Rao and Salman Bashir, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan.
and Pakistan Strive for Confidence Building
DELHI (IDN) – The arch rivals India and Pakistan have found a mantra
allowing both nations to progress in terms of friendly and nuclear
confidence building measures and stabilise bilateral relations.
Though the June 23-24 round of talks between Nirupama Rao and Salman
Bashir, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan respectively, did
not grab all the headlines, it was notable in that the former
single-minded approach to discuss terrorism was modified. This helped
focus on the progress achieved by both sides in getting on with the
Consequently, a noteworthy achievement of the meeting in Islamabad
between Rao and Bashir was to stabilise confidence-building measures (CBMs)
on all the three tracks – peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, and
friendly exchanges. Most particularly, they concentrated on measures to
minimise the nuclear threat and reviewed the existing situation.
This cleared the decks for expert-level groups of the two countries to
consider further nuclear confidence-building measure before their
foreign ministers meet in July.
Nuclear confidence-building measures appear to be remote achievements,
and may not create the kind of buzz that people-to-people initiatives
can give rise to. Yet, the importance of these cannot be overstated,
especially at a time when the danger of Pakistan's nuclear weapons
falling into the wrong hands is more real than at any time before.
Today, threat of a nuclear breakdown in Pakistan – a global disaster
scenario intensified after the jihadi attack on Pakistani's naval
facilities in Mehran – will affect India the most. It confirmed that
the country's armed forces have been infiltrated by terrorists and their
accomplices; that jihadis are embedded in sensitive establishments of
the army; and, that the presence of U.S. and Chinese personnel does not
intimidate the nexus between jihadis and their partners in uniform.
Worse could yet come, such as the operationalisation of the Islamist
terror network in the Pakistani armed forces that could lead to the
breakdown of the command-and-control structure of a military facility in
the hands of non-state actors.
Alongside this alarming scenario is the existence of short-range
missiles used as artillery with conventional warheads under the charge
of local battlefield commanders in both India and Pakistan. Such
improvised artillery can undermine deterrence at lower levels.
Unlike nuclear weapons systems, whose use must be pre-authorised, the
short-range missiles can be used as battlefield weapons under the orders
of inexperienced field commanders, which carries the danger of
accidental and inappropriate deployment. In the case of Pakistan, the
jihadi links of officers have increased fears of a mischievous use of
It is against this backdrop that the latest nuclear confidence-building
measures have to be viewed as a stabilising force for enhanced security,
and safety of nuclear facilities. Former Foreign Secretary Lalit
Mansingh, who has been pushing for prioritising the nuclear dialogue,
considers these measures to be the most purposeful result of the recent
talks. "Nuclear confidence-building has been the centrepiece of
India-Pakistan Track II processes, and are an issue on which both sides
have progressed remarkably well," says Mansingh.
Even so, India had to be "extremely cautious" about pursuing
these goals. Post-Abbottabad, it is not only anti-American sentiments
that run deep in Pakistan: India, to many Pakistanis, is still perceived
to be a greater threat to Pakistan than Al Qaeda or the Taliban,
clouding the atmosphere for the civilian government's talks with India.
In the circumstances, Indian postures, language and tone assume greater
importance than the content at issue.
On balance, the civilian government in Islamabad has acquitted itself
extremely well and given New Delhi the satisfaction of plain-speaking,
consolidating the gains since the February talks in Thimpu between the
home, defence and commerce secretaries, and the cricket match meeting
between the two prime ministers that followed in Mohali in March. India
and Pakistan seem to be moving forward in areas which promise real
progress "without being held hostage to India’s core issue of
terrorism or Pakistan's core concern of Kashmir. This is no mean
achievement," notes Mansingh.
The talks were held in a pleasant atmosphere and went off well, a marked
improvement for bilateral relations. Fresh ideas for further
confidence-building measures were proposed such as the removal of
"unacceptable visa restrictions" like single-entry,
single-city-only permits, can go a long way in transforming
people-to-people relations favourably.
In addition to the visa regime, the changes proposed over the meeting
include: the agreement to prevent 'situations' at sea such as the recent
“brush” between the warships of India and Pakistan in the Gulf of
Aden, more cross-Line Of Control exchanges, a greater frequency of
Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus services, a new Kargil-Skardu bus service,
increasing trading days from two to four per week and trading posts –
there are currently only two,
Chakan-da-Bagh in the Poonch district of Jammu, and Salamabad in the
Baramulla district of the Kashmir valley – and more points of
people-to-people and institutional interactions, are all good signs.
Thankfully, Rao did not focus single-mindedly on terrorism – it would
only have blocked progress on other tracks. This realisation, perhaps,
restrained Bashir from also pressing Pakistan’s predictable
obstructive line on Kashmir.
If these talks signify a resolve not to let the problem of "core
issues" preclude New Delhi and Islamabad from proceeding with
achievable outcomes on other diplomatic tracks, then surely history will
show that this June meeting may the turning point in the
| Analysis That Matters]
Ramachandaran is a veteran journalist specializing in foreign
affairs and geopolitics. This analysis first appeared on http://www.gatewayhouse.in
– website of Indian Council on Global Relations. The writer is a
former Editor of Sunday Mail and has worked with leading newspapers in
India and abroad. He was Senior Editor and Writer with China Daily and
Global Times in Beijing. For nearly 20 years before that he was a senior
editor with The Times of India and The Tribune. Besides commentaries on
foreign affairs and politics, he has written books, monographs, reports
and papers. He is co-editor of the book State of Nepal.