Bullets and Buzzwords
Amidst such buzzwords as ‘Composite Dialogue’, ‘Confidence Building Measures’ and ‘MFN Status’ fast becoming the stuff of diplomatic jargon and the media lexicon in India and Pakistan over the past few years, it is rather unfortunate that troops were involved in clashes across the Kashmir border at the beginning of the year. On January 6, Pakistani and Indian armies exchanged fire along the LoC (Line of Control) in Kashmir, resulting in the death of a Pakistani soldier. Subsequently, there were reports involving the killing of soldiers on both sides. While this has marked a peak in hostilities since the 2003 ceasefire, better counsels prevailed after the recent flare-up and both armies arrived at an understanding to de-escalate the border tension. There has been quite a bit of goodwill between India and Pakistan ever since the Composite Dialogue process was resumed between the two neighbors in 2011, following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The process kicked off with Pakistan granting the long-awaited Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India (15 years after New Delhi granted a similar status to Islamabad). It gained momentum with leaders from both sides meeting at high levels, civil society, cultural and business ambassadors meeting more frequently – and productively – and recently culminating in a long-sought visa agreement that promises relief to divided families on both sides.
There was a time when both Pakistan and India were negatively obsessed with each other but now India does not appear to worry too much about Pakistan as a traditional enemy and is more anxious about China’s growing strength in the region. Senior Indian commanders may have used hostile language in addressing Pakistan following the recent border clashes but that appeared to be more for local consumption. What India seems to be more concerned with now is China’s military advancements and its own competitiveness vis-à-vis Beijing, as the dominant regional power. Pakistan’s newly declared main security threat is also not India-centric anymore; it has been replaced by the domestic militancy which has retched up its violent activities in recent weeks through attacks on Pakistani military targets, particularly in the country’s northern parts.
The Pakistan-India relationship, however, continues to be riddled with difficulties, as underscored by the heating up of temperatures on the heretofore quiet LoC in Kashmir. It is obvious that not much has been accomplished on such basic issues between the two countries as Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen. The much hyped-up MFN relationship has also not been normalized so far and formalization of trade relations between the two nations still needs to be addressed in practical terms. Pakistan was expected to remove its negative list - goods that cannot be exported to India - by the end of 2012 but no headway has been made on this count so far. One plausible answer that comes to the fore is that with the US/NATO exit from Afghanistan just around the corner, both India and Pakistan are vying for a role in the endgame in order to establish their dominance in the region. President Obama has already said that (Washington’s) success in Afghanistan would require “constructive support from across the region, including Pakistan.” India appears to have interpreted this as a scenario where Pakistan would have an upper hand in the post-2014 Afghanistan and, therefore, seems to be creating a situation to keep Pakistan pinned to its eastern flank and to further reinforce its own zones of influence that it has already created in Afghanistan.
Syed Jawaid Iqbal