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Towards a No-war pact between India and Pakistan

by A G Noorani, 21 December 2008

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Dawn, 20 December 2008

A NO-WAR pact between India and Pakistan is a good idea and Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif is very earnest about it. On Dec 11 he told a TV channel in Pakistan, “We should sign a no-war pact for peace.”

Around the same time he said in an interview to Harinder Baweja of Tehelka, “I would say that there should be a no-first-attack pact, a no-war pact between the two countries and this includes both conventional and nuclear (weapons).”

It bears recalling that he had made this very offer on Sept 22, 1997 when he addressed the UN General Assembly as prime minister of Pakistan. “I offer today from this rostrum to open negotiations on a treaty of no-aggression between Pakistan and India.” As it happens ‘aggression’ has a wider connotation than ‘war’. It includes acts short of troops crossing boundaries; methods direct and indirect. He had initiated the peace process that year and the Islamabad joint statement of June 23, 1997 defined the structure of a composite dialogue which is still in place today.

Nawaz Sharif sought to put a seal on that process with a no-war pact. Such offers always have a purpose. When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru handed to Pakistan’s high commissioner M. Ismail the draft of a no-war pact on Dec 22, 1949, he sought to freeze the status quo in Kashmir. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan accepted the draft almost verbatim but stipulated an undertaking to “resort to arbitration on all points of difference”. Nehru pointed out that Kashmir was a political question which is non-justiciable.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had a different notion. Reporting to the National Assembly on July 17, 1963 on his talks on Kashmir with Swaran Singh, he said that the pact would enable India to contend that “now that a no-war pact exists, Pakistan has accepted the ceasefire line”. Even at Tashkent in January 1966 he rejected such a pact. Also at Simla in July 1972.

The UN’s charter has an explicit provision enjoining members to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” The Simla Agreement and the Tashkent Declaration have similar injunctions.

Where, then, is the need for a bilateral pact? The answer is that crimes continue to be committed despite the penal code. But if two feuding neighbours solemnly sign an agreement, in or out of court, not to harm each other, it helps to create mutual confidence.

In 1981 it was Pakistan’s turn to make the offer. But it did so in a statement on Sept 15, 1981 announcing its “formal acceptance of the US package” of military aid to Pakistan. It proposed “mutual guarantees of non-aggression and non-use of force in the spirit of the Simla Agreement”. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stipulated two conditions — bilateralism and no bases to or alliances with a foreign power. In May 1984 at Murree, representatives of the two countries nearly resolved the issue. The Simla Agreement helped on the first and NAM formulations on the second.

A communication gap prevented accord. The parleys continued till 1987 only to fizzle out. Agha Shahi, minister of state for foreign affairs, and one of the most accomplished diplomats South Asia has produced, categorically said on Jan 28, 1982 “the proposed no-war pact applies to Kashmir and war is ruled out. Only peaceful means would be employed for solution of this problem”. The methods used to resolve Kashmir from 1989 onwards were not exactly an example of peaceful methods.

It is one of those might-have-beens of history as to how events would have shaped if India had accepted the offer in 1984 and also settled Siachen under the June 1989 accord when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister.

Dare one hope that both countries are wiser for the two wasted decades? Mr Nawaz Sharif’s offer today in 2008 also has a purpose; a very good one, indeed. It is to instil confidence which is all but non-existent today. It is however, an integral part of his advice on the TV interview on Dec 11: “Pakistan should seriously engage India. We should invite them and we should go to India to take a look at the evidence (in the Mumbai’s blasts). We should do whatever is possible to help India and combat terrorism jointly. The blame game is not in favour of Pakistan and India”. Without that engagement and a successful one too the no-war pact will have no takers even though neither country desires war.

There is another aspect to the offer of a non-aggression pact. Will it impose a duty on each state to prevent a non-state actor on its soil from committing aggression on the other?

In his excellent book India and Pakistan: The Cost of Conflict and the Benefits of Peace, Maj Gen Mahmud Ali Durrani recommended a list of confidence-building measures. One of them was “reduce the role of intelligence agencies acting against each other”. This can be amplified to cover non-state actors; private organisations which are bent on war. He is now national security adviser and had an excellent meeting with his Indian counterpart M.K.Narayanan in New Delhi on Oct 14.

President Zardari has offered to send “a representative” of the ISI. A delegation can come to India to begin a sincere dialogue on the immediate crisis in an effort to resolve it. We must at some point of time talk about a non-aggression pact which reckons with the realities of our times. But that will have to be an icing on a cake which is yet to be baked. Public opinion in India and Pakistan yearns for peace. It will endorse a no-war pact only after the major disputes are resolved.

That is sad. But that is the reality in 2008. Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz came to New Delhi at the height of the Kargil crisis. A senior minister or official can well come to New Delhi for exploratory talks to pave the way for a full-fledged delegation, which would go into the substance of the differences. Meanwhile rhetoric deserves a good holiday. Quiet, secret and sincere diplomacy is the need of the hour.

The writer is a lawyer and an author.