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Old Wednesday, January 11, 2006
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Pak-India dialogue:
A qualitative change

Shireen M Mazari

The third round of the composite dialogue between Pakistan and India begins later this month with the foreign secretary-level talks in New Delhi on January 17-18. The atmospherics, that had sustained the 'feel-good' milieu despite no substantive movement on any conflictual issue, have finally altered to reflect a more realistic situation on the ground. Despite Pakistan's continuing concessionary initiatives on Kashmir and other issue areas, India has totally vitiated the atmosphere by holding forth on Balochistan and expressing its 'concern' over what it refers to as the spiralling violence and 'heavy military action'. Even though Pakistan objected to this unwarranted meddling in the country's internal affairs, the Indians continued with their tirades.

Why should we be surprised at this Indian effort to interfere in Balochistan? After all, many of us have been pointing to the fact that India will use its access in Afghanistan to conduct Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) within Pakistan simply to keep Pakistan under pressure. After all, we saw something similar happening when India opened its consulate in Zahidan, Iran and eventually the proof was so overwhelming that Pakistan had to approach the Iranian government. Regardless of the efficacy or otherwise of the present Pakistani government's actions in Balochistan to deal with the terrorist threat, the fact of the matter is that there is abundant money coming from some quarters which is allowing terrorists to purchase sophisticated weapons. Now Iran, with its own sensitivities on its side of Balochistan will hardly want to aid instability so close to its borders at a time when it is already facing other international crises. But the US would like to see Balochistan remain undeveloped so that Iran is not given any access to the East -- all part of its efforts to isolate Iran. And India has never missed an opportunity to try and keep Pakistan bleeding. So there is logic in President Musharraf's accusation that there were strong indications of Indian financial involvement in Balochistan.

But it is not just Indian statements on Balochistan that have vitiated the atmospherics between Pakistan and India. It is also India's continuously negative responses to Pakistani initiatives on Kashmir that have finally altered the atmospherics on the bilateral dialogue. With both Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership, including Mir Waiz and the APHC, seeking demilitarisation as a major CBM, India has revealed its rigidity on the Kashmir issue by not only rejecting such proposals but also declaring that demilitarisation or redeployment of forces in Indian-Occupied Kashmir was a 'sovereign' decision of New Delhi. In other words, that IOK was Indian territory. Clearly India has not moved an iota since the dialogue commenced on Kashmir despite a continuous flow of suggested concessions from Pakistan! Of course, demilitarisation of Kashmir has been a part of UN resolutions on the conflict also, so Pakistan does not have to give any quid pro quos when it demands the same.

Unfortunately, our somewhat confused Foreign Minister, seems so eager to please what he seems to regards as his Indian constituency that following India's blatant snub of President Musharraf's demilitarisation proposal, he followed up by suggesting that Pakistan was willing to remove its deployed forces from AJK. He then added that Pakistan "also wants the entire region to be demilitarised by both Pakistan and India". So he has either inadvertently, or deliberately, not linked Pakistani demilitarisation with a simultaneous move by India. Instead, he has said that additionally -- the word 'also' is what he used -- Pakistan would like both itself and India to demilitarise the 'entire region'. One really shudders to think how he envisages the composition of this 'entire region!' Words are critical in diplomacy but we are still not careful in how we use them.

Coming back to the dialogue process, now that the false 'feel-good' atmospherics are over, Pakistan needs to take a good hard look at what has been achieved so far in the two years that are now nearing completion, since the dialogue began.

On Kashmir, India has reasserted its old line of IOK being an integral part of the Indian Union and all that India seems to be seeking is to gain access to freer movement of people and goods across the LoC so that this becomes the de facto international border.

On Siachin, the Indians want to rewrite the agreement that both sides had almost signed in the late eighties, so that the line from where they would withdraw is demarcated. Effectively this would mean that their territorial claim to that area would be bolstered since demarcation of a withdrawal line implies ownership over it in the first place.

* On the water dispute, India's unrelenting rigidity on Baglihar and Kishanganga has meant that Pakistan will have to persist in seeking international arbitration.

* On Sir Creek also India has failed to budge in order to get an agreement.

So what has happened as a result of the dialogue? More trade opportunities for India and greater access for Indian politicians into Pakistan. A far more insidious development has been the linkages moving apace between Pakistan's Punjab and Indian Punjab. It was strange to hear a call from US Senator Dan Burton asking Pakistan and India to resolve the Khalistan issue. What has Pakistan to do with this issue unless Mr Burton is seeking support for the notion of Greater Punjab? Could this be a new can of worms opening for Pakistan? With Punjabi political leaders gracing Indian Punjab's calendars and with road development from Wagah to Indian sacred sites in Pakistan in full swing what is happening between the two Punjabs?

One additional factor that also needs to be brought into the calculations is the US role now that India and the US are strategic partners and nuclear allies. Judging by the rather worn-out rhetoric and advice of American scholars visiting Pakistan in recent times, the US would like to push Pakistan not only into accepting the Indian position on conflictual issues but also into accepting greater curbs over its nuclear programme and ideally they would like to see open acrimony between Pakistan and Iran. One way is to go along with Indian covert efforts at LIC in Balochistan even though the end game for the two may be different at the strategic level.

Under these circumstances, while breaking off the dialogue would serve no purpose, going into it in a more realistic fashion is certainly the need of the hour. Now that the atmospherics are not clouding the ground realities, Pakistan needs to realise that for two years its peace overtures and initiatives have all been repudiated by an unrelentingly obdurate India. So now we should wait for India to make the next move. Unilateral concessions never work and they have not done so for Pakistan. It is time to alter our game plan as we go in for the third round of the Pakistan-India dialogue process.

The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad

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