Dialogue  April-June, 2005, Volume 6  No. 4

Indo-Pak Relations: Sustaining the “Process” is Important

J.N. Roy


Since the Jan 6, 2004 Islamabad Declaration, the Indo-Pak dialogue or more appropriately, the peace process, has in the next fifteen months acquired its own persona and direction. Its contents and direction are as yet not very well defined and specific, yet this is its main strength. Its chances of success are more because its top-down and process driven without very high expectations. The current phase of Indo-Pak dialogue, can be described as positive and promising. On the contentious issue of Kashmir, both sides have stuck to their stated positions of no redrawing of borders (India) and the LOC is no solution (Pakistan)-, indicating solution around it. Its ultimate success depends on the extent of investment made by both the countries in the “process” in the works. The process involves shedding of mindsets, re-evaluating the strategic and security paradigms in the context of national interests and above all exorcising the demons of suspicion and hostility in both the countries. It is not easy.

It must be confessed, that the hardliners, on both sides of the border, including this writer and the part of media, have been out of step of the content and tenor of the April 18, 2005 Delhi Joint Statement. They are still in the process of adjustment. Indo-Pak relations are subject to so much of ups and downs and prone to derailment at the slightest pretext, that its sustenance now for over fifteen months is in itself unusual, if not a miracle. So far Indo-Pak relations have been one summit phenomenon mostly characterised by failures and stalemates. It must be conceded that the environment had never been better in the last over fifty years, skeptics and doomsday-sayers notwithstanding. One thing the hardliners in India should appreciate is that, even if the current phase of efforts do not succeed India is going to lose nothing. Strategically, Pakistan and India, both need peace to develop economically, but Pakistan needs it more than India. Economic gains for Pakistan are more for its huge defence expenditure, said to be 53% of national budget, is India centric. Peace dividend will obviate the Pak search for arms parity with India.

While the Indian media was by and large positive on Delhi Statement, even the liberal Pak media found itself not in cynch with the statement. From conservative “Nation” to others felt that Pakistan has conceded too much without getting anything in return and that Pakistan has reversed its Kashmir policy and abandoned the “freedom fighters”. Surprisingly some in Pak media felt that since the Indians and its media were happy with the outcome it cannot be any good for Pakistan. Even the perceived popularity of President Musharraf in India on his “Cricket Diplomacy” was adversely commented upon in Pak Urdu media and by the Islamic leaders. It only reflects the enduring adversarial mind set. Apparently, unlike India, various stake-holders in Pakistan have not been taken in confidence. Islamic parties and even the mainline political parties are criticizing the Pak Govt.’s Kashmir policy of allegedly abandoning the UN Resolutions and not ensuring the participation of Kashmiris in the process of resolution of the problem. Apparently various interest groups in Pakistan are not reconciled to the change of course on Kashmir to seek an enduring solution (All parties conference an Kashmir, Islamabad May 23, 2005). This is putting pressure on President Musharraf and the Pak’s Prime Minister, who while reiterating that the government will not sacrifice the interests of Kashmiris and forcing them to adopt public postures of toughness, setting time limits etc. Pak PM Shaukat Aziz on May 22, linked Indian trade and direct investment with resolution of the Kashmir issue; and on May 23 asserted that “the resolution of the Kashmir issue is the key to durable peace in South Asia”. President Musharraf under pressure is setting up time limits to the resolution of Kashmir dispute; though he is aware that it’s a process which will take time.

The hardliners on both sides of the divide, in media and politics, continue to be sceptic and cautionary. But even they do not contest the desirability of the movement. They mainly point out the lack of any concrete achievements. So far these have been very few confined to bus routes and promising dialogue on others. Both countries continue to stock-pile nuclear arsenal, upgrade their conventional armaments and capabilities, have failed to resolve amicably contentious issues like, Baglihar, Siachin, MFN status and that Pakistan is moving slowly in containing or dismantling the terrorist infrastructure on its soil. Anyone of these and other issues like serious developments in Kashmir can derail the peace initiative. Pakistan’s penchant to embarrass India still persists at certain levels. Opposing India’s candidature to Security Council and offer of arms to Nepal was meant to embarrass India. Similar is canvassing for China to join the SAARC and spurning India’s reasonable postures in respect of Baglihar. It is also not yet clear how Sino-Pak close defence relationship will impact on the dialogue process? How does China look at growing Indo-Pak amity in its overall strategic vision for Asia?

