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Pakistan - India: The hiccups continue

by A G Noorani, 5 January 2014

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DAWN, 4 January 2014

It would be tedious to draw up a list of brief intervals of relaxation in relations between India and Pakistan and proceed to pinpoint the causes that led to their discontinuance, followed immediately thereafter by the resumption of their cold war. That has been a constant feature in their relations.

It has taken all of 2013 for both countries to tackle the crisis that erupted in January 2013 with alleged beheadings on both sides of the Line of Control in Kashmir. As in all such cases, resumption of dialogue in earnest was a slow affair. Prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif met in New York in September 2013.

A fine opportunity for a candid exchange was lost. Little did Manmohan Singh realise that he had in Nawaz Sharif an earnest advocate for reconciliation who had made friendly relations with India a plank in the 1997 general election in Pakistan.

Domestic political compulsions prevailed. The Indian spokesman said: “It was decided that it was first necessary to tackle the immediate issue of tranquillity on the border before moving forward on others”; specifically, even “trade issues”. The sole result was to ask the directors general of military operations to “meet and establish a joint mechanism for not only investigation of incidents on the LoC, but also to ensure that there is no recurrence of violence”.

It took three months for the DGMOs to meet. They had met last in 1999 during the Kargil war. There was nothing they devised now which they could not have agreed upon during their weekly telephonic exchanges; such as “combined patrolling”, no illegal constructions on the borders, meetings to resolve the issues and agreement to “re-energise existing mechanisms”. It is not the DGMOs who hit upon these points; it is their respective governments which gave them the brief.

Indian sources claim that the three-month delay in the meeting of the DGMOs was due to Pakistan dragging its feet on fixing the date. In between, the two sides were not idle.

Officers from Pakistan’s Rangers and India’s Border Security Force met on Oct 29. The prime minister’s adviser Sartaj Aziz met India’s Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid on Nov 12. But, for reasons more than one, the basic resolve on restoration of the status quo before January 2013 has not yet been made in New Delhi.

Electoral conditions is just one of them. Another is the lack of any progress in the trial of those accused of planning and executing the attacks in Mumbai in 2008. The trial judge has been changed a number of times in a case which should have been put on the fast track. It is such incidents which derail the peace process.

However, the record shows that the attacks did not lead to an immediate derailment. The Sharm El Sheikh joint communiqué of July 2009, the Thimphu accord in 2010, foreign ministers Hina Rabbani Khar and S.M. Krishna’s meetings in July 2011 and the prime ministers’ two meetings the same year put the process back on the rails to a considerable degree.

The incidents of January 2013 caused an overreaction because they reminded people of an unhappy strife-stricken past coupled with resentment at the failure to punish the attackers. Still, India’s reluctance to hold a dialogue is most unwise as is Pakistan’s failure to push that trial to a speedy conclusion. There is no sign of even some tangible progress.

That said, it helps nobody to harden, rather than relax, the visa regime and make a dialogue and trade conditional on tranquillity along the LoC. Revival of the peace process on Kashmir, interrupted in 2007, will help. Also, there is no point in delaying the final talks on Sir Creek which is on the verge of a breakthrough. So, of course is Siachen; but, given the state of things, it will have to await the 2014 election in India.

Everything need not be put on hold till then. Fishermen from both countries resolved in New Delhi to move their respective Supreme Courts to order release of their colleagues. The credit for this goes largely to an NGO, the Pakistan-India Forum for Peace and Democracy.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took a statesman-like step in coming on a five-day tour of India. He met his Indian counterpart Prakash Singh Badal, chief minister of Punjab, at Amritsar on Dec 15 and addressed a conference on Punjab-Punjab cooperation. They agreed to “promote people-to-people contact through encouragement, development and participation in sports, cultural and tourism activities” and promote cooperation in a host of activities.

They will pursue this with their respective central governments.

The ‘core issue’ must not be overlooked. India was not happy with the PPP government’s stalling on the agreed four-point plan on Kashmir. It must be revived.

The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.

P.S.

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