April 19, 2012
Taj M Khattak
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s acceptance of President Zardari’s invitation to visit Pakistan has not raised many expectations here regarding improvement of relations between the two countries. The reasons for this lack of enthusiasm are fairly obvious: 1. India’s insistence during the last 45 years to restrict all discourse on resolution of outstanding disputes, to a bilateral framework but one that lacks a sense of purpose, has caused stagnation in the whole process of normalisation; 2. Congress’ position in the UPA government in India is the weakest since 1996, when Narsimha Rao lost power; 3.Eeven if Zardari retains presidency till the year’s end, he has nothing to offer except perhaps reciprocate the culinary hospitality.
Bilateralism is enshrined in the UN Charter and there is nothing wrong with it per se. In fact, India and Pakistan are the only countries which have reinforced it further by establishing formal regimes of principles in successive agreements at Tashkent (1966), Simla (1972) and Lahore (1999) for conducting bilateral relations and settlement of disputes when inter-state obligations were already conjoined with the UN charter. But the problem arises when the stronger of the two countries employs it negatively by neither engaging in meaningful negotiations nor agreeing to alternative international mechanisms for conflict resolution between sovereign states. This over-committal in letter has never been matched in spirit to implement the substantive and vast regime of these accords. The most important principle of non-interference in each other’s affairs, stressed repeatedly in the agreements, has seldom been followed.
The 1965 war didn’t end on an unfavourable note for Pakistan. It is therefore surprising that Ayub Khan, with assistance from his brilliant Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, agreed to include the bilateralism clause in the agreement at Tashkent. It is well-known that their parting of ways began at Tashkent, but there is no evidence to suggest that the discord stemmed from this clause, which has since been used by India to gridlock Pakistan in its quest for early resolution of outstanding issues with its eastern neighbour. Was it lack of vision on our part, or would Pakistan have been any better if relations between Ayub and Bhutto were more cordial, have little relevance today. The cynics go a step further in suggesting that Lal Bahadur Shastri actually died out of jubilation for having tied Pakistan in knots for all times to come.
At Simla, India and Pakistan resolved “to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means agreed upon between them.” This has not only been a failure, it has also blocked the way for other efforts in neutral settings with better prospects for eve n handedness and acceptance in the street of any accords reached.
It is true that Bhutto had very few cards in his hand when he arrived in India after Pakistan had lost half the country, but by agreeing to the concept of bilateralism with a country which only a year earlier had violated all international norms and conventions and dismembered Pakistan, he repeated Ayub’s folly of foreclosing all other options to the dictates of an intransigent Indian establishment. If Ayub Khan was out of his depth at Tashkent, Bhutto wasn’t much different at Simla, such being the perpetual deficit in national leadership.
All the three agreements have been formulated around Jammu and Kashmir. While Tashkent and Simla agreements mention it as a core dispute, the Lahore Declaration refers to it as a constituent or one of the disputes needing redress. But Musharaf’s unwise climb to Kargil’s heights or Nawaz Sharif’s dash to Washington are unrelated to the Lahore Declaration. They simply lacked the vision required of their exalted offices, or else they wouldn’t have precipitated a crisis of that magnitude and raised the nuclear spectre as if nuclear weapons were an inventory of mainstream weaponry and not weapons of mutually assured mass destruction to wipe out both populations.
In substance, Indo-Pakistani relations have made little progress towards normalisation within the framework of bilateralism. It has to be said that we too didn’t quite discharge our obligations with respect to Azad Kashmir’s status as stipulated in the August 1948 UNCIP Resolution. The induction of a massive military force in Indian-held Kashmir for years and untold human rights abuses not visible to the UN or powers presenting themselves as defenders of the violated and oppressed, has now turned the once solvable dispute into perpetual and unending agony.
India may have succeeded in dragging on the disputes over decades but it has created more complications to the detriment of people in both countries. Mutual suspicions have accelerated the nuclear race in the region. More dangerously, the deadlock is pushing people in Pakistan towards use of religion as a vehicle for resistance against injustices towards Kashmiri Muslims in and againstIndian domination. The latest evidence of this phenomenon is the emergence of Difa-i-Pakistan Council to add to the already large number of religious outfits which thrive on anti-Indian sentiments; anti-US feelings being a relatively newer phenomenon.
Mixing religion with politics is dangerous everywhere since so much blood has been spilled in its name, but more so in the Indo-Pakistani historical context. The perception that Islam is a proven force of resistance against injustices and attempts at domination by unfriendly states is attracting greater following in the Islamic world, and Pakistan is no exception. In Egypt, for instance, the call to Islam by the Muslim Brotherhood has been used against successive dictatorial regimes for years. These days, it has been turned against Israel quite successfully, thus tearing up the once historic Camp David agreement. The only way to reduce space for religion in politics is to follow far-sighted and intelligent political policies, where people can genuinely hope for justice and a fulfilment of their dreams and aspirations.
If bilateralism isn’t working, there is no harm in resorting to other mechanisms, just as Bangladesh and Myanmar have done, resolving their outstanding dispute over delimitations of the boundaries in the exclusive economic zones and on the continental shelf through arbitration by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Germany. The commission awarded a 110,000-square- kilometres sea stretch in the EEZ and the outer continental shelf to Bangladesh, the immediate impact of which is that the country will now be able to carry out exploration in several potentially promising offshore blocks. It is now intending to follow the same route with India, which will be interesting, since historically, India has not yielded an inch of land or sea to any of its neighbours in its territorial demarcations. The impact of demarcation of Sir Creek on the EEZ and outer continental shelf in terms of area is much less than the Bangladesh-Myanmar dispute over the status of St Martin Island at the mouth of Naaf River.
The MFN status to India and any intentions to follow the India-China trade model is unlikely to help as it will always be relationship without a soul, besides each trade relationship has its own distinct motherboard circuitry. India-China trade has touched the $70 billions mark because it is not weighed down by the historical baggage of the India-Pakistan variety. Global trade is in a state of constant flux. The German Central Bank today has succeeded where the country’s Panzer Division failed in World War II: control of Europe. Will the Indian businessman overwhelm us where New Delhi’s Cold Start Doctrine failed? That is a genuine apprehension, and one hopes not.
We are in an age of strategic alliances where India and Pakistan stand to gain a great deal from fair and mutually beneficent trade with a sharp eye to simultaneously improving the regional environments. A suggested starting point: defrost bilateralism; explore its scope to benefit from its wisdom. Alternatively, disengage from it and examine other international avenues.
The writer is a retired vice admiral. Email: email@example.com