But there are positives also. Terrorist/militant groups in Pakistan are on hold or under constraint; infiltration and violence graph in Kashmir has come-down; the secessionist groups in J&K are looking at dialogue options and the Govt. of India is visibly scaling down the troop deployment to address one of Pak concerns. The hardliners any where, are afraid to concede unless they are shown hard evidence – and there is none in Indo-Pak dialogue, because contents are yet to be fleshed out and hard-headed bureaucrats on both sides are going to bargain hard and long on each issue. Tentativeness and hesitation is still the main flavour of Indo-Pak relations. But its better than open hostility. Its clear that the things will take time but at the moment the process is more important than the content.

There have been a number of speculations on the reasons behind the current dialogue process. Among others, the American pressure is a constant presence. With politicians like Colin Powell, former U S Secretary of State, taking public credit for the same the impression is further strengthened. Now it is disclosed that even the ill-fated Agra Summit (July 2001) was also the result of American nudging. It is true that the American pressure on both countries to maintain peace and dialogue is constant and relentless; mainly because its in American strategic interest in the region. But its efficacy and extent is overstated. In the past it could neither prevent nuclear tests, terrorist activities from Pak side, nor impose its mediatory role in Kashmir. In 2002 border showdown the US is credited with preventing India from aggressive actions against Pak, but the US pressure was only one of the factors. On perceived vital national interests both the countries have held their own and the US has been wise enough not to pressurise beyond a point. The current phase of dialogue, would no doubt please the US, but objectively speaking its driven mostly by the perceived national interests of both the countries.

It is these perceptions which define the change in Kargil and Agra vintage, Gen Musharraf into a pragmatic statesman and India into talking of final solution to the Kashmir problem. However, the hostility of the past has been too deep and elemental to expect quick or early results. There are enough skeptics and issues on both sides which could hobble the progress. It is due to this reason that the developments have been incremental and cautious ever since the then PM Vajpayei’s declaration in April 2003 at Srinagar to seek solutions through dialogue. Ceasefire on LOC since November 2003 has held and three rounds of Declarations and Joint Statements have taken the process forward; though slowly, despite apparent impatience of Pak President. The Islamabad Declaration (January 2004) underlined the intent to resolve all the disputes, including the Kashmir, in a peaceful and serious manner, with Pakistan assuring not to allow its territory to be used for any kind of terrorist activities against any country.

The New York Joint Declaration (Sept. 24, 2004), confirmed that the process was on rails despite the regime change in Delhi, and that:

          a)   the Indo-Pak negotiations would be long term, and

          b)   on Jammu and Kashmir, without giving up their respective positions, people centric measurers, and easing border rigidities on both sides would form immediate ingredients of the protracted journey in resolving the dispute.

In essence it represented a change of approach with both sides abandoning their stated positions of no talks till trans-border terrorism stops and terrorist infrastructure is demolished and that Kashmir as a core issue must be tackled and resolved first. It was followed by reduction in infiltration and violence in Jammu & Kashmir; troops reduction and India showing willingness to engage the APHC in dialogue. People centric measures like Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus service, cross border further contact points and trade are essential ingredients of people friendly measures and “soft border” around which the future settlement has to be worked out.

The Delhi Joint Statement (April 18, 2005) indicated consolidation of the efforts of the last 15 months and growing confidence in traversing the path of peace and reconciliation. It fleshed out some concrete measures on people to people contacts both in J&K and elsewhere and engage in serious dialogue on Kashmir and other issues. Its significance lies in:

          a)   it gives credit to the overwhelming desire of people of the countries for durable peace,

          b)   a determination that the peace process was now irreversible,

          c)   a pledge not to allow terrorism to impede the peace process,

          d)   it indirectly accepted the importance of Kashmir as Kashmir finds mention in 4 of the 13 substantive paras of the 17 para statement, but mostly in the context of people oriented measures to reach a final settlement, and

          e)   it emphasised the fundamental nature of the dialogue as a “peace process” and this phrase finds mention at least 4 times in the statement.

What happened on the side lines is equally significant. Indian Prime Minister reiterated that the peace initiative was process driven and his stand that in respect of Kashmir there cannot be redrawing of borders or another partition on religious lines. On his part President Musharraf continued to insist that the LOC was neither acceptable nor a solution. President Musharraf, despite his unsuccessful efforts to unite the APHC (Pak’s main political constituency in J&K), gave following messages:

          a)   APHC should unite and moderate if it wants to be part of the solution viz. take realities of the ground situation in account,

          b)   APHC should also talk to India, (thus no place on table for tripartite talks,),

          c)   Besides the APHC there are other political groups also in Kashmir (it is reversal of earlier stand that APHC was the only representative of Kashmiris,)

          d)   Later in Jakarta, he announced that Kashmiris will at appropriate time be consulted in the “peace process”,

          e)   Condemned the terrorist attacks on the Srinagar-Muzaffarbad bus service.

