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The Peace Challenge

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity to get an India-Pakistan peace process going. These events generated so much publicity, es...

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity to get an India-Pakistan peace process going. These events generated so much publicity, especially in India, that many analysts have counselled caution.

The steps announced thus far are baby steps. They represent learning to stand rather than learning to walk, and even learning to stand takes time, as the glitches that have appeared show. Pakistan said it would restore air links but not overflight rights because India had not agreed to restore road and rail links.

India’s rail authorities, it appears, are owed a hefty sum in back payments by Pakistan, and want payment guarantees before the Samjhauta Express is restored.

Security officials are also worried that trains and buses could provide additional routes for militants. Similarly, Pakistan’s offer to lift its ban on 78 Indian items was dismissed as insufficient by the Indian government, and it certainly falls far short of Pakistan’s commitments under SAPTA III and WTO.

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But India is dragging its feet too, over the proposed gas pipelines from Iran and Turkmenistan that would greatly benefit Indian consumers. Some of these glitches could be resolved by official teams meeting face to face, others require patient negotiation. None of them should be a cause for political haggling. That they were, suggests that the two countries have a long way to go in pacing themselves and each other.

As first steps go, the most promising are the ones that the two countries are taking unilaterally. Prime Minister Vajpayee has assured Pakistan that his peace initiative is unconditional, and has implied much the same to Kashmiri leaders. General Musharraf has begun to close down the “training camps” in ‘‘Azad Kashmir’’, as he offered to via US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

This is a limited measure, as “training camps” are generally an euphemism for hastily erected structures that shelter mujahideen waiting to cross the Line of Control. But it is a significant measure, for it comprises action on a list that India provided. India’s recent counter-insurgency successes also indicate that the Pakistan army has quietly suspended support for militant attacks in J&K, at least for now.

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In other words, the moves to restore diplomatic and travel ties, improve trade relations, and curb fresh cross-border infiltration add up to an important set of preliminary confidence building measures.

The next steps could be more substantial; the Pakistani parliamentarians have named two. First, that the commercial and industrial chambers of the two countries meet to chart further proposals for trade. Second, that India and Pakistan work together to fight terrorism through, for example, joint patrols on the LoC.

True, the Pakistani parliamentarians have tied support for joint patrols to having them monitored by “some neutral body”, ie, international observers. This might make sense if the purpose were to establish a zone of separation between the two countries but it won’t work as a means of arbitrating disputes over cross-border infiltration.

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The LoC can neither be plugged nor adequately monitored, so the arbitration of disputes over infiltration is pretty much a non-starter. But if Pakistan needs international backing for security cooperation with India against terrorism, India should not dismiss the idea but look for a range of mechanisms, including intelligence sharing via multilateral means.

All of this is a far cry from Vajpayee’s offer of joint patrols in 2000, which was based on the rather different idea of softening the LoC. Joint patrols could be accompanied by opening up transit points for freer movement across the LoC, he suggested.

Taken together, the two would legalise some of the illegal routes that are impossible to plug any other way and create an incentive for the rest to dry up. Softening the border, however, presupposes that Pakistan will have closed down the bulk of the militant groups that fight India from safe havens in Pakistan.

And Kashmir will have to have, at the very least, a lasting ceasefire. Right now the militant groups are defiant, as we see from Hafeez Sayeed’s latest call for jihad against Hindus on the Lashkar web site, and Syed Salahuddin’s interview in the Daily Times. Whether Pakistan is able or willing to repeat Musharraf’s dramatic arrests of January 2001 is an open question — it looks as if a crackdown depends on how other confidence building measures proceed.

The next logical step would be for the Hurriyat track to open up, but that possibility is still opaque. Though the Hurriyat support the present peace initiative, their earlier rejection of Vohra’s mission is still a hurdle. This is a hurdle India needs to do more to surmount. The Hurriyat could be a valuable ally in the search for peace; if only to ease the way for Pakistan to act against groups like the Lashkar and Jaish. True, the Hurriyat are also hostage to militant groups. But they are prepared to go step by step — indeed on the Hurriyat track India could consider a formula she rightly rejected with Pakistan. Here’s a situation in which “talks about talks” might build confidence on all sides.

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In the meantime, policy analysts need to pay more attention to the (mercifully brief) Pakistani request for a summit before the first steps have even been completed. Pakistan has pushed for summits without confidence building in the past. That was the recipe for disaster at Lahore as well as Agra. In both, the two countries’ leaders met to agree a framework for peace when hostilities were running high. In neither did the two countries prepare the ground by inking — and implementing — confidence building measures.

As a result, policy establishments of both countries were alienated, and nascent peace processes ended when they began. Summits do attract a good deal of publicity that can build vital public confidence. The problem with Lahore and Agra was that there was publicity but little concrete to focus it on.

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This time, India and Pakistan need to think of more targeted ways of generating publicity. The two governments could line up a series of photo-ops — for example, the first flight from Pakistan and the first train from India could receive official welcomes.

Similarly, the two finance ministers could ink all trade agreements before television cameras. A great beginning has been made. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum.

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The writer is an adjunct senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, New York

First published on: 21-05-2003 at 00:00 IST
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