The high road to peace

Published : Sep 09, 2005 00:00 IST

A Border Security Force jawan watching the Attari-bound Samjhauta Express crossing the `zero area' of the India-Pakistan border. The train service was resumed after a gap of two years on January 15, 2004. -

A Border Security Force jawan watching the Attari-bound Samjhauta Express crossing the `zero area' of the India-Pakistan border. The train service was resumed after a gap of two years on January 15, 2004. -

The time has come for India to take extraordinarily bold and generous unilateral steps to break the present stagnation in the peace process with Pakistan. Huge dividends await India if it announces visa relaxations and dismantles trade and investment barriers without waiting for reciprocal measures.

BESIDES the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in Sri Lanka and the muscle-flexing by right-wing Islamic fanatics in Bangladesh, the current stagnation in the India-Pakistan dialogue process is Asia's most worrisome recent development. The stagnation carries with it an extremely high risk - of the peace process grinding to a halt and the biggest gains made in 58 years towards India-Pakistan reconciliation being lost. Neither India nor Pakistan can afford such drift.

Yet, slowly, but surely, a discordant note is creeping into their bilateral exchanges. Take Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Independence Day address in which he said that Pakistan's effort in checking terrorism is "half-hearted" and falls short of dismantling "the entire infrastructure of terrorism". The Pakistan Foreign Office flatly dismissed these charges as "fabricated and false".

This exchange followed painfully slow progress in recent talks on military and nuclear confidence-building measures, and an inconclusive dialogue on water-sharing and cultural exchanges. Pakistan and India failed to agree to normal exchanges between military personnel barring monthly flag-meetings along the Line of Control (LoC). Nor did they agree to hold seminars attended by military personnel. They also did not translate into concrete agreements earlier understandings to hold film festivals, establish contacts between the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and the Pakistan National Council of Arts, permit pilgrims' visits to more religious shrines, and stop the illicit trade in archaeological artefacts.

On nuclear and missile-related confidence-building measures (CBMs), the two governments made no significant advance over arrangements already agreed, such as pre-notification of missile test-flights. But the biggest setback was the test-flight of Pakistan's new cruise missile, the Babur, and resumption of sabre-rattling through the media by the two military (although not the political) establishments. The Babur was a tit-for-tat response to India's BrahMos cruise missile, developed jointly with Russia.

Cruise missiles have introduced a new, uncertain and dangerous variable in the India-Pakistan strategic balance. They fly low, follow the terrain, have small engines and escape radar or infra-red detection. They are usually more accurate than ballistic missiles. That is why they can be more destabilising.

Following the Babur test, Pakistan and India made boastful claims about their missile prowess, just as they had done in respect of their nuclear blasts in 1998. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf called the Babur a "major milestone": "Our scientists and engineers have once again done the nation proud by mastering a rare technology... In quality, it [Babur] is far better. BrahMos has a range of 290-300 kilometres while ... Babur can hit a target up to 500 kilometres... Let me say this improves the balance. Whatever balance existed, it further improves the balance... "

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) officials rebutted this by claiming that the BrahMos is supersonic. Its 2.8-Mach speed allows it to "reach targets faster and penetrate missile-defence shields with greater success". But Pakistani officials insist that the Babur is superior "because it can be launched from ships, submarines and aircraft - unlike the BrahMos which has to be launched vertically, which aircraft and submarines don't allow".

None of this augurs well for the future of the always-delicate dialogue process. Even more ominous are the recent claims by Indian security forces - some of them corroborated by the media in Pakistan - of the revival of jehadi training camps and rising levels of militant infiltration across the LoC. The claimed numbers are 19 for January, five for February, seven for March, 44 for April, 32 for May, 72 for June and 171 for July. The July figure represents a 32 per cent increase over the number recorded a year earlier. Such reports call for cooperative monitoring and verification. But given the falling level of mutual trust, this is not on the cards.

Amidst this far-from-happy situation comes Musharraf's important interview to the (London) Daily Telegraph (August 14), in which he pleaded for expediting the peace process, and settling the Kashmir issue, to enable him better to deal with extremism. Musharraf said: "I see the sincerity of the Indian leadership. But if we can move faster towards a resolution of Kashmir, my hands will be stronger to deal with extremism... [W]e can only control extremists to a degree. But there will be nowhere for the extremists to go once there is a settlement on Kashmir".

