Bul­lets and Buzz­words

Southasia - - Comment -

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

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