Indo-Pak dialogue: Stuck in a groove

The Indo-Pak rapprochement process has been floundering for over one year and is in serious need of early resuscitation. Really meaningful gains like the demilitarisation of the Siachen conflict zone and the final settlement of the Sir Creek maritime boundary dispute continue to remain elusive.

The current turmoil in Pakistan and the question mark that looms large over the future of the Musharraf regime, have resulted in the Indian government adopting a wait-and-watch attitude that has further slowed down the fragile process which had been described by both the sides as irreversible only two years ago.

The CBMs

The only substantive gain during the meeting of the two foreign secretaries at Islamabad in March 2007 was the signing of an agreement on nuclear Confidence Building Measures (CBM) and risk reduction measures.
A month later the defence secretaries met at Islamabad to discuss the Siachen and Sir Creek issues but failed to break the deadlock over the physical demarcation of the present line of defences.

Pakistan continues to insist that there must be tangible progress on settling the Kashmir dispute for the rapprochement to gather both depth and momentum and India constantly reiterates that it is necessary to first build confidence and overcome distrust by resolving relatively less intractable problems before some progress can be made on resolving the Kashmir issue.

Among recent CBMs is the graceful though perhaps reluctant acceptance of the World Bank adjudicator's award on the Baglihar power project by both the sides; but, there has been no progress on the Wullar/ Tulbul Barrage and the Kishanganga Hydel Project.

Other CBMs include the opening up of several crossing points along the Line of Control (LoC) to permit civilians to cross over to meet their relatives; the resumption of long-suspended rail communications along the Munnabao-Khokrapar route in Rajasthan-Sind and continuation of the Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express despite a terrorist attack. 

Trade volumes have also looking up and both the sides have agreed to further prune their lists of restricted items. There has also been limited progress in easing the daunting visa regimes so that more people-to-people contacts can be encouraged. 

The Indian government acknowledges that infiltration levels and incidents of violence have come down and Pakistan recognises that India has begun to gradually reduce troop levels in Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian army has begun to vacate orchards and other civilian properties that were being used as campsites. 

Counter-insurgency operations are now being conducted very selectively based on confirmed intelligence and are no longer so intrusive that these cause extreme resentment. The Indian government’s talks with the political parties in Kashmir, though stuck in a groove due to the intransigence of the Hurriyat, show some promise of achieving a convergence of views in the long term.

An enigma

The real enigma in Indo-Pak relations is the view that the Pakistan Army will take of the advantages of setting past hostilities aside. Also, much depends on whether General Musharraf will survive the present crisis and, if he does not, whether the successor regime will have the political strength and the Army’s backing to see through substantive policy changes vis-à-vis the relationship with India. 

Clearly, only big-ticket agreements, such as the demilitarisation of the Siachen conflict zone can provide the impetus that is necessary to carry the rapprochement process to the next level. Hopefully, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will travel to Pakistan after the elections sometime next year to sign these agreements and once again give a fillip to the peace process and the normalisation of relations.