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’Official’ peace process noise between India and Pakistan

by Kashmir Times, 31 October 2008

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Kashmir Times, November 1, 2008

Not really ’irreversible’

Friendly noise between India and Pakistan needs concrete backup

Apparently, the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan at present are, in what one might call as, ’safe zone’. There are no immediate flash-points, nor any visible threat of conflagration on either side. Pleasant words accompanying the New York meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Asif Ali Zardari were echoed after the following meeting between security advisors of the two countries in New Delhi. Normally, these indicators should be sufficient to allay fears over the potential dangerous implications of letting some crucial pending issues simmer while relying on the feel-good atmosphere generated by outward gestures without concrete follow up. It is well known fact of sub-continental history that relations between the two neighbouring countries in the South Asian region are excessively sensitive to pulls and pressures of their respective domestic politics. The prevailing domestic scene in both the countries is anything but reassuring from this particular angle. Ultra-nationalism is on the offensive. It is fuelled by vicious communal extremism drawing sustenance from the historical animosity between the two countries as also between their two majority communities. Pakistan is in the grip of post-election instability primarily on this account while the electoral politics in India is acquiring sharper sectarian dimensions. The balance of forces in the two countries being what it is today, there is no guarantee that the delicate atmosphere of cordiality generated between the two countries as a result of some top level contacts would survive the onslaught of negative forces. That is why it is all the more necessary to consolidate this positive trend before it gets reversed under adverse circumstances which simply cannot be ruled out.
Time and again impression was created that solution to outstanding issues like Siachen deployment, Sir Creek dispute and Tulbul navigation project was nearly complete. Lack of progress on this front despite ongoing rounds of composite dialogue is a big damper. It is no secret that India’s rigidity over Siachen is largely due to the predominance of thinking within its military establishment over that of its ruling political class. A couple of recent developments strengthen this impression. Firstly, the recent visit of the chief of Israeli army to the sensitive border areas in J&K was given an unusually huge media build up, unlike in the past. Wide coverage of his extensive visit to areas along the Line of Control and the international border with Pakistan in the Indian official mass media did not fit in with obviously well known imperatives of the normalisation process. The Israel army chief had visited the state earlier also but that event was kept almost under wraps but for stray private-media coverage. That the digression in this case was not accidental became clear soon after. A visiting high level US army commander was also flown to Siachen even as Pakistan was voicing its opposition to throwing open the disputed glacial tract to private parties of tourists. It is one thing to host such high profile visits for strategic or purely military reasons but quite a different matter to ignore their obvious controversial political and diplomatic implications while throwing open the event for extensive coverage. This type of jingoistic body language does not behove a country of India’s size and stature nor does it help in sustaining its image of reasonableness vis-a-vis its smaller neighbour.

Resolving Siachen dispute or at least concluding the long pending troop pullout agreement with Pakistan is in the interest of both the countries. Besides, it would infuse vigour and confidence into the dialogue process which is, otherwise, too weak to survive any counter blast. Deteriorating security scenario coupled with the disastrous consequences of global financial meltdown underline the urgency behind consolidation of regional peace and stability. Narrow considerations dictated by compulsions of domestic politics should not be allowed to come in the way and thwart the process of normalisation.