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Method behind Pakistan's peace initiatives
By Ramtanu Maitra

The volley of peace initiatives between New Delhi and Islamabad during October and November has puzzled many political analysts around the world. Two questions are asked most: Are these proposals for real? And why now?

The sequence of events is as follows. The first salvo was actually fired in May, by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee before his three-nation tour of Germany, France and Russia. Vajpayee said that India wanted to start talks with Pakistan "as soon as possible", but also made it clear that for a meaningful dialogue, cross-border terrorism should end and the terror infrastructure be dismantled.

Then, on October 22, Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha offered a 12-point peace package to Pakistan. One of the proposals was the immediate resumption of sporting contacts, namely, cricket. The others are equally practical: more road, rail and ferry connections between the two nuclear-armed states and a bus route between the two halves of disputed Kashmir; fresh talks on air links; cooperation between coastguard forces to reduce unnecessary arrests of fishermen; and more diplomats in each other's capitals.

Without responding to this proposal, one way or the other, a week later, Pakistan made a counter-proposal of 13 items. Soft proposals such as the restoration of sporting ties in all fields, including cricket, were endorsed without any hitch. But changes were sought in the case of some confidence-building measures. For instance, on India's proposal for a Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus link in Kashmir, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz A Khokar told a press conference: "We welcome the start of a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, but since Kashmir is a disputed territory, checkposts in the area must be manned by UN forces and people of both sides must carry UN documents."

On November 23, Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, in his address to the nation on completion of the first year of his government, announced a unilateral ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) between India and Pakistan, beginning with the holy Muslim day of Eid (November 26). Formally, India has welcomed this response, but has, at the same time, urged Pakistan to stop cross-border infiltration to make the ceasefire worthwhile. In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said that the government of India had earlier proposed a ceasefire along the actual ground position line in Siachen in the high altitude northern section of the LoC.

In addition to the ceasefire along the LoC, Jamali also expressed his willingness to start a bus service between Srinagar - the summer capital of the Indian part of J&K - and Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistani part of J&K; to start a ferry service from the Pakistani port of Karachi to the Indian port of Mumbai; to revive air links between the two countries; and to open the Khokhrapar-Munabao railroad route, between the province of Sindh in Pakistan and the Indian state of Rajasthan, which was closed following the 1965 India-Pakistan war. All these proposals, except the ceasefire proposal, were among the 12 peace proposals offered to Pakistan by Sinha on October 22.

Then, on November 24, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf announced that Pakistan would permit the restoration of flights to India and permit Indian airliners to fly over its landmass. Vajpayee reciprocated the gesture on December 1.

Confidence-building measures
Gamesmanship notwithstanding, as of this writing, the ball is still in play. But to attempt to forecast any major outcome from this dizzying give-and-take between New Delhi and Islamabad would be frustrating. There is nothing in the statements of either side that indicates that these measures - one may call these confidence-building measures (CBMs) - will lead in any way to the resolution of the five-decades-old, high-profile Jammu and Kashmir dispute. In fact, the resolution of such an old and historic conflict cannot be brought about through CBMs, but can be achieved only through political processes.

In India, political leaders over the years have somewhat prepared the citizenry to accept the LoC as the international boundary, although New Delhi, in a public forum, would demand the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. In Pakistan, however, no effort has been made to lead the population toward a resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir problem. The attitude expressed by the Pakistani establishment makes it clear that Islamabad cannot settle for anything short of possessing the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. There exists, however, a minority who would accept an independent Jammu and Kashmir, as long as no segment of it is part of India.

For the billion people of India, and particularly those who live in the eastern and southern part of India, Kashmir is a minor issue. But in Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir is a central issue, the bread and butter of the military that has run the country for most of its existence since 1947. No political leader could open his or her mouth while in power on matters concerning Jammu and Kashmir or, for that matter, Afghanistan, without taking formal permission of the army top brass.

Most Pakistanis sincerely believe that India is a mortal threat. They are also convinced that most Indians, particularly those who live in northern and eastern India, have not yet reconciled to the fact that Pakistan is a sovereign nation-state. By engaging itself in two wars and maintaining for most of the period a Pakistan-centric foreign policy, India has further helped to convince Pakistani citizens that it is their army alone which can protect the nation from the aggressive machinations of India.

