And Pakistan To Pursue Composite Dialogue
By Keith Jones
30 January 2004
governments of India and Pakistan announced Tuesday that they will commence
the process of a composite dialogue by holding talks
in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for three days beginning February
arises from decisions taken earlier this month at meetings between Indian
and Pakistani officials held on the sidelines of the South Asian Association
for Regional Conference (SAARC) summit. On January 6, the day after
an hour-long encounter between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
and Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf, the foreign ministers
of India and Pakistan released a joint statement that pledged South
Asias rival nuclear powers will hold comprehensive, bilateral
Musharraf has termed
that agreement historic, an assessment echoed by US Secretary
of State Colin Powell.
This is transparent
Since late November
Pakistani and Indian military forces have adhered to a general ceasefire
covering both the internationally-recognized border and the disputed
territory of Kashmir. Islamabad and New Delhi have also taken various
steps to facilitate cross-border travel and trade. Now the two governments
are to begin negotiations with a view to settling their respective territorial
claims and fostering increased economic and cultural ties. This, however,
is far from the first time that India and Pakistan have proclaimed a
new beginning to their relationship. To deal only with the most recent
history, bilateral talks at the highest level collapsed in mutual recriminations
in 1999 and again in the summer of 2001.
The principals in
the coming negotiations, Musharraf and Vajpayee, are themselves identified
with the most chauvinist and belligerent elements in their respective
countries. Vajpayees Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)the principal
component of Indias National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition
governmentis a Hindu supremacist party that has long maligned
Indias Muslim minority as pro-Pakistani and repeatedly accused
its political rivals of appeasing Islamabad. A key reason for Musharrafs
October 1999 coup was his belief that the then Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif
had caved in to US pressure by ordering Pakistans armed forces
to unilaterally cease an incursion into the Kargil region of Kashmir.
rivalry between India and Pakistan dates back to their birth in the
1947 communal partition of the subcontinent. It has been perpetuated
by their respective ruling classes as a means of channelling social
tensions in a reactionary direction and combating the growth of a politically
independent working class movement. Any comprehensive settlement would
invariably encounter strong resistance from elements in the Indian and
Pakistani economic and political elitenot least the militarywhose
interests are bound up with a continued state of belligerence.
Behind the Indo-Pakistani rapprochement
This is not to say
that Vajpayee and Musharraf are not serious, even anxious, to restructure
the Indo-Pakistani relationship. Powerful elements in Indias and
Pakistans political and business elites have concluded that the
policy of brinkmanship, which in 1999 and even more menacingly in 2001-02
brought India and Pakistan to the verge of all-out war and a possible
nuclear exchange, has produced ever-diminishing geo-political returns.
Both Vajpayee and
Musharraf have invested considerable political capital in effecting
The BJP-led NDA
has signalled it intends to make its pursuit of peace with
Pakistan a centrepiece of its coming re-election campaign. (Ironically,
the NDA won its current majority in 1999 in a campaign that highlighted
its decision to proclaim India a nuclear-armed state and its victory
over Pakistan in the Kargil confrontation.) No sooner had Vajpayee returned
from the SAARC summit, than the leaders of the BJP and then the NDA
decided to advance the elections for the 14th Lok Sabha (Indias
lower house of parliament) from this fall to the early spring.
Musharraf, for his
part, has vowed to pursue negotiations with India even at the risk of
further assassination attempts. In his maiden presidential speech to
Pakistans National Assembly, Musharraf declared that internal
extremistsi.e. the Islamic fundamentalist militias long
patronized by the Pakistans military-security apparatusnot
India, now constitute the greatest threat to the state.
not least among them pressure from the US, lie behind the shift of important
sections of the Indian and Pakistan ruling classes toward rapprochement.
Fearful of Indias
emergence as a major destination for international investment and its
growing geo-political partnership with Washington, many in Pakistans
business and political elite argue it is better to seek a deal with
New Delhi now, when Pakistan remains a valued ally of the Bush administration
in its war on terrorism, than to risk having to deal with
a stronger India in the future. Moreover, many share Musharrafs
view that the militarys promotion of Islamic fundamentalist extremists
in Afghanistan and Kashmir has redounded against their interests, bringing
Islamabad into conflict with Washington after September 11, 2001 and
fuelling increasing sectarian strife within Pakistan itself. Exclaimed
a top government official after the second of last months two
assassination attempts on Musharraf, Theyve done the ultimate.
[The pro-Kashmir groups] have turned their guns against us.
meanwhile has, been sharply critical of the BJP governments costly,
failed attempt to extract concessions from Islamabad by mobilizing the
army in attack formation on the Pakistani border for ten months in 2001-02.