Musharraf argued that while dealing with extremism in the past, his hands were tied either because of the 2002 confrontation with India or Pakistan's last general elections and political uncertainty. "The situation is now far different... Now, I am much stronger". Musharraf has recently refused to make a distinction between "terrorists" linked to Al Qaeda, and Islamic "extremists" who fight a "legitimate" jehad in Kashmir.

After the July 7 London blasts, Pakistan has arrested 800 militants and asked 1,400 foreign students attending madrassas to leave. All four of its provincial governments have passed ordinances to make the registration of madrassas mandatory. They will soon prescribe new syllabi for madrassas and close down publications propagating "hate". Musharraf also claimed that accusations that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) still backs the Taliban are "false": ISI officers dealing with Afghanistan had been changed "two or three times" since 2001. "All this talk about the ISI being a government within a government is wrong... "

HOW should India respond to these statements? It should treat them in good faith as signalling Musharraf's serious intent to confront jehadis. This assessment is backed by the fact that Musharraf's new policy is bringing him into confrontation with the United Jehadi Council (UJC) headed by Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly.

The MMA was originally in the ruling alliance Musharraf had put together. Islamabad has long backed the UJC. But Musharraf has recently targeted Fazlur Rehman for supporting the Taliban. On August 7, Rehman retaliated by accusing Musharraf of "deceiving" the West by helping militants enter Afghanistan from Waziristan. (The Hindu, August 11). Commented Pakistan's Daily Times: "This is explosive stuff. Why would Mr. Rehman choose to make such sweeping allegations? The answer to this can perhaps be found in his statement at the same press conference that `if pressured, I will reveal facts that will open a Pandora's box'. This means that Mr. Rehman is feeling the heat of some government measures and is signalling to the government to lay off".

Similarly, Musharraf has recently reconstituted the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and appointed Khalid Masud to head it. Masud had earlier criticised nuclear bomb as "un-Islamic". The CII has taken a strong stand against the reactionary Hasba Ordinance in the Northwest Frontier Province, which curtails women's rights.

On August 1, CII member Maulana Saeed Ahmad Raipuri launched a sharp attack on "feudalism", arguing that it violates Islamic principles of equality. This was seen as signalling Musharraf's intent to consider executing land reforms to weaken the political base of conservative big landlords. Moves are also afoot to get a large number of mullahs legally disqualified as MPs by derecognising their madrassa degrees.

It is possible that Musharraf will fail to translate his intentions into actions, as has often happened in the past. But that is no reason to dismiss his intentions or pour scorn over his promise to cleanse Pakistan of extremism.

On the contrary, it must be appreciated that he is trying to build a domestic base for reform, probably for the first time since 1999. One can argue that the rot has set too deep in Pakistan for reform to succeed. But that is no case for not helping Musharraf or for waiting and watching.

If India is serious about the peace process, it must acknowledge that Musharraf is moving in the right direction. He remains India's best bet, indeed the sole bet. Musharraf is under growing Western pressure, especially after 7/7, to rid Pakistan of extreme jehadi influences. India has invested far too much in the peace process to be cavalier about the domestic factors that will determine its success or failure in Pakistan.

There is every reason why India should adopt a generous stance towards Pakistan by extending to it a version of the "Gujral Doctrine" of "non-reciprocity" in dealing with the neighbours. As the larger, and more relaxed and secure, of the two parties in the current dialogue, India should be magnanimous and take a series of unilateral steps to strengthen Pakistan's domestic climate in favour of peace and reconciliation. Doing so is certainly in India's interest. The non-reciprocal approach of the "Gujral Doctrine" produced positive results in the past in India's relations with Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal (although recent developments in the last two cases have reversed some gains).

WHAT would such an approach entail as regards Pakistan? India should take some bold unilateral steps, which will earn it immense goodwill and which will cost it little. For instance, India should lift visa restrictions that mandate compulsory reporting by visitors to the police. This is the rule in both countries. Unless your visa is specifically stamped "Exempt from Police Reporting", you must inform the local police of your arrival, movements and departure - usually on a daily basis. This is a recipe for harassment. Second, India should voluntarily abolish city-specific visas and allow Pakistani visitors to go wherever they wish - as it does with tourists from all other countries.

