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The Advancing Peace Process

The India-Pakistan peace effort is now passing through a decisive phase. Never before have the two countries engaged each other so intensely or purposively. Both have moved away from long-hardened policy positions, and this has surprised most people in the two countries, and also abroad. There is not much popular comprehension yet of the historic nature of these shifts or of the strategic reasons that have necessitated them.

Commentary

The Advancing Peace Process

The India-Pakistan peace effort is now passing through a decisive phase. Never before have the two countries engaged each other so intensely or purposively. Both have moved away from long-hardened policy positions, and this has surprised most people in the two countries, and also abroad. There is not much popular comprehension yet of the historic nature of these shifts or of the strategic reasons that have necessitated them.

VERGHESE KOITHARA

A
s awareness grows that India and Pakistan are now pursuing a serious effort at conflict termination, not just conflict management, many in India worry that Musharraf is seeking to ensnare India. In Pakistan, many fear that he is pursuing a camouflaged sell-out. Both perceptions are off-mark. In the context of Musharraf’s remarks on December 4, 2006 that Pakistan was willing to give up its claim on Jammu and Kashmir subject to demilitarisation, self-governance, a soft line of control (LoC) and a supervisory mechanism, prime minister Manmohan Singh made a very significant comment on December 16 – “In the last two-and-a half years we have had very intensive dialogue with Pakistan” (The Hindu, December 17, 2006). The statements coming out from the two sides are no longer unilateral ones, but part of a gradually strengthening joint understanding. Both sides, Pakistan more than India, have jettisoned several hardened positions – for thoughtful reasons. These are sources of hope, but the still dominant hawks and a bitter negotiations legacy will not make further progress easy.

Policy Shifts

There have been several substantive shifts in position by both countries. The biggest has been Pakistan’s decision to seek political and security comfort through a new approach. It has abandoned the very charged issue of territorial change for the more tractable one of a softened, peaceful LoC. Manmohan Singh’s carefully chosen words, “short of secession, short of redrawing boundaries, the Indian establishment, can live with anything. Meanwhile we need soft borders – the borders are not so important”, published two days before he was sworn in, was a hugely positive response to Pakistan’s strategic shift (The Statesman, May 20, 2004).

India’s decision to talk to Pakistan substantively on J and K was another big shift. Despite the inclusion of J and K in the composite dialogue beginning October 1998, the issue was not seriously addressed till 2004. As a matter of fact, for as far back as May 1963 India had not seriously discussed J and K with Pakistan, taking the position that it was a domestic issue and a closed chapter.1 Official level and back channel talks and occasional low-key summit meetings since mid-2004 have seen India and Pakistan engaging one another in an unprecedented manner. The two foreign secretaries handled subjects of “peace and security” and “Jammu and Kashmir”, within the eight strands of the composite dialogue, are no longer seen as India’s and Pakistan’s respective forums to berate one another. Both subjects are now recognised as entwined.

Another signal change has been the Pakistan army’s realisation that in the changed circumstances peace with India will serve, rather than hinder, not only Pakistan’s national interests but also the army’s corporate interests. India, on its part, has now recognised that waiting for a civilian leader who can deal with India, while ignoring the army is not a pragmatic course. The army in Pakistan has also realised that the “fight and talk” strategy that the country pursued during the 1990s is now unworkable. The failure of seven rounds of foreign secretary level talks during 1990-94 and of the resumed talks during 1997-99 proved this. To talk productively, the fighting had to cease first. This was what led to Pakistan’s unilateral ceasefire of November 23, 2003, which has been respected now by both sides for over three years.

Pakistan has also begun to move away from purblind “anti-Indianism” as an anchor of state policy. This anchor came unstuck when India became a globally-courted country. The muted de-emphasising of religion seen recently in Pakistan is linked to this, which in turn is reflected in Pakistan’s shift of position on the regional geography of J and K. As late as October 25, 2004, Musharraf was talking of five regions on the Indian side in the context of differentiated treatment (Dawn, October 26, 2004). The object was to separate the Muslim majority areas in Jammu and Ladakh. But seven months later, on May 20, 2005 he stated that the identification of regions need not be on a religious basis (Dawn, May 21, 2005). Stripping the Kashmir problem of its religious dimension has made matters easier.

Both India and Pakistan have changed their attitudes towards J and K dissidents. India started to talk to Hurriyat for the first time in January 2000. Three years later Pakistan began to encourage them to talk to India, a reversal of earlier policy. Pakistan realised that the dissidents could better serve as a bridge between the two countries, rather than as ineffectual Pakistani allies. The dissidents, on their part, have realised that they have to now prepare for elections. Not just parties such as the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but the dissidents too are converging on the “empowered governance” path, widely seen now as having the maximum electoral appeal. The term “empowered governance” used here is an imprecise concept, but so are linked terms like devolution, autonomy, self-rule and self-governance. How much power the two parts of the state shall have, relative to Delhi and Islamabad, is the critical

Economic and Political Weekly January 6, 2007

question and this will have to be worked out on the basis of popular, political and security needs. It will undoubtedly have to be a great deal more than what Muzzaffarabad and Srinagar possess today – in real, not constitutional, terms.

