Political instability hampers Indo-Pak peace process

Labourers transfer goods at the Wagah border in Pakistan. — Photo by A.J. Philip
Really meaningful gains like the demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier conflict zone and the final settlement of the Sir Creek maritime boundary dispute continue to remain elusive. 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 (CBMs) and risk reduction measures. 
This agreement has finally taken the CBMs enumerated in the Lahore Declaration of February 1999 forward to their logical conclusion. However, for some reason best known to the two foreign ministries, the contents of the agreement have not been made public. 
The two defence secretaries met at Islamabad in April 2007 to discuss the Siachen issue but failed to break the deadlock over the physical demarcation of the present line of defences along the actual ground position line (AGPL) that India maintains is a pre-requisite for demilitarisation. 
Pakistan views the Indian presence at the Saltoro Ridgeline as “illegitimate aggression” and violation of the Shimla Agreement and wants the Indian Army to vacate its positions without demarcation. This deadlock can be resolved only at the highest political level. 
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. However, there has been no progress in the discussions on the construction of the Tulbul navigation project, which Pakistan calls the Wullar Barrage, and the Kishanganga Hydel project. 
Other CBMs include the opening up of several crossing points along the 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; continuation of the Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express rail link despite a terrorist attack; and, completion of a joint survey in Sir Creek by a team appointed by the two Surveyors General. 
Trade volumes have also been looking up and both the sides have agreed to further prune their lists of restricted items. There has also been some progress in easing the daunting Visa regimes and reporting restrictions that are prevalent at present. 
The direct passage of transport trucks carrying goods across the Attari-Wagah border is now being discussed. At present these trucks are unloaded well short of the border; goods are carried up to the zero line manually by Indian labourers and are handed over to Pakistani labourers. The cartons or sacks are then re-loaded into trucks on the other side for the remaining journey and vice versa! Transport trucks may also soon ply along the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route, enabling trans-LoC trade in Kashmir after over half a century. 
Tourist traffic to the Valley is continuing to increase. The Kashmiri people have also begun to enjoy family picnics to the Chashm-e-Shahi and the Shalimar and Nishat gardens. The Indian government acknowledges that infiltration levels and incidents of violence in Jammu and Kashmir have come down. Pakistan recognises that India has begun to gradually reduce troop levels in the hinterland. 
The Indian Army has vacated many 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 designed to avoid causing harassment to the people. The government’s talks with the political parties and other groups in Kashmir, though stalled at present due to the intransigence of the Hurriyat Conference, show some promise of achieving a convergence of views in the long term. In case the conditions continue to improve, a cease-fire is a distinct possibility. 
The real enigma in India-Pakistan relations is the long-term view that the Pakistan Army will take, of the advantages of setting aside past hostilities. 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 Pakistan 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 and resolution of the maritime boundary dispute in the Sir Creek area, can provide the impetus that is necessary to carry the rapprochement process to the next level. 
Pakistan continues to insist that there must be tangible progress on settling the Kashmir dispute for the rapprochement to gather both depth and momentum. India constantly reiterates that it is necessary to first build confidence and overcome distrust by resolving relatively less intractable problems. 
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 that had been described by both the sides as irreversible only two years ago. 
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also facing political instability and may opt for a mid-term poll early next year. Hopefully, a more politically secure Indian Prime Minister will travel to Pakistan after the elections in both the countries to sign agreements on Siachen and Sir Creek to once again give a fillip to the peace process and the normalisation of relations. 
The author is Additional Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi