Talks – a jaw-jaw exercise

‘In principle we agreed to continue talks’, the welcome note is all that sums up the different rounds of talks which took place last month on Wullar Barrage, Kishen Ganga, Sir Creek and, of late, on Siachin. Between India and Pakistan.

            On May 30 and 31 the defence secretary level talks were held in New Delhi on Siachin but the talks failed to break the ice on the worlds highest battlefield. The joint statement, however, added both the countries ‘appraised each other of their perception’. That is fine-tuning of diplomatic language. The phrases that are used to mulch the failure, and more significantly, the trust-deficit. In reality, all such rounds of talks did not go beyond Nishastand (we sat), Guftand (we talked) wa (and) Barkhastand (we departed). What is taxing the mind is that in comparison top issues like Kashmir and terrorism, which have wider dimensions and are directly linked with human lives (and in case of Kashmir human rights,  plebiscite pledged and security resolutions too), these issues do not hold a large frame. An honest and holistic approach to find why such meetings between the two estranged neighbors have not so far yielded any results leads to New Delhi’s cussed attitude. The hegemony of having the cake and eat it too.

            As far as dispute on Kishen Ganga and Wular Barrage are concerned, Pakistan accuses India of diverting the flow of these rivers and storing it in dams, detrimental to Pakistan’s interest. India has taken up to build 300 mega watt power Kishen Ganga project and plans to divert the river and store its water in six thousand acre feet lake. Islamabad looks at it as violation of Indus-water basin treaty (1960) the two countries have pledged their allegiance to. On Wullar Barrage project near apple-town Sopore Pakistan has adopted the same stand. Pakistan doubts Indian intentions. By building dams and creating artificial lakes, in contravention to the ‘run-off-the river’ parameters in the treaty, Pakistan fears India aims to derive a “strategic advantage”. Where to “desert”, or “inundate” Pakistan and when, the timing and “perrogative” rests in Indian hands. Sir Creek in Run Kaach is not that alarming. Just an issue of adjusting coastal jurisdiction in a patch of sea-water. But when other “high voltage” issues stuck in the bind, easier ones too are generating horns of defiance.

            The world’s highest militarized zone, 20,000 feet above sea level, has been a long pending issue between the two neighbors over the location of 110-Km long Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) which passes through the Soltoro Ridge and Siachin Glacier. Till 1984 the glacier was free of military jackboots. In 1984 India launched operation Meghdoot and occupied most of the territory and gained advantage in dominating the area. Pakistan retaliated but it was too late. It couldn’t push Indian troops back to pre-1972 position. Pakistan, as once said by former President Parvez Musharraf, lost almost 900 square miles of territory in Siachin due to Indian invasion. Over two thousand troops have lost their lives in the intermittent fights in the region, majority of them not because of clashes but due to harsh weather. Besides, the deployment of troops on the glacier is draining the economy, especially for India. Since November 2003 both countries are maintaining cease-fire on the region.

            The two-day defence secretary level talks on demilitarization of Siachin failed. Simply and principally because India did not want to vacate from the dominant features it occupied in its Meghdoot operation. It asked Pakistan to authenticate the present troops position of the two sides. Pakistan, on the other hand, insisted on maintaining the pre-1972 troops positions as agreed in the Simla agreement.

            A dispassionate analysis demands one should not take sides, at the same time it calls one should not fudge the facts and camouflage the truth.  Indian stand does not rest on moral grounds. It is a breach of trust it commits. In flagrant violation of the Simla agreement India launched the invasion. And took the battle to the glacier. Ignoring at the same time its catastrophic implications on environment. In its bravado it forgot that, in ‘pre-emptying’ Pakistan of its ‘attempts in gaining a military advantage in the glacier’, as it justifies its operation Meghdoot, it took arms against the nature as well. However, it would not be too distant a time when inhospitable conditions in the glacier would make Indian defence strategists to have a rethinking of the obsession. Nature you cannot win over, or make it to crawl to your wishes. The wisdom lies in revisiting the folly and leave the glacier to its natural setting, to its pristine glory.

            It is in place to mention that after Pakistan whittled Kashmir down to ‘one’ of the issues, instead of sticking to ‘core’ issue, in the ‘composite dialogue’ with India, it was advocated by opinion makers in India and its rulers that in relatively ‘small’ issues taking the priority in solution measures, the ‘intractable’ and ‘complex’ Kashmir dispute will have a conducive atmosphere for bringing a settlement. But as the futile jaw-jaw exercise involving India and Pakistan shows, even these ‘small’ issues are not seriously addressed. Some observers opine the very disposition of Indians towards bilateral talks in the past a month or so, after its plain refusal, was with a purpose. Since Pakistan is facing a colossal pressure from both within and outside, and is passing through a critical phase of its history, New Delhi thought that is the time to exact its pound of flesh from Islamabad and make her concede its ‘demands’. However, Islamabad’s behavior testifies that while Pakistan is closeted in the cliff it has still the stamina and courage to refuse to entertain Delhi to have her hegemony prevail.