Amidst Competing Interests

Amidst Competing Interests

History has a lesson for both India and Pakistan


Fifty-nine years back Josef Korbel wrote, ‘India and Pakistan continue to dissipate their wealth, their strength and their energy on a near fratricidal struggle in which the hitherto almost unknown State of Kashmir has become the physical battleground.’ In fact, with Kashmir at the centre India and Pakistan relations are a sad story of troughs and crests – more of troughs and less of the crests. Notwithstanding the two countries, having had a chequered history of war of attritions and protracted diplomatic standoffs had started a new inning in 2004 by launching  broad based talks named as composite dialogue. 

This process set an optimistic note in the relations of the two countries after it initiated some Kashmir related CBM’s in 2005.  Generating a hope of way forward in resolving the Kashmir dispute it also promised removing thorn in the neck of the two countries.  In November 2008, after terrorist attack in Mumbai   New Delhi put the dialogue process on a hold.  After fourteen months of belligerence in statements, there was a thaw in the frozen peace process in January 2010. The two countries besides working on tract two met at various levels- generating hope for adding a new chapter to their relations. New Delhi was insisting on focusing on trade, people-to-people relations and discussing less controversial issues. And Pakistan conceded to these demands. The statements of President Zardari and Foreign Minister, Hina Rabani testify it. 

In sixty-five years, history of the two countries Pakistan   for the first time    granted MFN status to India but for some top Pakistan business houses seeing it to their disadvantage got stalled.  Seen in right perspective for three years minus once or twice ritualistic reference Kashmir was never part of the dialogue process at the diplomatic or the political levels between the two countries.    Going by the writings and columns in Pakistan a good number of Pakistani journalists, columnists including some English language newspapers had virtually turned lobbyists for New Delhi in Islamabad and Karachi and have been advocating not making trade relations between the two countries subordinate to the resolution of outstanding issues between the two countries. 

On Friday, the relations between the two countries apparently suffered the biggest setback when Indian Parliament unanimously   rejecting the resolutions passed by Pakistan National Assembly one day earlier condemning the hanging of Muhammad Afzal Guru   asked Islamabad not to interfere in India’s internal affairs. Speaker Meira Kumar in Lok Sabha and Chairman Hamid Ansari in Rajya Sabha — both the Houses asserted that the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir, including the territory under illegal occupation of Pakistan, “is and shall always be an integral part of India”. Surprisingly, the resolution adopted by the parliament made no mention about Jammu and Kashmir territory under ‘occupation’ of China. The resolution in letter and spirit was replication of the resolution adopted by the Parliament on February 22, 1994. But, despite this resolution and publicly adhering to their stated positions New Delhi and Islamabad held talks for resolution of the ‘dispute’. The 2004 meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf was breakthrough that laid foundation for meeting between Manmohan Singh and Musharraf- debating out of box solution for Jammu and Kashmir.    

True, the immediate provocation for the   resolution adopted by the Parliament has been the resolution adopted by Pakistan National Assembly on hanging of Afzal Guru and the after situation in Kashmir. Nevertheless, it does not mean before the Afzal Guru resolution, all was hunky dory between the two countries. In fact, the ‘slowing down of the India-Pakistan normalization’ that largely went unnoticed started much earlier.  Many important decisions that would have helped in building the much-needed trust between the two countries were paused. The gains – though small made during four years of peace process were one by one collapsing. The visa liberalization agreement signed during September 2012, with great fanfare was suspended. The meeting on the Tulbul Navigation Project/ Wullar barrage between the secretaries was cancelled. The track two discussions to be held in Delhi in February were cancelled after visa to the participants from Pakistan was refused. Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh very subtly put an end to the three years peace process by stating that it would not “business usual with Pakistan now”.  Attributing the set back to the normalization of relations between the two countries to frenzied coverage by New Delhi media to border hostilities a Pakistani commentator recently saw, ‘A combination of factors having contributed to slackening in the pace of normalization’. In the opinion of the commentator , ‘ These included steps taken by India in the wake of recent incidents across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, onset of the election season in Pakistan and the consequent wait-and-see stance adopted by the Indian government, which is also under mounting political pressure ahead of its own elections.’ These do so seem ostensible reasons for reversal of normalization relation but the whole situation is overwhelmingly brewing for competing interests of the two countries in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal in 2014. 

A study carried out by Barcelona Centre for International Affairs with the support of Norwegian Ministry of Foreign provides a an insight into  as  how the competing interests in Afghanistan are going to impact India and Pakistan relations and whole of the South Asia. Jammu and Kashmir, when read between the lines is sandwiched in these competing interests. The study has identified five specific regional powers as being critical to the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan- these include India, Iran, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The study sees other countries such as Central Asian States and Turkey as ‘implicated’ actors with real  with real interests and concerns in relation to both countries, but do not have the same depth and level of implication and/or influence as the above “big five” regional powers. The study analysis interests and additional interest and highlights redline for all the five big countries its sees in competition in the region. To analyze the interests of all the five counties is beyond the scope of this column.

The study suggests India as having twelve primary interests and three additional interests in Afghanistan after 2014. ‘These include,  countering increased Pakistani influence over events in Afghanistan, engaging with the nationalist insurgency in Baluchistan and across the border in Afghanistan, regarded by some observers as a counterbalance to Pakistani ISI pro-Taliban support, gaining the upper hand in Indo-China rivalry, which spills over into Pakistan, the Kashmir issue, in dispute with Pakistan (unresolved since 1947). The study apprehends Escalation in conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir.
Despite competing interests of the two countries, history has a lesson for both the countries   both countries have a mutual interest in remaining engaged and keeping peace process on track.