What triggered the offer?
But there are interesting developments in the region that help account for Jamali's offer of a ceasefire, and that may ultimately create a real basis for ending the India-Pakistan standoff. As long as the Cold War had divvied up the world into "us" and "them", and Pakistan was part of "us" (a group of anti-communist Western allies) and India was part of "them", Pakistan was not doing too badly - politically or financially, at least on the surface. At that time there was less poverty in Pakistan than in India. At the same time, the good grace of the Western allies, the high-quality education of a small elite, a highly-competent bureaucracy and army and a smaller population base, made Pakistan a somewhat stable nation. Pakistan could be confident that it would be looked after by the allies, and that it would be left to handle its relationship with India as it wished.

But those days are long gone. Pakistan is now under attack from umpteen nations for harboring anti-West terrorists and spreading a dangerous form of religious fundamentalism. On December 5, a special United Nations team arrived in Pakistan to hold negotiations on putting sanctions on companies that have links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, press agencies reported. A seven-member UN committee met Pakistan Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat to discuss detecting and sanctioning companies linked to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Pakistan's exuberant participation in the proxy war on behalf of the Americans against the Soviet army in Afghanistan during the 1980s brought endless bounty, and also a basket full of problems. The bounty vanished within a decade, creating more problems, which continue to grow bigger and bigger. The bounty that came in the form of cash and weapons for a short period of time did little to help most Pakistanis. Instead, problems came in the form of a regular supply of drugs and lawlessness and the nurturing of a highly-potent armed mercenary wearing religious garb.

Pakistan's financial situation took a headlong dive in the 1990s. The trade imbalance, foreign debt and lack of real economic growth made it a dangerous nation. Anyone who followed then US president Bill Clinton's whistle-stop visit to Pakistan in 1999 will recall how insecure Washington thought Pakistan was at the time. The events of September 11, however, changed that situation. Washington, now eager to get Islamabad's help to eliminate al-Qaeda and the Taliban, pardoned some of its debt, put some money into Pakistan's bankrupt financial system and urged the International Monetary Fund-World Bank and countries such as Japan to put some cash into Pakistan.

Writing in Dawn newspaper on April 29, 2002, Irfan Shahzad said: "Pakistan was able to get [in the post-September 11 days] an impressive re-profiling of its entire bilateral debt, amounting to over $12 billion in December for a long duration of 38 years and with 16 years as grace period. No doubt it was a huge breathing space ... The following statistics give us a true picture. Pakistan owes a massive $38 billion to the developed world, the IFIs [International Financial Institutions] and commercial banks, and the people of Pakistan have only one thing on the mind: complete debt write-off ... "

Pakistan is getting poorer economically and depending increasingly on hand-outs. Illiteracy, never low, is growing rapidly. The middle class, having first handed over responsibility of the nation to the army, has now found it is even more difficult to fight the religious fundamentalists: although a small minority, they are highly volatile.

A different India
India, on the other hand, has gotten out of most of its lethargy and has taken advantage of the post-Cold War environment. With large and capable manpower reserves, India is now economically a power to reckon with in Asia. Militarily, it has moved way ahead of Pakistan, and there is no doubt that in the coming days the gap will grow faster than ever. Almost all Western nations and others are eager to sell military hardware to New Delhi, while a few are in the process of joint research and development ventures to manufacture high-technology military hardware to sell to third parties. In May, 2001, US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage was in New Delhi offering collaboration to India on the US-planned national missile defense.

It was reported on November 24 that India and US are set to sign a breakthrough agreement on sharing classified military research data. The Master Information Exchange Agreement will mark the beginning of a new phase that would be far-reaching in bilateral defense relations, officials involved in negotiations said.

More important, perhaps, is the fact that Indian military and technology development did not occur in a vacuum. Although many large problems remain unsolved, India is seemingly confident. The economy is growing almost as fast as China's. Relations with other Asian countries are improving. India could scarcely contain its delight when the US classified Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian mafia chief, as a terrorist. Islamabad denies that he lives in Pakistan, but the US Treasury Department has published his Pakistan passport number and a home telephone number in Karachi - although he has not been seen in that city for some time.

India's new regional outlook
India has sent out an even more powerful message, that it is now ready to widen its economic ties beyond the West and its immediate neighborhood. Its economic ties with Sri Lanka and Thailand are growing. The Indo-Sri Lanka free trade area has given a fillip to mutual trade. The more recent Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement spanning trade, services and foreign direct investment will advance this further. A land bridge has been proposed across the 21-kilometer Palk Straits separating the Indian sub-continent from Sri Lanka. This could also carry transmission lines to hook up Sri Lanka to India's Southern Region Electricity Grid, with the Koodankulam nuclear power plant cluster serving as a base load station, Indian energy expert B G Verghese pointed out recently.

