Pakistan-India: Dispute Resolution Still Illusive

The year 2004 for India Pakistan relations has been significant on many counts. It not only pushed ahead normalization of bilateral relations but also provided both the opportunity for candid exchange on conflict areas. Confrontation was gone and dialogue returned. Numerous meetings between top level political leader bureaucrats including important back channel meetings took place. Simultaneously there was tremendous increase in civilian visitors including artists, journalists, politicians, business people and peace activists. All these exchanges contributed to the normalization of Pakistan India relations. In some respects the goodwill generated in 2004 even went beyond the pre Kargil period as the two leaderships actively pre-empted any derailment of the normalization and dialogue process.

The change mid year in the Indian leadership did inject a new dimension to this dialogue process. The Congress leadership at numerous occasions spelt out India’s bottom-line on Kashmir. That Jammu and Kashmir are an integral part of the Indian union, that Kashmiris are Indian citizens and that no redrawing of border is possible, was the Indian position that the Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh himself has conveyed in his Delhi meeting with the Pakistani Prime Minister and during his December 21, 2004 address to the parliament.

In fact the Prime Minister maintained that in his September 24, 2004 meeting with the Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf in New York he had said nothing different on Kashmir. It was therefore this Indian position that prevented India from agreeing on a non passport base travel of Kashmiris on the Srinagar Muzaffarabad rout ruling out any early beginning of the propose Srinagar Muzaffarabad bus service. The Congress leadership has thus killed the illusion that any space exists for negotiation on Kashmir. Although while pursuing a substantive policy which was perhaps no different from that of Congress India’s BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had avoided spelling out India’s bottom line so clearly and regularly. Whatever the Indian government’s compulsion it has clearly, consistently and candidly spelt its position on the conflict that haunts Pakistan India relation.

The many rounds of Pakistan India dialogue at the political, bilateral and back channel level have hardly yielded any forward movement on resolving the various bilateral disputes. On Siachin the talks have stalled with India insisting on authentication of Indian troop presence in the Siachin zone. The Siachin area is a disputed area requiring a negotiated settlement since it falls beyond the area clearly demarcated by NJ9842. Pakistan has however refused to authenticate India’s 1984 occupation of Siachin which violates the 1972 Simla Agreement which specified that "pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation." Pakistan maintains "authentication" would weaken Pakistan’s negotiating position in the final settlement talks on Siachin.

On the Baghliar Dam, which India is constructing in violation of the Indus Water Treaty of 1960, repeated rounds of talks in 2004 have not resulted in any settlement. Delhi has yet to respond to the specific objections Pakistan has raised regarding the design of the Baghliar dam. In fact 2005 has begun with yet another round of Pakistan-India dialogue on Baghliar in Delhi. In a completely deadlocked situation Pakistan has the option to resort to the World Bank for arbitration. Failure to resolve the Baghliar dispute at the bilateral level will again reassert the traditional wisdom in Pakistan that no conflict resolution between Pakistan and India is possible through bilateral negotiations. The Indus Water Treaty followed World Bank mediation. Other agreements including the Karachi Agreement, the Tashkent Agreement, the Simla Agreement, the Lahore Declaration and the January 2004 Islamabad statements have provided frameworks for bilateral negotiations. Tangible progress on resolving outstanding disputes has remained illusive. Most of these framework agreements have followed external cajoling.

A noteworthy illustration of the unproductiveness of Pakistan and India dialogue in trying to resolve disputes is the case of the Jinnah House in Bombay. In 1979 the Indian Foreign Minister Narishma Rao made a commitment to give the Jinnah House, which was then in British possession, to Pakistan. By the early eighties the British and Pakistani governments were negotiating the return of the Jinnah House to Pakistan. Finally after the British government provided an inventory of the in the interior of the Jinnah House to the Pakistan embassy and was about to hand over the key to the Pakistanis the Indian government prevented the hand-over. Instead the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) directed the British government to hand over the key of the Jinnah House to the protocol section of the MEA. The Jinnah House was on Indian territory, the Indians claimed. In the Jinnah House India’s Ministry of Culture has an office. Indians also maintain that because of its proximity to the Chief Minister’s House in Bombay , Pakistan cannot be given the Jinnah House because of security reasons. "The matter is now closed", was the latest Indian statement on the Jinnah House.

India’s position on the Jinnah House conveys the crux of India’s policy towards Pakistan. That possession not resolutions, agreements and commitments will dictate resolution of disputes. Like in the case of Kashmir, Siachin and Baghliar. And ‘possession’ India is willing to retain through all means including use of force. Pakistan’s response to the general reiteration of this Indian position throughout 2004 has been that of continuing engagement while both reiterating its own position and also suggesting new ways of approaching the Kashmir dispute.

India has responded to Pakistan’s rigidity on Kashmir. In such an environment any progress on the conventional and nuclear CBMs proposed by Pakistan is unlikely. In a dispute ridden relationship no progress in the military-security area would either be likely. India continues to rule out engagement with Pakistan on the Strategic Restraint Regime since India maintains its security parameters extend to China and beyond. The validity of this assertion notwithstanding, Pakistan has its own security concerns vis a vis the conventional and nuclear build up of a neighbor with which three wars have been fought. India’s strike corps deployment along Pakistan-India border and 600,000 plus Indian security deployment in disputed Jammu and Kashmir heightens pakistan’s security concerns.

Clearly 2004 has not steered the Pakistan-India dialogue any closer towards dispute resolution. Durable peace between Pakistan-India, in the absence of tangible progress towards dispute resolution, will remain illusive. The only two signs of the likelihood of some positive development taking place are related to Sir Creek and Kashmiri interaction. A joint survey of the disputed Sir Creek area is being undertaken. India has proposed meeting points for Kashmiris on the two sides of the LOC. While details of how many Kashmiris can benefit from this arrangement and what documentation will be required for such meetings has yet to be ascertained , this may bring some respite to a some Kashmiris. Meanwhile between September and December over 85-95 deaths have occurred in Indian Occupied Kashmir including civilians, security forces and Kashmiri fighters.

Given this negligible progress against the backdrop of multiple level interaction between Pakistan and India, the prognosis for 2005 on the dispute settlement front does not appear promising. The framework of strict legality or muscle power are clearly not working. In this relationship of asymmetrical powers, India the more powerful one is unwilling to abide by legality. The smaller power Pakistan, until now is rejecting muscle power as a dispute settler. There are those who argue that expanded goodwill between the two people will create space for examining additional options on Kashmir and other disputes. If anything greater people to people interaction has been accompanied by India’s complete inflexibility on Kashmir. The Indian calculation that a friendlier Pakistan-India population will encourage Pakistan to opt for a face-saving solution, also appears misplaced. In the past despite people to people interaction and ‘external advice’, the disputes between the two nuclear armed neighbors have neither ‘evaporated’ nor have they been settled along a zero-sum formula ensuring complete victory or complete defeat for either. With the induction of the nuclear factor in Pakistan’s security architecture India no longer has the 1971 ‘invade and defeat’ option available to it.

Unless leaderships in both countries recognize that resolutions to bilateral disputes, including Kashmir, will come from the grey zones of accommodation, the road to genuine Pakistan-India cooperation will not be taken. In 2005 the Indian leadership needs to opt for genuine statesmanship over a hegemonic mindset and the Pakistani leadership for more sobriety over verbosity, if any real progress on dispute resolution has to be made.