Business Standard, 2nd Jan 16
The frustrating saga of Indo-Pakistan dialogue is widely regarded as an exercise that has yielded little success.
Yet, on New Year Day, New Delhi and Islamabad exchanged lists of their nuclear installations, as part of an agreement that prohibits both sides from attacking each other’s nuclear facilities. This is the 25th straight year that both countries implemented this important confidence building measure (CBM). India and Pakistan also exchanged lists of the other country’s nationals that are imprisoned in their jails. A 2008 CBM mandates that this be done twice a year — on the first day of January and July.
Another scrupulously implemented CBM, signed on April 6, 1991, reduces the risk of conventional war. The agreement titled “Advance Notice on Military Exercises, Manoeuvres and Troop Movements” prohibits military exercises close to the border or Line of Control (LoC), and requires advance information before any military exercise. Another CBM signed the same day on “Prevention of Air Space Violations” lays down a “no-fly-zone” along the border/LoC for military aircraft.
Such Indo-Pakistan CBMs are often under-appreciated for the stability they have provided, even when the Indo-Pakistan dialogue has been stalled, and even in times of war.
When India’s foreign secretary, S Jaishankar, meets his counterpart, Aizaz Chaudhry in Islamabad in mid-January, they will probably find it easy to agree on a roadmap for discussions on the nine subjects that could form the framework for the coming “Comprehensive Dialogue”.
But once the dialogue begins, the complexity of these disputes is very likely to block high-profile “deliverables” that can be held up as progress in the relationship.
Five of the nine dialogue subjects — Jammu & Kashmir (J&K); Siachen Glacier; Sir Creek; Tulbul Navigation Project; and counter-terrorism, including progress on Mumbai trials — are extremely contentious and politically sensitive. Some analysts regard the J&K issue as “a dispute without a solution”.
Another three subjects — economic and commercial cooperation; humanitarian issues, and promotion of friendly exchanges — require a positive atmosphere to take off, and would need to be negotiated painstakingly based on reciprocity.
That leaves just one — peace and security, including CBMs — as what diplomats call “low-hanging fruit”. Negotiating carefully chosen CBMs would generate security; and would also impart momentum into the overall dialogue. The dialogue, therefore, should focus initially on carefully considered CBMs, rather than hard-to-deliver agreements on J&K, Siachen, Sir Creek, etcetera.
India’s ministry of external affairs has termed the border ceasefire of 2003 the “most important confidence building measure between the two countries”. That ceasefire, which was never formally negotiated, continues to reduce casualties on the LoC, make infiltration difficult for terrorists and benefit civilians in border villages.
As important in the context of nuclear security is another CBM of 2007, entitled “Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons”. This binds New Delhi and Islamabad to “notify each other immediately in the event of any accident relating to nuclear weapons… which could create the risk of a radioactive fallout… or create the risk of an outbreak of a nuclear war between the two countries.”
The risk of a nuclear exchange is further mitigated by a CBM, signed in 2005, on “Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles”. This requires each side to notify the other at least three days before flight-testing any ballistic missile.
Other successful CBMs relate to passenger bus service (2005) and trade (2008) across the LoC; a new visa agreement (2012); visits by pilgrim groups to religious shrines across the border (1974); and a hotline between coast guards (2005).
Yet, there is scope for many more CBMs. Agreements are needed to stabilise and de-conflict the LoC, and establish procedures for local commanders to initiate flag meetings to de-escalate confrontation before it spreads and goes out of hand.
The utility of border CBMs has been established on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China. Since the 1993 “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity”, a calmer LAC has allowed New Delhi and Beijing to move forward in areas like trade.
While there are important differences between the Indo-Pakistan and Sino-Indian borders, New Delhi and Islamabad share a common interest in curtailing troop numbers on the LoC.
Other existing CBMs can be improved functionally. The “Code of Conduct for Treatment of Diplomatic/Consular Personnel in India and Pakistan” is violated in letter and spirit, with diplomats from both countries routinely harassed and curbed. The CBM can be sharpened to allow free travel.
CBMs are needed to facilitate travel by common citizens; cross-border reporting by journalists; access to each other’s newspapers and television channels and films, easing visa restrictions and eliminating the futile requirement for “police reporting”. By encouraging cross-border information flows, prejudices could be whittled away.
(Coming) Part II: Cracking the potential of Indo-Pak trade and commerce