After years of dogged negotiations, India and Pakistan agreed at the SAARC summit in New Delhi May 4th to slightly reduce tariffs on a small number of importable items from each other. Today, however, Pakistanis are so outraged by the Indian army’s destruction of the five hundred year old Muslim shrine of Charar Sharif in Kashmir that the Pakistan government is under pressure to ban all trade with India. Such is the stuff of Indo-Pak enmity.
Since 1989, when the Kashmiris revolted against India, Indo-Pak relations have been bad. The destruction of the Babri masjid by Hindu fanatics made matters worse. The Charar Sharif incident has aroused passions all over again. With India threatening war, Pakistan has put its forces on alert and some people are urging the government to test a nuclear device and put an atomic bomb on the shelf to deter New Delhi.
Despite Charar Sharif, however, Mr Narasimha Rao is still talking about elections in Kashmir next month. This plan won’t work. Kashmiri leaders, some of whom may have previously thought of supporting the electoral process, have now unanimously denounced the proposed exercise. This pleases Pakistan because it is opposed to the idea of elections in Kashmir as long as 500,000 Indian troops remain there and the UN resolutions are ignored.
Having been denounced at home and abroad for “mishandling” the situation, Mr Rao now seems to be in a less aggressive mood than he was a week ago. India’s foreign secretary Mr Pranab Mukherjee has made a conciliatory statement saying that India is prepared to initiate “confidence building measures” with Pakistan by holding a dialogue with it on all disputes, including Kashmir. But Islamabad thinks it has India over a barrel and is in no mood to forgive and forget. Its argument is that unless the ‘core’ dispute over Kashmir is first settled, no confidence-building measure can hope to succeed in removing hostilities and reducing tensions between the two countries.
In the last four decades India Pakistan have fought three wars and come close to conflict on two occasions. Sporadic skirmishes have continued in the Himalayan region of Siachin since the mid-1980s. Pakistan spends over 6 per cent of its GNP on defense every year and India about 3 per cent. The fact that both are undeclared nuclear powers worries everyone.
Deep-rooted hostilities and fears exist on both sides. Pakistanis believe that India has never reconciled to the “two-nation theory” which led to the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 along Hindu-Muslim lines. India, in turn, argues that Pakistan has not given up dreams of wrenching Kashmir by force. Both sides accuse each other of fomenting terrorist strife in the other country.
A sincere and realistic attempt to break this impasse has been lacking on both sides. Although the 1972 Simla Pact committed both sides to resolving issues bilaterally, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that a Joint Commission to review problems was set up and led to some relaxation of restrictions on trade and travel, cut off since the war in 1965.
When Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi were prime ministers of Pakistan and India respectively in 1989, the prospects for amity seemed to brighten. During Mr Gandhi’s trip to Pakistan that year, the two leaders agreed on a formula to settle the Siachin conflict. They also signed a cultural and trade protocol to enhance cooperation. But both issues were shelved after Mr Gandhi was pressurised by the Indian establishment to backtrack on Siachin.
The revolt in Kashmir in late 1989 altered the situation dramatically by reopening old wounds. Ms Bhutto succumbed to rising domestic passions by accusing India of widespread repression in Kashmir. India responded by accusing Pakistan of running training camps for Kashmiri militants. Within months, both countries had inched towards a military conflict.
Worried, Washington despatched Mr Robert Gates, Undersecretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (later head of the CIA), to Islamabad and New Delhi. His mission: cool tempers on both sides by initiating a series of confidence building measures (CBMs). Mr Gates proposed a two track approach — Track One for reducing the risk of accidental or premeditated war by opening lines of communication between the military on both sides and Track Two to promote an “unofficial dialogue” between the two sides in order to create better understanding of each other’s fears and concerns.
India tabled a CBM package in May 1990. It contained the following suggestions: “sharing of information regarding military exercises, communications between military commanders (hot line), joint border patrolling, an MOU on prevention of violation of airspace by military aircraft, exchange of armed forces delegations, prevention of acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations, non-interference in each others’ internal affairs and reiteration of a common resolve to abide by the Simla Agreement”.
Pakistan’s response was less than enthusiastic. The absence of any reference to a solution on Kashmir or to the deployment of military forces to peace time locations in Siachin was unacceptable to Islamabad. India was not prepared to accept the Pakistani solution of stationing UN personnel along the disputed Kashmir border. Pakistan remained opposed to the exchange of military delegations because that would “create a false sense of bonhomie”. It sought third-party mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute, a demand India has consistently rejected because it does not want to “internationalise” the issue.
Pakistan’s argument is that the Indian proposals do not eliminate the threat of war by design or create more positive conditions for peace. It wants a discussion with India over a nuclear-weapons free zone in South Asia, a regional nuclear test ban treaty, mutual inspection of nuclear facilities, adherence to the NPT and a joint declaration renouncing the nuclear weapons option. India rejects this approach, partly because it perceives a “threat” from China and partly because it considers the NPT to be “globally iniquitous”.
Nonetheless, some progress has since been made. Both sides now give advance notice for military manoeuvres and exercises, a Hot Line between opposite military commanders is in place, airspace violations have ceased, a treaty banning the manufacture and use of chemical weapons now exists and lists have been exchanged of each others’ nuclear facilities to increase transparency.