The Reasons

There are good reasons to think that these important shifts, unanticipated by most, rest not on tactical foundations but on strategic ones. In both countries there is a new preoccupation with economic growth. This has changed the public mood. India is determined to push for double digit growth and Pakistan for something close to it. They do not want to be distracted. Both countries also know that J and K is not the only conflict they are involved in. The Pashtun belt and Balochistan are major worries for Pakistan. In India, the northeast is no more the only non-J and K problem. During 2004-06 the Maoist insurgency has spread from 77 to 160 of the country’s 602 districts – with 55 classified as “seriously affected”. There is an accentuated realisation in both countries of the high indirect and intangible costs of their many conflicts, and the need for new, creative approaches to deal with them.

Equally important, the euphoria stage of nuclear weapons acquisition has passed in both countries. There is a growing concern about responsible nuclear weapons management. In the present scenario in south Asia, where no effective nuclearspecific CBMs are possible, the focus has to be on conflict abatement. In the context of his soft LoC approach, Manmohan Singh said on May 20, 2004, “Two (inimical) nuclear armed powers living in such close proximity is a big problem. We have an obligation to solve this problem” (The Statesman, May 20, 2004). Both the Kargil war and Operation Parakram have imparted major lessons to both countries – at least at the top levels.

Most importantly, there is a dawning recognition that the true stakes in the India-Pakistan conflict, as they have evolved over 60 years, are low. A look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can help understand how much more potentially tractable the India-Pakistan conflict is.2 There is nothing in J and K to whip up passions the way Jerusalem does – particularly the colocation of Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif. Nor is in J and K any resource stake comparable to the Jordan river system and aquifers in that parched land. Also, given the geography, it is difficult to create a Palestinian state that will neither be choked by Israel nor will threaten Israel. India and Pakistan are both secure in the territories they currently hold. Moreover, all India-Pakistan issues other than J and K such as Siachen (which is a part of J and K), Sir Creek and the Indus Water Treaty disputes, are eminently solvable. In India, there is also recognition that its growing power should be used to attain useful ends, not squandered in outdated pursuits.

The reduction in violence in J and K has also contributed to India’s ability to be creative. The year 2006 has seen the lowest level of violence for a decade, and the downward trend has been steady. In 2005, Maoist violence claimed over half the number of lives lost in J and K (892 and 1,739) and in the first quarter of 2006 the former actually claimed more (247 and 200). Pakistan has realised that it cannot use killings to create negotiating leverage. Yet, major Pakistan-linked terrorist outrages have occurred in India in 2005 and 2006

– including the infamous one in Mumbai and lesser ones in Delhi and Varanasi. Assessing the respective roles played by the Pakistani government, ISI and groups like LeT in these have so far involved datascarce subjective judgments. But what is clear is that Pakistan is very aware of the raised costs of sponsored-terrorism against India, and India in turn seems to think, for the present, that it is better to treat the Pakistan government, ISI and terrorist groups as separate but linked entities, rather than as a composite one controlled from the top. This is the logic of the joint antiterrorist mechanism proposed in September 2006. Pakistan can certainly be pushed further along the path of curbing ISI and the terrorist groups, but since this involves substantial domestic costs for the Pakistani leadership, the development of a more constructive linkage between Pakistani actions in this regard and Indian ones at the political level will help.

Set of Principles

During the two-and-a half years of intense dialogue that has gone on, a set of principles on which a peace edifice could be built has emerged. There has been no joint enunciation of these principles, but there have been repeated comments by the Pakistani president and occasional supportive ones by the Indian prime minister, which make clear what these principles are. This has reduced uncertainty about the path the two parties are embarked on and has defined the ambit within which the two sides can be creative. It is of course a fact that each of these principles holds a spectrum of choices, and both India and Pakistan, as of now, have very different preferences within each spectrum. But this does not detract from the great achievement the evolution of these principles signifies.

The first principle is that there shall be no alteration to the current LoC which will become a permanent, not-to-be-questionedlater sovereignty divide. In parallel, the line will also become “open”, permitting free movement of people and goods across the two parts of the state. How “free” the movement can be will have to be pragmatically determined because of the twin needs to keep “undesirable” people out and to ensure that mutual access is confined to the other part of the state and not to the rest of either country.

The second principle is that there shall be “equal-level empowered governance” in the two parts, substantially free from the respective centres. Devising ways to ensure that security and other critical interests of the two centres are taken care of and also that this shall not vitiate empowered governance will undoubtedly be the toughest problem to tackle. But not far behind it will be the one of ensuring that minority regions within the two groups – Jammu, Ladakh and northern areas – will have adequate freedom of regional-level governance. This, in turn, is complicated by the fact that there is considerable heterogeneity of interests within each of these regions.

