations, New Delhi allowing companies to invest in Pakistan and proposing direct flights between Islamabad and the Indian capital sounds almost revolutionary. Permission has already been granted to two banks from each country to set up shop on reciprocal basis.

The Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is due in Islamabad next Friday for talks. Later in September, the commerce secretaries of the two countries will meet. But it is not entirely clear that the new liberalized visa regime agreed upon earlier will be signed during Krishna’s visit or during the not yet finalized visit of the Indian home minister.

The two sides were expected to sign an accord last May when their interior secretaries met in Islamabad. Pakistan, however, asked for more time on the ground that it wanted the agreement to be signed and sealed at a higher level. Perhaps, at the time, Rehman Malik had the discretion to get the proposed liberalized regime cleared from the ‘right quarters’.

Despite some progress on the ground, Manmohan Singh is still reluctant to visit Islamabad. Apart from pro-jihadi elements and a section of the media, virtually all major political parties in Pakistan support a thaw with India. Hence, Zardari can take this initiative towards our estranged neighbor without losing any political ground.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Singh. The political opposition fed on anti-Pakistan rhetoric for years and also on the basis of actual ground realities is not so bullish on improving relations with Pakistan. Hence, Singh – weakened by the ruling Congress’s dismal defeat in UP, the largest province of India, earlier in the year – has to watch his back.
According to Indian media reports, pushing Pakistan to act against ‘India-directed terrorism’ was the biggest refrain of the Indian prime minister during his summit with President Zardari in Tehran. Singh reportedly told the Pakistani president that the “expeditious conclusion of the Mumbai terror attack trial in Pakistan will be a major confidence building measure in bilateral relations”.

The Indian Supreme Court has already confirmed the death sentence handed down to Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai massacres in which 166 people lost their lives. Pakistan admits that ‘non-state actors’ planned the Mumbai attacks on its soil, denying any official involvement.

Islamabad has charged seven alleged plotters behind the attacks but insists it needs more time to convict them. Ostensibly, Islamabad’s proclivity towards some of the jihadi groups allegedly involved remains a stumbling block in bringing them to book.

Singh has relented on Islamabad’s demand to interview three of the Mumbai perpetrators in the 26/11 Commission formed by the Indian government. This concession will make it even more difficult for Islamabad to further procrastinate on the issue. Till these elements are tried by Pakistan, the Mumbai carnage will remain India’s pretext for not moving forward.

In the meanwhile, major political disputes that have plagued relations since independence between the two estranged neighbors remain on the back burner. No tangible progress on Kashmir, the core dispute, can be expected in the near future.

Photo credit : Wikipedia (The disputed areas of the region of KashmirIndia claims the entire erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmirbased on an instrument of accession signed in 1947. Pakistanclaims all areas of the erstwhile state except for those claimed by China. China claims the Shaksam Valley and Aksai Chin.)

Pakistan can harp on the ‘relevant UN Resolutions’, but ground realities militate against any pressure on New Delhi to find a meaningful solution to the intractable problem. New Delhi refuses to accept any third party intervention insisting that J&K is an integral part of India. On the other hand, Islamabad neither has the political will nor the clout to push for a settlement in any meaningful way.

Even issues like Siachen, Sir Creek and the ubiquitous water dispute seem insoluble without any positive change in New Delhi’s attitude. Pakistan has rightly rejected a reported Indian offer of exchange of military delegations over Siachen on the plea that more than enough work had already been done to resolve the issue. It insists that there is no point in delaying the matter by introducing new proposals.

Already 13 rounds of talks have taken place on Siachen. But New Delhi is intransigent about its oft-repeated position that Islamabad should agree to authenticate the troops’ current positions and demarcate the actual ground position lines (AGPL) on the map.

In this backdrop, while substantial progress has been made on economic cooperation and trade, vital political differences remain between India and Pakistan, adding to the already wide trust deficit

What perhaps has obviated the possibility of another war between India and Pakistan is that both are nuclear-armed states. As the Economist’s columnist Banyan has put it succinctly in the latest issue: Huge fans of the bomb, Pakistani strategists argue that deterrence works. They point to Pakistan’s incursion in Kargil in 1999 and repeated terrorist attacks since then blamed on Pakistan. None provoked full-scale war.

According to Banyan, this is progress of sorts. Perhaps if seen in the context of notions such as balance of terror or Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)?

Arif Nizami is Editor of Pakistan Today

The writing first appeared in the newspaper on September 1, 2012

The views expressed by experts in the writings included in the Opinion section are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of MyGlobalCommunityToday.


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