India already has an agreement with Thailand and Myanmar to build a Dawei (Tavoy)-Kanchanaburi road link for ocean-cum-overland inter-modal transit from Indian ports. There is now a new Indo-Thai agreement to link the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand with an oil/gas pipeline, and to link Port Blair of the Nicobar Islands with Phuket in Thailand in a tourist circuit. Vajpayee told the leaders of Vietnam recently that he will be working toward connecting New Delhi to Hanoi by railroad. These initiatives could mark the beginning of the ASEAN-plus-three (China, Japan, South Korea) - plus-one (India) vision of a larger Asian community.

All these developments underline the strategic importance of India's island territories, more particularly the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which command the Malacca Straits and the sea lanes that carry vast quantities of Gulf oil to Pacific destinations. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands place India in close proximity to the 10 ASEAN countries.

But India has also gone beyond its "Look East" policy. It has added a "Look North" element by concluding the India-China agreement on Sikkim-Tibet trade, and by establishing the North-South Corridor from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Russia. Now, both Sinha and Vajpayee have promised to link up the North-South corridor with Afghanistan, through Iran, and Tajikistan, through Afghanistan.

Vajpayee, the first-ever Indian prime minister to visit Tajikistan, visited Dushanbe in November to sign bilateral agreements on establishing a joint anti-terrorism group and an Indian military presence at Tajikistan's Ayni air base, which Indian engineers are developing. The Indian military presence in Tajikistan will consist of Indian infantry together with Indian Air Force combat aircraft. Tajikistan is agreeable to providing India a useful foothold in the region, from which it can protect its energy interests and project its influence further into Central Asia.

India, long a backer of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, has aggressively developed a huge presence in that country. Since the summer of 2002, according to noted Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid, India has provided civilian airplanes, buses and hospital equipment and promised to equip and train the new national army. It has opened consulates in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north and Kandahar and Jalalabad close to the Pakistan border.

For years, the military leaders of Pakistan, with the help of many Western Cold War warriors, had convinced themselves and their population that India was a disintegrating nation. By bleeding India in the state of Jammu and Kashmir through encouraging insurgency, the disintegration of India would be assured, they calculated, and Pakistan would not have to live with a strong and large adversary along its eastern borders. Meanwhile, the military expenditure of the Pakistan army to keep up with Indian military growth ballooned Pakistan's foreign debts, and Islamabad became the whipping boy of the IMF-World Bank duo in the 1990s.

Even the post-Cold War economic and strategic initiatives of India did not create sufficient incentive for Pakistan's military leaders to take a second look at their India policy. What perhaps did the trick, or started a process of re-thinking in Islamabad, has been the steady improvement of India-China relations.

The China factor
Pakistan, a very close ally of China, used to indulge itself with the illusion, also held by many like-minded Western and Eastern geopoliticians, that India and China could at no level develop a friendly economic and security relationship. Their China-India border dispute - a legacy of the British Raj - that was seriously exacerbated by the 1962 India-China border clash, was not resolvable, the argument went.

India and China would remain mortal enemies, Pakistani military leaders believed, and as long as Pakistan maintained close, friendly relations with Beijing, India would remain unsure and constrained. Now this, too, has changed. Following the Indian prime minister's historic visit to China in June, both New Delhi and Beijing have put much importance on resolving the border dispute. The two sides appointed special representatives - National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra on the Indian side, and Senior Vice Minister Dai Bingguo on the Chinese side - with the explicit mandate to negotiate the framework of a boundary settlement from a political perspective. They have already met once, in October. If there is any need for more evidence that both are ready to resolve the border issues, one has only to listen to what Sinha said at a public gathering in New Delhi on November 22.

Sinha told the gathering that New Delhi and Beijing must attempt to resolve all outstanding bilateral disputes "without postponing the tough decisions for the next generation". In addition, in his address to the combined conference of the Indian military commanders on November 1, Vajpayee said resolution of the boundary problem with China would release India's "military and financial resources" and was therefore a "strategic objective". And in achieving this objective, Vajpayee suggested, India must be prepared to take pragmatic decisions - a euphemism for big concessions on territorial claims of the past.

It has become evident to the Pakistani military leaders that India is no longer an inward-looking nation fearful of disintegration, but is confidently ready to deal with China on the thorniest issues and, at the same time, preparing the population to make concessions to settle the vexatious border dispute. These developments, and the bleak future that stares Islamabad in the face, perhaps explain the new olive branch that premier Jamali has held up.

(Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
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