Increasingly it is of the view that it can secure its claim to great
power status by coupling a massive expansion in Indias armed forces
with a strategy of economic partnership with the six other South Asian
states. A key decision of the SAARC summit, and one which figured in
New Delhis readiness to enter into a dialogue with Islamabad,
was the finalizing of plans to create, over a 10 year-period beginning
in 2006, a South Asian free trade zone. A former Pakistani Foreign Secretary,
Dr. Tanwir Ahmed Khan, commented: It looks to me that India is
giving up its hegemonic designs over small neighbours and now wants
to establish its economic domination in the region.
As for the Bush
administration, it views developments in South Asia from the standpoint
of its goal of securing the unchallenged military and economic dominance
of the US in the 21st century. It is anxious to partner with India both
because of its economic potentialWall Street increasingly refers
to it as the future office of the worldand because
its can serve as a geo-political and military counterweight to China.
Indeed, only a few days after the breakthrough in Indian-Pakistani
relations at the SAARC summit, Bush announced what he termed the next
steps in strategic partnership between India and US. These include
greater cooperation in non-military nuclear activities and space exploration,
an invitation to India to collaborate on missile defence, and a resumption
of high technology trade.
At the same time,
the US views Pakistan as pivotal to its occupation of Afghanistan, future
ambitions elsewhere in oil-rich Central Asia, and its struggle against
al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups.
During the Cold
War, the US fanned the Indo-Pakistani conflict, so as to secure Pakistan
as an anti-Soviet ally. (In fact it was at the USs behest that
the Pakistan military-security establishment began its quarter-century
involvement in promoting Islamic fundamentalist jihadis in Afghanistan.)
Now, however, Washington wants to bring about a settlement between its
traditional ally (Pakistan) and its new Indian ally, so as to secure
its predatory interests and ambitions across Asia.
This process, however,
risks embroiling Washington in myriad problems.
close ties with the US, for example, are making him a target for mounting
popular opposition, not least because US-inspired IMF restructuring
has spelt increasing economic hardship for Pakistans impoverished
masses. India, meanwhile, remains sensitive to any suggestion that the
US will play the role of mediator in its negotiations with Pakistan.
For this reason,
US officials have tended to downplay Washingtons involvement in
the recent Indo-Pakistan rapprochement. However, in a post-SAARC summit
interview, Colin Powell boasted to US News and World Report about the
USs role: We have been working with the Indians and Pakistanis
for almost two years, from a period of Were going to nuclear
war this weekend to, you know, this is a historic change. And
so I think a lot of the seeds that were planted are now germinating
and youll (see) us harvesting crops.
prompted a curt Indian response. The US has repeatedly offered
to promote India-Pakistan dialogue, said an External Affairs spokesman.
However, on India-Pakistan bilateral issues there has been no
scope for any third party role and it is not likely to be there in future
A tenuous process
The fractious character
of Indo-Pakistani relations is underscored by the January 6 joint statement.
Although only six paragraphs or 153 words long, the statements
composition was a laborious exercise, involving six meetings between
senior Indian and Pakistani officials. At one point it appeared that
the statement and with it the plan for a resumption of comprehensive
negotiations would founder over Indias demand that Pakistan pledge
not to allow its territory to be used to stage terrorism.
In the end, Pakistan relented, implicitly dropping its claim that the
anti-Indian Kashmiri insurgents are freedom fighters, not terrorists.
In return, Pakistan argues that it won Indias first-ever acknowledgment
that the status of Jammu and Kashmir, a princely state incorporated
into the India Union in 1947 and the only Indian state with a Muslim
majority, is a legitimate topic for bilateral negotiations between India
and Pakistan. Hitherto, India had insisted the Kashmir question was
wholly an internal Indian matter.
The January 6 agreement
left the timing, place and subject of the negotiations to be determined.
Only after considerable wrangling was this weeks agreement reached.
Conforming to the pattern established at least since Pakistan announced
a unilateral ceasefire to begin November 26, it was Islamabad that pressed
for the negotiations to proceed quickly. India, meanwhile, continues
to argue that meaningful negotiations will not succeed unless preceded
by a long process of confidence building measures. While
India justifies this by claiming that haste could cause the negotiations
to collapse, there is no question its attitude reflects its perception
that Pakistan is the weaker party.
wanted to involve political appointees in the negotiations from the
start, New Delhi wanted to limit at least the first round of talks to
just lower level officials. Ultimately it was agreed that the lower
level officials would meet for two days. The countries Foreign
Secretaries will join the talks on the third day.
Even more tellingly,
next months negotiations will do no more than discuss the agenda
for future talks. According to Amrit Baruah of the Chennai-based Hindu,
High-placed Government sources made it clear to this correspondent
that it was not as if the composite dialogue was commencingbut
the process of discussing the exact subjects that should
be discussed as per the composite dialogue.
The staging of elections
in India and formation of a new government means it is unlikely truly
substantive negotiations with Pakistan will be feasible before June.