Track Two kicked off in 1991 at Neemrana on the border of Haryana and Rajastan states in India. Participants included retired army and civil servants from both sides, with a former US ambassador hosting the talks as a mediator. Thus far, eight Neemrana conferences have been conducted. In addition, over two score unofficial Indo-Pak dialogues involving a mix of academics, retired civil and military officials and journalists from both countries have taken place in India, Pakistan, Nepal, USA, China and Austria. Some newspaper editors in India and Pakistan have also hosted “people to people talks” from time to time. And a 100-strong Pakistani “peoples” delegation comprising academics, journalists, politicians and human rights activists was in New Delhi early 1995 for talks with “like-minded” Indians.
Of all the Track Two dialogues, Neemrana is said to be the most important. Although details of the dialogues have not been made public, it is understood that issues bedeviling Indo-Pak relations were put into four “baskets” representing political, military, nuclear and economic problems. But this approach hasn’t yielded significant dividends. The Pakistanis appear to have staked everything on the prior resolution of the Kashmir basket whereas the Indians want the “minor irritant” baskets to be sorted out first. The deadlock is solid.
The “mental maps” of both countries remain a formidable hindrance. India has problems dealing with Pakistan on a bilateral basis since it sees itself as a multilateral, global player — hence it sees CBMs as enhancing Pakistan’s status and diminishing its own. Pakistan, in turn, worries about India’s “hegemonic ambitions” in the region. The rise of Hindu extremism in India is also running parallel with the resurgence of Islamic passions in Pakistan, which makes the task of rapprochement all the more difficult.
The attempt to “transport” the European CBM experience to Asia hasn’t worked well for several reasons. Unlike South Asia, there was an absence in Europe of any significant territorial disputes between the contending power blocs. Also, the contending groups in Europe were comparatively equal in power potential whereas India is the paramount, pre-eminent power in South Asia. In Europe, ideological struggle was at the centre of the cold-war conflict whereas in South Asia historical experience, especially communal conflict, remains at the root of the problem. Chances of premeditated war were negligent in Europe and accidental conflict was at the centre of security concerns. In the sub-continent, however, the evidence suggests that premeditated war was triggered on three occasions, by Pakistan in 1948 and 1965 and by India in 1971. So, where do we go from here?
Back to the root of the problem, of course. India must come to terms with some facts and fashion its policies accordingly. (1) Kashmir does not belong to it by any stretch of the imagination. (2) Repression will not break the spirit of a resistance movement which has the total backing of the Kashmiri people. (3) Increasingly, New Delhi is being isolated in the forum of world opinion and India’s “liberal”, democratic image is beginning to erode.
Pakistan, too, needs to recognise an emerging new reality: the Kashmiris, who did not respond to Pakistani initiatives in 1965, rose against India in 1989 not because of any prodding by Pakistan but because of the shoddy treatment meted out to them by New Delhi since the rigged elections in 1987. Having paid such a heavy price for “azadi” in the last five years, it seems inconceivable that the Kashmiris would define it now as an exclusive bid to “join” Pakistan. “Kashmir Banay Ga Pakistan” is currency here but it may not be so in Srinager. Kashmiri leaders no longer hide their irritation when Pakistan says that there are only “two options” for them — remain in India or join Pakistan.
India says it will not countenance independence for Kashmir because it would jeopardise the fate of India’s Muslims at the hands of Hindu extremists. This is a self-serving argument: for forty years, there was no threat to the “secular” Congressite state from the BJP, yet India made no effort to “resolve” Kashmir. The real reason is that India thinks of itself as the region’s “superpower” and it would hurt its ambitions if it were to allow Kashmir to break away.
Pakistan, too, has a problem with the “third” option. To consider it formally would erode the legitimacy, however neglected, of the basic UN resolutions of 1948 without any guaranteed fresh legitimacies from India or the UN. Short of a fresh UN resolution accepted by both countries on the future status of Kashmir, something in the hand remains better than nothing in the bush for Pakistan.
Friends of India and Pakistan may therefore find it profitable to look in this direction for solutions to Kashmir. The CBM tracks have run out of mileage. India and Pakistan are prisoners of their past. They cannot bilaterally resolve this conflict. Since both are now nuclear powers, their simmering dispute has become a serious cause for multilateral concern.
While recognising this reality, the Western powers have unfortunately got hold of the stick by the wrong end. They have been urging India to find an “internal”, Indian solution to the “problem”, hence their support to Mr Rao’s efforts to hold elections in Kashmir. This approach is doomed not only because Pakistan is bound to resist it tooth and nail but also because Hindu extremists in the Indian “establishment” are likely to sabotage it at every step, as in the case of the destruction of the Charar Sharif shrine.
A more profitable approach may be for the international powers to band together and oblige both India and Pakistan to accept a solution based on fresh UN resolutions which allow the Kashmiris to “get” their version of “azadi” while “giving” Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas to Pakistan and Jammu and Ladakh to India. Once the Kashmir parameter is amicably “removed” from the Indo-Pak equation, perhaps the two countries can move towards confidence-building measures with a degree of conviction and certainty.