Third, New Delhi should unilaterally welcome all artistes, performers, theatre groups, social activists, academics and business-people to visit India on multiple-entry visas with six- to 12-month duration. It should especially encourage scholars, scientists and university and schoolteachers. Fourth, India must promote visits by Pakistani nationals for medical investigation and treatment. Nothing, barring restarting communication links, has created as much goodwill for India in Pakistan as the generous hospitality extended to Baby Noor and scores of other Pakistani patients. India must build on this.

Fifth, the Samjhauta Express must be upgraded and the customs and immigration procedures on the rail route greatly simplified. The train has some of the most decrepit coaches in the Indian Railways' inventory. These must be replaced with good-quality coaches. The train must be greatly speeded up. It takes four to six hours to cover the 24 km between Amritsar and Lahore. The train is designed to demoralise and discourage travellers. This is unacceptable.

However, even more important and essential than these steps is the dismantling of trade and investment barriers with Pakistan. Currently, India-Pakistan bilateral trade is a miserable $600 million. (This number only pertains to official trade. The contraband trade is probably four to six times higher.) This volume must be put in perspective. Imports from India account for less than 5 per cent of Pakistan's total imports. India's imports from Pakistan are minuscule - under 1 per cent of its total. To put it differently, India-Pakistan trade is less than one-fourth of India's trade with Israel (population is 4 million, compared to Pakistan's 150 million).

There is an urgency about promoting trade. Trade has lagged behind many other areas of cooperation and confidence-building measures since the peace process began in 2004. Thus, there has only been a paltry increase of 156 items in the number of goods Pakistan permits. Today, it stands at 771. Even the Joint Study Group set up to look into Pakistani complaints about non-tariff barriers has met only once - in February. Progress on trade has been glacial.

Pakistan as the smaller nation has everything to gain from an opening-up of the Indian market. It is only its own domestic limitations, including irrational fears of being overwhelmed by India, that have prevented it from granting even the MFN (most-favoured nation) status to India as required under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules - in spite of India's granting it that status in 1996. It would be foolhardy for India to reciprocate this irrationality.

India should unilaterally declare that it will allow all Pakistani goods and services to be imported on an Open General Licence (OGL) on, say, two tariff lines: nil and a low duty such as 10-20 per cent. Currently, India has a comfortable 5:1 trade surplus with Pakistan. It is absurd to imagine that Pakistan's small economy - with total exports of just $12 billion, or the same order as India's software exports alone - can harm India through exports.

Pakistan has a good deal to offer and India has much to gain by way of cotton, textiles, leather goods, surgical instruments, sports goods and electric fans, and so on. The only caveat here is elimination of third-country re-exports - a standard clause in any preferential or free trade agreement (FTA). If India can operate a successful FTA with Sri Lanka, a more competitive economy than Pakistan's, there is no reason why it cannot do so with the Western neighbour.

The potential for Indian exports to Pakistan is huge - provided, of course, that Pakistan greatly expands its "permissible" list. As noted earlier, it will have every incentive to do so. "Any unilateral gesture on trade by India will generate pressure for reciprocity by Pakistan," says S. Akbar Zaidi, a Karachi-based social scientist, who has written extensively on the issue. "Already, visits by business delegations to each other's countries have created a highly favourable climate. Even the Pakistan Commerce Ministry notes the virtues of free trade in an official paper that goes back to 1996."

India should also encourage investment and technological collaboration with Pakistan. India has much to gain, and nothing to lose, by opening the same sectors to Pakistani entrepreneurs as it does to all others. In areas like software development and computer-aided design, the scope for collaboration is significant. There is, in fact, a joint venture in the United States of software professionals of Indian and Pakistani origin. This should be replicated here.

The great advantage of such unilateral steps is that they will greatly improve the climate for peace - without awaiting the outcome of talks on Kashmir, an issue that is infinitely tougher to resolve. Indeed, success in trade and economic cooperation could facilitate the resolution of other issues by breaking down major psychological barriers. Even if such spin-offs are modest, trade cooperation is intrinsically worthy given the complementarity of the two economies. If Manmohan Singh takes up this agenda at once, he will make a lasting contribution to the peace process.

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