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Dealing with Pakistan

Print edition : Oct 04, 1997 T+T-

India must seek patiently to apply the principles learnt from the recent experience of dealing with China to mending its relations with Pakistan.


THE "Gujral doctrine", as articulated by the External Affairs Minister - who is now also Prime Minister - has five component parts:

With its much smaller neighbours - Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal - India "does not ask for reciprocity, but gives all that it can in good faith and trust." No South Asian country "will allow its territory to be used against the interests of another country in the region." No South Asian country "will interfere in the internal affairs of another." All South Asian countries "must respect each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty." All South Asian countries "will settle their disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations."

While the last four propositions are intended by the Indian Prime Minister to apply to Pakistan as much as to any other country in the region, it is not clear how the Nawaz Sharif Government perceives the implications of the doctrine for the problematical Indo-Pakistan relationship.

However, the Pakistan Prime Minister's extended polemical attack in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on "Indian occupation" of Jammu and Kashmir, characterised as "the core issue" in the bilateral relationship, and his insistence on involving the United Nations, "the international community" and, by implication, the United States in finding "a just solution of the Kashmir dispute" are a far cry from the meaning of the fourth and fifth elements in the "Gujral doctrine". That the Pakistani attack on India in the world body apparently contains somewhat less vitriol and fewer references to the "rape" of Kashmir and so forth is small consolation when set against the major challenge of normalising Indo-Pakistan relations. In fact, Nawaz Sharif's hostile and propagandistic references to India in his latest UNGA speech appear to go against the agreement recorded in the June 23, 1997 Joint Statement that "both sides would take all possible steps to prevent hostile propaganda."

The "Male spirit" has gradually waned since the two Prime Ministers appeared to begin a new chapter when they met in the Maldives in May 1997. The bilateral dialogue and the attempts to strike a warmer tone and forge a more "friendly and harmonious" relationship between the two countries have inevitably come up against the hard rock of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Nawaz Sharif, who started this Prime Ministerial term on a helpful and constructive note, seems to have his own political compulsions which limit his options with India.

The recent incidents on the Line of Control and the firing across the border that cost several lives and loss to property demonstrate the fragility of the bilateral process being undertaken in the "Male spirit". Each side says the other began the shooting, although fortunately there has been no nationalistic hysteria over these incidents. The two Prime Ministers, meeting in New York on September 23, did well to agree on a set of military communication measures and other safeguards against such sporadic incidents spinning out of control. They will also need to ensure that the top-level political 'hotline' agreed upon in Male becomes functional.

A KEY element in the Joint Statement of June 23, 1997, issued at the conclusion of the India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks, is itself a matter of public contention. The September talks between the two Foreign Secretaries stalled on this issue and were adjourned to be resumed at an unspecified date. Pakistan has officially accused India of "resiling from" what it claims is the agreed position on setting up a Working Group on Jammu and Kashmir. India has denied the charge but has avoided responding in kind, choosing not to get provoked and hoping that the dialogue can go forward notwithstanding this disagreement.

Whatever Nawaz Sharif construed as the meaning of what Gujral specifically offered in Male, the wording of the relevant sub-paragraph in the June 23 Joint Statement does not appear to provide for a Joint Working Group on items (a) and (b) of the "outstanding issues" specified, namely "peace and security, including CBMs" and "Jammu and Kashmir". The joint decision was to "set up a mechanism, including working groups at appropriate levels, to address all these issues in an integrated manner" and to have "the issues at (a) and (b)" dealt with "at the level of Foreign Secretaries who will also coordinate and monitor the progress of work of all the working groups."

There was no indication in New York that the Indian Government was inclined to agree to a Working Group on Jammu and Kashmir; nor is political India likely to favour such an arrangement, which might raise questions about Jammu and Kashmir's final accession to India. The official Indian position is that in the bilateral dialogue, the primary issue is "how you discuss the questions substantively" and "what kind of mechanism is a secondary issue" with which "one should not get fixated". The Gujral Government regards the recent military incidents as "most unfortunate", is "not interested in a polemical exchange on these incidents", and wants to make the high-level military communication and contact and other safeguards "more foolproof".

Against such a background, the Gujral-Sharif meeting did well to concentrate on strengthening "the very good personal chemistry" between the two Prime Ministers, ruling out tensions and military incidents between the two countries, reiterating a general political desire to move forward, and sidestepping specific contentious issues. Thus there was no attempt to resolve the difference over the Working Groups or to go into Sharif's offer on the floor of the UNGA to "open negotiations on a treaty of non-aggression between India and Pakistan", which seems linked to the business of finding a "just settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute" through international mediation.

If it is a correct reading (as sections of the Indian press have suggested) that it was a setback to the Pakistan Prime Minister that Clinton declined to offer any 'good offices' or mediatory role on Kashmir, too much need not be made of this. The real U.S. policy vis-a-vis India and Pakistan, and Kashmir in particular, cannot be assessed simply in terms of words and formal positions. It must be judged as a whole - and in action.

The worthwhile gain from the Gujral-Sharif meeting in New York was a political reiteration at the highest level of the desirability, and indeed the necessity, of taking the "Male spirit" forward in the face of obstacles.

The Indian Prime Minister has very soundly suggested that the recent model of the Sino-Indian relationship can be applied with benefit to the field of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. In February 1979, top Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proposed to External Affairs Minister A.B. Vajpayee that the boundary dispute be set aside, to be tackled as a problem "left over by history", so that the two countries could go ahead improving relations "all round". Official India found the eminently sensible Deng proposal hard to swallow at first, but following Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's breakthrough visit to China in late 1988, that is precisely how progress in the bilateral relationship has happened.

With a Joint Working Group allowed to make leisurely (truly 'long-term') progress on the boundary dispute, with a panoply of technical arrangements and safeguards in place against the occurrence of unwanted military incidents, and with a political understanding ruling out any attempt to alter actual control along the the long Sino-Indian border by military force, the relationship between India and China is in healthy shape. No sober Indian politician today insists on enforcing some outdated parliamentary resolution that predicated normalisation of Sino-Indian ties on the final resolution of the boundary question.

Without shirking its commitment, most clearly registered in the Shimla Agreement of 1971, bilaterally to address and discuss the Jammu and Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, India must seek patiently to apply the principles learnt from the recent experience of dealing with China to mending its relations with Pakistan.