Euphoria and reality

Print edition : March 13, 1999

After Lahore, India and Pakistan appear to have relapsed into antagonistic rhetoric. However, evidently, they are coordinating their responses to nuclear and related issues.


THE Cold War-style rhetoric that characterised India-Pakistan relations at one time appears to be back. Even as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks of a time-frame for self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir, his counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee emphasises that India will not give up any territory. While India's External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh repeatedly states that the days of map-making in the Indian subcontinent are over and that all parties concerned should accept the existing realities, the Pakistani side continues to maintain that Kashmir is a core issue.

While in Dhaka to attend the Developing-8 (D-8) summit of Islamic nations, Sharif told a Bangladeshi newspaper that Kashmir was the "core issue of conflict" between India and Pakistan. "This issue must be resolved to ease the tension and restore normalcy," he said. Sharif, however, admitted that after his talks with Vajpayee in Lahore there was a thaw in relations. He said that during the talks all aspects of bilateral relations were discussed, including the issue of "command and control regarding nuclear safety". (The United States has been prodding India and Pakistan to begin a serious dialogue in the aftermath of the nuclear tests conducted by both countries in May 1998. In a speech he made at the Brookings Institute, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott virtually stated that Washington would be more accommodative towards New Delhi if it made progress in its efforts to improve relations with Pakistan.)

Both Islamabad and New Delhi have on occasions coordinated their responses on nuclear-related issues. This was the case during the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Durban. Besides, the two countries share similar views on the imposition of an unequal trade and economic regime by the West. Both India and Pakistan have a common interest in ensuring that Central Asia's trade and resources are routed through South Asia instead of through Europe and the Persian Gulf.

Indian officials say that both countries will now coordinate their responses on nuclear issues, including command and control and nuclear doctrine. They may also coordinate their approach on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the proposed Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). In fact, both India and Pakistan seem to have offered to sign the CTBT before September 1999. Richard Celeste, the U.S. Ambassador to India, said in New Delhi in the first week of March that he believed that India would sign the CTBT at an early date. Earlier, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright claimed that both India and Pakistan had agreed to adhere to the CTBT by the end of the year.

Indian officials have changed tack on this issue; they now insist that India had no intention of throwing a spanner in the works in the case of a global non-proliferation regime but were only insisting on certain preconditions before formally adhering to the CTBT. As of now India's minimum demands relate mainly to the lifting of restrictions on multilateral lending. Pakistan is, however, in a worse financial position.

In the first week of March, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth acknowledged that India and Pakistan had made major strides on the issue of non-proliferation and added that he expected some "concrete steps (in this direction) in the next few months". He said that the U.S. would favour the lifting of economic sanctions after India signed the CTBT. The Clinton administration has already asked the U.S. Congress to restore military training programmes with Pakistan. Inderfurth also said that Nawaz Sharif would visit India in June.

The memorandum of understanding signed in Lahore during Vajpayee's visit deals with the need to engage in regular consultations on security concepts and nuclear doctrines, to notify each other in case of nuclear accidents, and to provide early warning of missile tests. Islamabad is upset over New Delhi not having given advance notice to it on the Indian Air Force exercises in Pokhran in the first week of March. The massive show of air power, said to be the biggest so far by India, came three weeks after Vajpayee's Lahore visit.

Many Indian and Pakistani commentators are of the view that the "Lahore Declaration" and the MoU that was signed have provided the basis for enhanced security for both countries. India and Pakistan have pledged to undertake steps to avert an accidental nuclear confrontation. However, there are many people who feel that no new ground has been covered. They point out that no progress was made in Lahore on the "no-war" or "no-first-use treaty". Indian officials, however, claim that Vajpayee's statement in Lahore about India's commitment to a secure, stable and prosperous Pakistan is tantamount to a "no-war" pact. Besides, they say, the two countries have already reached an agreement not to attack each other's nuclear installations.

Sources in the Indian Foreign Office say that if the dialogue between the two countries is to move forward, a certain amount of trust needs to be generated between the bureaucracies of either side. They feel that Pakistani officials tend to view all issues "through the prism of Jammu and Kashmir".

THE Kashmir issue continues to remain on the front burner. Nawaz Sharif claims that during his visit to Lahore Vajpayee had given an assurance that the question of self-determination in Kashmir would be considered. Indian officials deny this claim. (The Congress(I) has demanded a clarification from Vajpayee on the issue.) However, senior Indian officials do not dismiss the idea of a plebiscite. According to them, as per the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir a plebiscite can be held only after China vacates Gilgit, a part of Jammu and Kashmir that has been ceded to China by Pakistan. Senior officials also insist that they are not against a time frame to discuss issues provided the discussions are held under mutually agreeable terms.

What the Indian side favours now is a formalisation of the present de facto border in Kashmir. Jaswant Singh had articulated this position before he took over as External Affairs Minister. Some prominent U.S. politicians have also indicated their support for this. Former U.S. Ambassador to India, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, suggested recently that India and Pakistan could resolve the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir by dividing the region. Otherwise, he was quoted as saying, the conflict could escalate and lead to a nuclear war. According to him, the better option would be to divide Kashmir "and be done with it".

The resumption of a dialogue between the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers was, to a large extent, facilitated by the agenda for South Asia that is being pursued by the West.

Washington hopes to replicate in South Asia what was achieved in Latin America. In the early 1990s, traditional rivals Brazil and Argentina were prodded into forming a committee to discuss general nuclear issues and nuclear policy. The committee included members from the scientific community, atomic energy agencies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The committee then developed into the Brazil-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials. Soon afterwards, Brazil and Argentina arrived at a decision to denuclearise. The West is offering India and Pakistan the same kind of incentives it offered the two Latin American countries.

Indian officials claim that Western investor confidence in South Asia has increased after Vajpayee's visit to Lahore. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries are scheduled to meet soon, and more Secretary-level talks are expected. Indian officials insist that there is a convergence of views on nuclear and other related issues with Pakistan; however, they deny that India and Pakistan are coordinating their efforts to face up to pressure from Washington.

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