Some of President Musharraf’s later statements, particularly on May 20, 2005 in Islamabad indicated willingness to do away with the “border” itself since it was the main problem between the two countries in Kashmir.

However, the peace initiative, which till now is top-down and in the form of a “process” must sooner than later get down to substantive issues including, the trade and business, if the whole exercise has to succeed and impatience of Pakistan has to be addressed. The process of providing a substance is more difficult than the confidence and trust building process so far. There are manifold difficulties rooted in the very history of the two nations. Partition and its aftermath of 58 years of hostility and inimical relations; implacable positions adopted on major issues concerning the two countries, including Kashmir, and the consequent adversarial mindsets cannot be expected to dissolve in a short period. Fossilised political and tactical positions take time to re-adjust and become acceptable both at home and across the border. Despite the change in approach Kashmir is still the most important issue in Pak psyche and its solution can still make or break the process.

Infact, the most important phase in Indo-Pak dialogue process is in the future. So far only the framework of peace, patience and mutuality of interests have been discussed. Selling the changed nuances and terms at home, is going to be difficult for Pakistan than India. Thus, India will have to exhibit greater amount of understanding and patience than Pakistan. It must be understood that the difficulties for Pakistan are more fundamental than India and in a way challenge the very basis of the way the Pakistani state has been conceived and has functioned. Being a revisionist power on Kashmir, most of course changes have to come from Pakistan’s side giving an impression of making unilateral concessions. Other issues like Siachin, Sir creek, Kishenganga, trade and commerce etc can be solved with give and take in the overall mutual interest.

From mid-fifties of the last century Pakistan has charted its polity on the foundation of a “security state” threatened by the arch-foe India, which was not reconciled to its existence. This fundamental reality has justified the role and dominance of the armed forces in the political architecture of the country. By now the army has acquired a constitutional position by incorporating the Legal Framework Order (LFO) by amending the 1973 Constitution. For quite sometime the army is going to play a decisive role in Pakistan’s polity viz-a-viz the relations with India. Another aspect was the emphasis on Islamic character of the state, which received considerable boost during the Zia Regime. This emphasis on its Islamic identity is also directed mostly against the “Hindu” India. Both the factors have dominated the political and strategic space in Pakistan, facilitating growth of terrorist and Jehadi culture and an undue importance to Islamic groups, with serious social consequences.

Peace and normalisation of relations with India thus calls for a paradigm shift in attitudes of both the army and Islamic Constituencies in Pakistan. Such, a shift deprives the Pak army of the very raison d’etre of its political domination. Will Pak army adjust to such a change and loosen its grip and control over the Pakistani state? Will President Musharraf carry the support of his Corps Commanders (who form the main cabal), the ISI and army as a whole with him on the new approach towards India and on Kashmir? So far the indications are that the President has support of his hand picked Corps Commanders. But the Islamic parties are opposing any perceived concessions to India. There are also indications that the banned Jehadi groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad have developed capabilities independent of ISI in the Indian sub-continent. Their activities have the potential of adverse fall out, despite the insurance in Delhi. Joint Statement that terrorism will not be allowed to impede the peace process.

On Kashmir the President will have to convince even the civil society besides, the army and the Islamic parties. The real divergence between India and Pakistan is in respect of Kashmir – as it has wider dimensions than is visible. While the broader contours of a possible settlement may be discernible; its time frame and fall outs are problematic and serious. As a status quoist power India’s unstated position is conversion of the Loc as an international border and stated position of no redrawing of borders. India considers it as a major concession, considering its legal claim over the whole state including the PoK and Northern Areas. Acceptance of such a proposition is not acceptable to Pakistan, after having agreed to travel beyond the UN Resolutions, as it will have nothing to show for its three wars, the ongoing proxy war and Kargil adventures. It is this irreconcilable position of two countries on Kashmir, and the compelling reality of peace and then progress, which has led to the:

         (1)   Pakistan agreeing to be patient on Kashmir and move from its position of Kashmir first,

         (2)   Both have agreed to look beyond the UN Resolutions for a solution, and

         (3)   Eschew violence as means to resolve the problem.

