Region: India and Pakistan: Blow Hot Blow Cold


Rana Ganguly

Relations between India and Pakistan hit an all-time 'low' in 1999 when the Pakistani army surreptitiously engaged in its Kargil misadventure while the then Indian premier, A B Vajpayee was on a goodwill visit to Pakistan at the invitation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Since then the two countries have tried to inch closer together through a series of confidence building measures, which have in recent times indicated a positive turn in relations. A joint Indo-Pak diaspora communities' rally in Washington on 15 August 2005 to celebrate the Independence days of both countries included appeals to the home countries for peace. However, talks between the Heads of the two governments again ran into a stalemate during the recent UN General Assembly sessions in New York.

Resumption of train and bus services, relaxed visa conditions, people-to-people contacts, cricket matches, trade delegations and reciprocal visits by parliamentarians and intellectuals helped foster a better understanding of each other and the fact that the two peoples had more in common than they realized. Notwithstanding Kashmir, a long standing bone of contention and the reason for three wars, there was a groundswell of support towards peace and normalization of relations, as demonstrated also by the media reactions in both countries. Kashmir still had to be resolved but this could wait so as to ensure that the two countries moved towards a solution slowly but surely. India accorded Pakistan the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status in trade and the two countries proceeded meaningfully together to draw blueprints of oil pipelines into Indian territory through Pakistan from Iran and Central Asia - a mutually beneficial association with obvious economic gains.

However, over the last few months the whole process seems to have decelerated disturbing optimists on both sides. During Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's earlier visit to the US this year, the Bush administration acknowledged India as a responsible power and approved the sale of US nuclear technology to India for 'civilian' purposes. Political analysts attribute this measure to the US Government's according priority to enlisting India in its 'war on terrorism,' and cultivating India as a counterbalance to China. The Pakistani establishment, which has always used India as a benchmark for comparisons, felt betrayed and neglected while India, which has always geared its nuclear weapons and missiles program to meet Chinese rather than Pakistani threat, was elated at these developments. The US, however, cannot be entirely blamed for Pakistan feeling a bit sidelined. Pakistan's complicity in the regional proliferation of nuclear technology, as demonstrated by the A Q Khan affair, has hurt its credibility beyond repair. Although each of the two countries had agreed to provide to the other pre-notification of missile tests, Pakistan tested its first nuclear-capable, 500 km-range cruise missile, Babur, on 11 August 2005. It did not notify India and presented a minor technicality to defend this breach - that this was an air-breathing missile and thus a different class of weapon from ballistic missiles.

Pakistan's frustrations are understandable. At the moment, Pakistan seems a nation in crisis and under siege from within and without. The recent London bombings confirmed suspicions in the West that Pakistan is, and has been for quite sometime, the hub of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. It is being watched like a hawk by Western intelligence agencies and media. These agencies point to the following facts and suspicions: US$100,000 sent out to the hijackers to cover expenses involved in September 11 bombings in the US was remitted from Pakistan; the British-born Shaikh Omar, the kingpin in the Daniel Pearl murder case and many other terrorist activities, was aided an abetted by Pakistani Security agencies (read ISI). The same Shaikh Omar, although captured earlier in India, had to be freed by Indian security forces in order to secure the release of the Indian Airlines aircraft and passengers hijacked in Kathmandu and later flown to Kabul during the Taliban regime. Indian intelligence agencies claim to have presented proof of ISI involvement in planning and supporting the terrorists in implementing the hijacking; Osama bin Laden received his dialysis somewhere in Pakistan (and probably continues to do so) even after the US and its allies supposedly defeated the combined forces of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan; international terrorists like Brigitte, Amrozi and recruits to the terrorist cause like David Hicks were all trained in Pakistan. Almost all the London bombers, though British born, had Pakistani connections and received terrorist training during visits and stays in Pakistan. Pakistan still continues to be the base for launching terrorist attacks into Afghanistan and India despite President Musharraf's claim to the contrary. India accuses Pakistani anti-terrorism efforts of being merely 'tokenist' and claims that the terrorist infrastructure has been anything but dismantled.

India has been quite restrained in its response to previous provocations including Kargil, the attacks on the Kashmir Legislative assembly and the Indian Parliament, each of which had the potential to snowball into a nuclear conflict in a region that the world recognises as the potential nuclear flashpoint. Regardless, it now appears to be reluctant to engage in the peace process with Pakistan until and unless incursions along the line of control in Kashmir come to a complete halt. While Pakistan faces some real danger of Balkanisation due to separatist developments in Balochistan and Sindh, the Indian establishment is reluctant to stoke that fire as it realises that a unified democratic Pakistan with whom it can do business is more important to the security of its own borders than a cluster of feuding impoverished nations that would be sitting ducks for takeover by fundamentalist regimes and a constant threat. However, at the moment both parties appear to be groping in the dark for a new, positive and mutually beneficial move that can provide a fillip to the peace process.

WATCHPOINT: Both India and Pakistan need to celebrate the positive developments and find more such meaningful milestones to sustain the peace process since the Kashmir imbroglio will take much longer to resolve.


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