The third principle is that there shall be a substantial thinning of military personnel in both parts of the state. If Pakistan can effectively ensure that there shall be no movement of “violence-creators” to the Indian part of J and K, and if both sides can ensure that they will not retain serious conventional offensive capabilities across the LoC, this is not a difficult “end state” to achieve. But the process of getting there will not be easy given the security vulnerabilities and anxieties the process will generate.

The final principle is that there should be some form of permanent India-Pakistan arrangement to oversee the new set-up. The Indian prime minister has used the term “institutional arrangements” and the Pakistani president “joint management” to describe this. The main purpose of this fourth principle, which is one of the key pillars of the Northern Ireland peace agreement, is to constrain rollbacks of the other three principles by either side. The

Economic and Political Weekly January 6, 2007 essential problem in devising this arrangement – at Delhi-Islamabad and Srinagar-Muzzaffarabad levels – will be the determination of how much “say” one side should have with regard to the other.

What Has Been Achieved

Besides the development of these four important principles, what else has been achieved during the past two-and-a-half years? The infusion of respectability to the idea of India-Pakistan conflict resolution has been a great accomplishment. The idea that the two sides are structurally conflicted and that no amount of creativity or finetuning can overcome the impasse, unless one side capitulated out of exhaustion, has been long-ingrained in the minds of most people. This served to inhibit a creative search for peace as well as support for such search. The rethinking now going on about this received wisdom is a very welcome development.

A related achievement has been a perceptual shift whereby the future is now becoming more important than the past. When there was no prospect of conflict resolution, the future had been disregarded and the focus in both countries had been on the past. Assiduous, selective trawling of history, law, and even anthropology by scholars had served mostly to justify the respective stances and arguments of the two sides and had done little to create a peace path into the future. This is now changing. There is a new desire to shed the debilitating baggage of grievances and other lawyerly arguments.

Another major achievement has been the creation of a hitherto non-existent focus on the welfare of the people of J and K. While India and Pakistan have essentially been contestants, the people of the state have largely been hapless victims. As it has turned out, the four principles that have been developed all serve to benefit the people of the divided state and address their grievances.

At the practical level, the great achievement has been the creation of markedly smoother India-Pakistan negotiating channels. Many assess that these channels have never functioned more purposively and the formal and back channels complemented one another better. There have been slow, but discernible moves from the “talks” stage to the “negotiations” stage, from active distrust to limited trust.

At the intra-state level the negotiating structures have been less successful. There has been considerable back channel activity but the weaknesses and diversity of interests of the parties that Delhi’s interlocutors have to deal with make the latter’s task difficult. The two round tables the prime minister conducted in February and May 2006 and the five broad-based working groups that he created at the May round table have yet to produce results. The most crucial working group, that dealing with centrestate relations, did not even get a head till December. It is becoming clearer that an India-Pakistan agreement must lay out the ground rules before internal issues in the two parts of the state can be usefully tackled.

Rocky Road Ahead

While much has been achieved, the challenges ahead are more formidable than those overcome so far. Establishing mutually acceptable principles has been tough, but to reach a wide array of specific agreements involving hard bargaining will be tougher. Translating abstract concepts to doable steps is never easy, especially when many more political and institutional players, not only from India and Pakistan

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but also from the two parts of the state, enter the arena.

A still bigger problem is the political risk the two governments may face. Opinion on both sides is fragmented and it is not clear how much support hardliners can muster. The vulnerabilities are not at the electoral level, for the bulk of the people in both countries are for peace. But a call to “go for uncompromised victory” will appeal to many urban segments. Accusations of effete thinking and being duped by the other side are going to fly. And television could magnify the extent and impact of urban protests. There will be major opposition at institutional levels too. Collective mindsets of institutions are never easy to change. And these mindsets, hardened by 60 years of conflict, are bitterly antagonistic towards the other side.

The bright side is that the public mood in both countries is largely in support of peace. There is very little of the hawkishness currently seen in Sri Lanka. At the elite level, outside those segments focused on security, there is a marked desire to stress economic growth and discourage conflict pursuit. At the international level, while a highly

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distracted US is playing a less involved role, probably for the good at this stage, there is little doubt that the international community is strongly supportive of the ongoing peace effort – primarily because of the nuclear angle. All these might well help to overcome political and institutional opposition in both countries.

EPW

Email: koithara@sancharnet.in

Notes

1 Although paragraph 6 of the Simla Agreement of July 3, 1972 has mentioned the need “for a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir”, India, aided by Pakistani intransigence, chose to ignore it.

2 For a comparison of peace making possibilities in India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine conflicts, see Chapter 8 in Verghese Koithara, Crafting Peace in Kashmir: Through a Realist Lens, Sage, New Delhi, 2004.

Economic and Political Weekly January 6, 2007

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