The Declaration and after

Print edition : March 13, 1999

Any attempt by India or Pakistan to score political points has the potential to prevent forward movement in the talks between the two countries.

EVEN before the ink had dried on the Lahore Declaration signed by Prime Ministers A.B. Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, both leaders began playing to the gallery at home on the Kashmir issue. The statements that they made in the process are a pointer to the objective reality of the relations between India and Pakistan which took an upswing briefly in the form of Prime Minister Vajpayee's "bus diplomacy" and the meetings between him and Nawaz Sharif in Lahore in its wake.

On February 22, the Pakistan Foreign Office claimed that Vajpayee had, throughout his visit, referred to the Jammu and Kashmir issue as a "dispute". In reality Vajpayee did not use the word "dispute", a fact that Indian officials clarified. Attempts to score points, such as this one by the Pakistani side, have the potential to undermine the forward movement in the talks between the two countries.

At this juncture, when the talks are delicately balanced, it is imperative that the two Prime Ministers be careful about the pronouncements that they and their officials make in public. One wrong move and the entire process could collapse. Since both Prime Ministers are under pressure from fundamentalist sections in their respective countries, they would do well to appreciate each other's position.

A CLOSER look at the joint statement issued, the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed, and the joint declaration made in Lahore reveals that none of these documents make a direct reference to trade. Although there is a general reference about the need for peace and development, there is no mention of any improvement in trade relations, possibly because of Pakistan's extreme sensitivity to the issue. From a broad perspective, the absence of any mention about trade in a landmark declaration such as the Lahore Declaration is hardly a positive sign.

The only area where progress appears to have been made is on nuclear-related issues. The two countries agree on the need to give advance notification on flight tests of ballistic missiles, to conclude a bilateral agreement in this regard, to undertake measures to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons, and to inform the other side in the event of such a happening. The MoU included a decision to conclude an agreement on the prevention of incidents at sea in order to ensure the safety of naval aircraft, and to review periodically the confidence-building measures (CBMs) that have been agreed upon. Besides, there are to be bilateral consultations on security issues and nuclear doctrines. Given the United States' encouragement to such endeavours, further progress can be expected.

The MoU, signed by the Foreign Secretaries, states: "Where required, the technical details of the above measures will be worked out by experts from the two sides in meetings to be held on mutually convenient dates before mid-1999 with a view to reaching bilateral agreements." This is the only area in which a deadline has been mentioned and which should please Western countries that pursue the policy of "strategic restraint" in South Asia.

Much of the phraseology used in the Lahore Declaration was lifted from the 1972 Simla Agreement. Under the Lahore Declaration, the two Prime Ministers committed themselves to the "principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations." The Simla Agreement states: "The principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the two countries."

The reference in the Lahore Declaration to refraining from "intervention and interference in each other's internal affairs" finds a match in a more detailed formulation in the Simla Agreement: "That the prerequisite for reconciliation, good neighbourliness and durable peace between them is a commitment by both countries to peaceful co-existence, respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty and non-interference in each other's internal affairs on the basis of equality and mutual benefit."

The Lahore Declaration refers to the "issue of Jammu and Kashmir", while the Simla Agreement refers to "a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir". The Simla Agreement does not talk about the "issue" of Jammu and Kashmir. (The June 23, 1997 agreement between the Foreign Secretaries set out an agenda and a mechanism for dialogue and spoke about the need to address all "outstanding issues". Eight such issues were listed, and one of them was Jammu and Kashmir.) Pakistan's recent claim that India has only now agreed to discuss the Kashmir issue seriously does not hold good in the light of the June 1997 agreement. In fact, one round of substantive discussions on peace and security and the Jammu and Kashmir issue was held in Islamabad on October 1998.

Interestingly, the clause "both Governments will take all steps within their power to prevent hostile propaganda directed at each other", which figured in the Simla Agreement, does not figure in the Lahore Declaration. The fact of the matter is that the two countries have never been serious about curtailing such propaganda. By dropping this clause, they appear to have acknowledged the reality.

THE dust is beginning to settle on Vajpayee's "bus diplomacy", which made a good impression on the people of Pakistan. At a press conference in Lahore, Vajpayee said that though his visit was "brief", it had been "substantive". However, only the long-term effects of the visit will prove the truth of the statement. Anyone who is even remotely familiar with India-Pakistan relations knows that ice-breaking initiatives between the two countries are not a frequent occurrence. In a sense, Sharif is faced with a greater challenge compared to Vajpayee. Vajpayee does not have to show progress on the Kashmir issue at the expense of other issues, but Nawaz Sharif needs to do so.

The two Prime Ministers need to work towards actualising the agreements entered into. Otherwise, the Lahore initiative can easily descend into the same quagmire the two countries have been stuck in.

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