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Pakistan - India: Agenda for peace process

by A G Noorani, 21 June 2013

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Dawn, 15 June 2013

THERE was much more than a sense of formality in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s congratulations to Mian Nawaz Sharif on the impressive victory of the PML-N in the May 11 elections. Equally, the response of Mian Nawaz Sharif went far beyond the formal in its warmth.

Will all this peter out, as previous exchanges did? One hopes not; but the lessons of the past, especially the recent past, must be heeded and a sound approach devised to put relations between the two countries on a promising course. We must avoid unreal expectations.

Nothing came of the then prime minister Narasimha Rao’s offer of “a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan to discuss all matters of mutual concern, including issues related to Jammu & Kashmir” because this very phrasing, in his congratulatory letter of Oct 19, 1993 to the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto, revealed that he was not prepared to discuss the Kashmir dispute itself.

Her reply of Oct 20, 1993 emphasised that “the Jammu and Kashmir issue is the main obstacle in the way of better relations between our two countries”. She was right, but her profession of readiness “to engage in serious and purposeful discussions” was belied by the non-paper India received in January 1994. It asked for the moon. India’s non-paper on Kashmir was no better.

Nawaz Sharif fought the 1997 general election on the plank inter alia of improving relations with India. Deve Gowda’s (Indian prime minister at the time) message of congratulations proposed “an early resumption of dialogue”.

Nawaz Sharif’s reply suggested talks between the foreign secretaries. This resulted in the Islamabad joint statement of June 23, 1997 which embodied a charter for a composite dialogue. I. K. Gujral wrecked it by reneging on his commitment at Male to set up a working group on Kashmir. The Bharatiya Janata Party regime which followed (1998-2004) did worse.

We have come a long way. We are not at the stage of a breakthrough, but, at a stage at which a breakthrough can be explored and achieved before long. The most promising new element is trust which was sadly lacking between the leaders during the PPP government, especially in the wake of the Mumbai blasts. (Some significant steps were taken towards a rapprochement; to wit, the accord on visas and the MFN.)

At least twice Prime Minister Singh felt provoked then to ask, for obvious reasons, whom he should negotiate with. He now has a committed partner in the dialogue in Nawaz Sharif. Manmohan Singh wants to work with Nawaz Sharif to “chart a new course and pursue a new destiny in the relations between our countries”.

It is of vital importance that this precious asset of mutual respect and trust is not squandered, as before, by unreal expectations or obstructionist elements. Hence, the need to proceed while moulding public opinion in a positive direction.

The electronic media is an unruly horse; especially in India where TV channels vie with one another to whip up chauvinistic frenzy vis-à-vis Pakistan, China or, for that matter, any adversary real or imagined.

I am not competent to opine on the media in Pakistan. The problem has an obvious solution — lift all the curbs on receipt of telecasts and exchanges of media personnel; allow newspapers and TV channels to freely post correspondents in each other’s country, and, indeed, sponsor visits of media personnel.

There is something obscene about the curbs that are in place today; especially on the Line of Control (LoC) trade. Militancy in Kashmir is on the decline, admittedly. What harm can a proper modern infrastructure for trade inflict? In 2013, barter trade is shocking. Banking facilities are needed; so are telecommunication so that traders know the market on the other side.

To avoid the sad experience of last January, it is of vital importance to improve the existing mechanism in order to avoid misunderstandings. Together these two measures — on the LoC trade facilities and mechanisms to solve disputes — will go a long way towards improving the atmosphere. Redeployment of artillery guns and mortars, say, 20-30 kms from the LoC, is another measure worth considering.

Enforcing the visa and MFN accords and a determined attempt to end the prisoners’ problem will also be of help. But by far the best confidence-building measure will be a no-war pact. In 1997, Mian Nawaz Sharif renewed the proposal in his address to the UN General Assembly. Back in May 1984, the two countries had all but resolved their differences on the rival drafts.

Going back even further, India had offered a draft in 1949 which was rejected. Years later, on Nov 22, 1981 Pakistan sent a note proposing the pact. Two aide memoires followed; India’s on Dec 24, 1981 and Pakistan’s on Jan 12, 1982. They set out the principles each side considered important. Pakistan presented formally the draft of an agreement on a no-war pact on May 31, 1982 while India presented a draft treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation to foreign secretary M. K. Rasgotra in Islamabad. A breakthrough was achieved in his talks with foreign secretary Niaz A. Naik.
But, like the course of true love, India-Pakistan negotiations never run smoothly. Rasgotra revealed in 1986 that “we virtually had an agreed text in Murree in the second week of May 1984”, except for a clause on bases. Time has rendered it irrelevant. Asked by this writer how long it would have taken to resolve the difference, Rasgotra lifted his forefinger and said “one hour”.

In 2013 it should take less time to mesh the rival texts into a draft acceptable to both sides. In an improved atmosphere we can tackle next Sir Creek, Siachen and move on to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Once officials finish the homework a summit can break the logjam and define an enduring framework to make the détente irreversible.

The writer is an author and a lawyer.


The above article from Dawn is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use