Pakistan having made these implied concessions would like to see some movement, which it can sell to its people. It suspects India of delaying the process to freeze it in the status quo. Thus on Kashmir; Pakistan would like India to show movement in a time frame. Its impatience is implicit in various gestures of Pak President which have the twin objectives of preparing his countrymen for the course change on Kashmir and nudging India towards movement and some concrete steps, viz;

         (1)   October 25, 2004 statement of Pak President suggesting division of Kashmir in seven regions with different political and administrative dispensations,

         (2)   warnings in between that if India does not move fast enough, Pak will not be able to prevent and control the Jihadis and their activities, and,

         (3)   the May 20, 2005 statement in Islamabad while addressing the SAFMA, convened meeting of South Asian Parliament delegates. The statement explored the furthest limits of the possible contours of a Kashmir solution based on autonomy, self-governance, regionalism, loose borders and the people. He far the first time mentioned India’s secular concerns regarding religious divisions and a co-relation between Indian troop reduction and the state of militancy. He also urged a solution within the existing terms of his Presidency (read 2007 for the time being) and the Prime Minster Manmohan Singh.

The statement betrays President’s impatience and difficulties in selling it at home. He is also using the pressure at home to hurry the process and test the limits to which India can be pressurised to extract more political concessions, though he understands India’s limitations in the respect. In all this howsoever grudgingly due credit must be give to President Musharraf for changing the course and content of the dialogue process.

Both countries have their problems and need time to be ready for some drastic readjustments. India has to reconcile the ground realties of alienation, effectively counter the militant violence and engage the secessionists in practical and meaningful dialogue. India’s overwhelming priority in Kashmir is return of peace and normalcy, for which it requires political reconciliation at home and Pak help in controlling Jehadi infrastructure in Pakistan and its constituency e.g. APHC etc in Kashmir.

The vertical split among the secessionist, is making India’s task difficult. Pakistan also has to deal with its Islamic fundamentalists, the terrorists and ‘jihadis’ operating from its soil and their infrastructure. Salahuddin the chief of Hizbul Muzahuddin (based in Pak) has not welcomed the Pak invitation to the APHC leaders to visit Pok/Pak. Pakistan does not have complete control over all the Jehadis, and their political supporters and has yet to work out their role reversal. It is not easy. A May 2005 “Fatwa” issued by 58 Pakistani clerics against suicide attacks in religions places and public congregations in Pakistan was not extended to Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq and Chechnya. This in effect justified these as “freedom struggles”.

All this only denotes difficulties ahead. In Kashmir, the main problem is that neither side should be seen to have lost, and also factor in the concept of “peoples participation” in it. This is complex and will need time and patience. India as a status quioist power has not much of a problem, but Pakistan as a revisionist state has to shed past baggage. It is impatient to show results to its people and the army. The present control of Musharraf on army and the Islamic parties is subject to changes as all personal and individual rules are. Selling a Kashmir solution around “soft borders” to various groups in Pakistan remains the main problem for the govt. The problems for both countries are difficult. While India’s effort is institutional, in Pakistan its premised on an individual driven by the vision of developing Pakistan economically and as a moderate nation, for which peace with India is a necessary and compelling necessity. For India the peace dividend with Pakistan is likely to have a favourable impact on the current difficult relations with Bangladesh.

While President Musharraf ‘s drive and impatience can be understood in terms of his political compulsions, but the course which India and Pakistan have chosen to traverse in search of peace and reconciliation, is paved with patience and hence is time consuming. It carries too much of historical baggage which cannot be jettisoned overnight, and Pakistan being a smaller nation cannot be seen to be making unilateral concessions or being dictated to. The real chances of success lie in twin factors of firstly sustaining the process despite many expected hiccups and setbacks. Secondly, the ultimate character of the process will be defined by the willingness of both the countries to invest into it with sincerity and purpose by early resolution of issue like Siachin, Sir Greek etc. Both countries will gain if they overcome the current phase of hesitation and tentativeness and the fear of looking a loser. One thing Pak President and PM may perhaps avoid is the spate of daily statements; pressures and couched ultimatums. India’s has shown the right approach of silence and quiet diplomacy, which is worth emulating by Pakistan. The Pak penchant for conducting diplomacy through media can prove counter productive beyond a point – as it did at Agra Summit.

There is no doubt that the journey is difficult, but then the prospects also have never looked better in the last fifty years. Both countries need dreamers to transcend the physical and psychological barriers. Realists and pragmatists can wait a while for their turn at the sidelines. History is made by people with dreams and visions who seize the opportunities. Compelled by the post 2001 developments and the primacy of economic factors in the world such an opportunity is beckoning both the countries. Whether they seize it or not will determine the course of Indo-Pak history for the next few decades.