Originally Published 2006-02-15 11:45:01 Published on Feb 15, 2006
The next steps towards peace with Pakistan need to be thought out carefully to prevent the dialogue process from getting derailed or losing steam - two possibilities which seem to be staring in the face of policy makers on either side of the border.
Next steps in peace process
The next steps towards peace with Pakistan need to be thought out carefully to prevent the dialogue process from getting derailed or losing steam - two possibilities which seem to be staring in the face of policy makers on either side of the border.

A fruitful beginning could be made by making an assessment of the current peace process with particular references to the roadblocks and the steps taken or not taken to push the process of negotiation by both the countries. This should form the progress report of the dialogue and a guide-map for the future. Both the countries could undertake independent assessments and the reports could then be presented and discussed at a joint conference either hosted in New Delhi or Islamabad. Such an exercise will help prevent personal remarks and political rhetoric from disturbing the momentum of the process.

The next step would be for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to keep his word. He should prepare for a visit to Islamabad, may be a fortnight after US President George W Bush had departed from New Delhi and Islamabad. The agenda should not be to exchange gifts or compliments, but the promise of peace process. Both the leaders may not sign any "historical" agreement but can very well sit across the table, ideally without their set of advisors, and figure out whether they want peace between them or the perpetual love-hate relationship. Leaders and not advisors can take such decisions. Prime Minister Singh can convey that solutions to issues like Siachen are military in nature and will have to wait for a longer period to create an enduring domestic atmosphere of trust and confidence.

On Kashmir, India has already accepted the logic of a multi-dimensional dialogue with the affected people of Kashmir and the Prime Minister can convey to the General that the process of dialogue with various representatives of the people of Kashmir was progressing at a steady pace. He should urge President Musharraf to invite a wider representation of Kashmiri leadership than the head of the All Party Hurriyat Conference. This would pave the way for a broader understanding of the issues involved in the dispute. It is not merely a question of religion. It is about history and culture, too.

It is not altogether impossible for both sides to hammer out an amicable settlement on Sir Creek before the premier's Islamabad visit. Sir Creek is a tidal channel in the Rann of Kutch, named after the British representative who was asked to mediate in a dispute between the ruler of Sind and Rao of Kutch over a pile of firewood lying on the banks of Kori Creek. The present dispute is caused by the absence of a border in the tidal channel that divides Indian and Pakistani territories. There are two aspects to the dispute: The delimitation of the border and the demarcation of the maritime boundary from the mouth of the creek seawards in the Arabian Sea.

The issue is complicated by the realisation of the resource potential of an exclusive economic zone measuring roughly 200 nautical miles. The area lies close to Bombay High and might yield oil and gas deposits if explored. Although the India-Pakistan Western Boundary Case Tribunal, chaired by a Swedish judge, set up after the Pakistani claims following the 1965 war, upheld India's claims, Pakistan refused to accept it.

Pakistan wants the border to be drawn from the eastern side of the creek while India claims the line should run along the middle. India argues that such delimitation is essential to enable navigation in the channel. Pakistan contends that the channel is non-navigable. The real reason that has hindered any resolution remains unspelt - the potential oil and gas finds in the area that neither side wants to let go.

There are a few ways out of the impasse on this issue. First is to strive for a gradual, calibrated solution, taking up portions of the boundary which are less complicated. Second is to keep aside the question of boundary for the time being and engage in cooperative ventures in areas like fishing, monitoring marine environment and oil spills. The possibility of a resolution could be in sight with the joint survey of the creek completed in January 2005 and the Prime Minister Singh's commitment to expedite a "mutually acceptable solution". Another indicator is the MoU agreed upon between the Indian Coast Guards and the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) on May 11, 2005, to establish a communication link as "a formal mechanism for exchange of information regarding EEZ violations and rescue operations".

On a grander scale, what both the countries can agree on is to strive for a 25-year period of truce. If President Musharraf and his advisors have problems with such a proposal, Prime Minister Singh could make the announcement unilaterally. The 25-year truce agreement should be a comprehensive one including military, political, economic and social areas of cooperation and understanding. The agreement should clearly indicate India's willingness to sign a no-war pact. It should include the proposal of reducing the military presence on the borders between the two countries. It could be proposed to begin with a extension of the International Border.
A critical element in such an agreement would be the caveat that there will be no compromise on territorial integrity and sovereignty. All solutions and discussions will adhere to the will of the people of India. The only concession that India could make will be not to insist on claiming PoK as an integral part of the Indian Kashmir.

A natural corollary of the truce agreement would be to initiate an engagement with the Pakistan military. This could begin with the offer of joint exercises. The Indian Navy and Pakistan Navy could benefit from exercises in the Arabian Sea. This could be followed up with similar exercises involving the air forces. A third country like Russia could also be involved in these exercises. Cooperation with the Army could begin with the Indian Army inviting senior retired and serving officials to attend talks, lectures and regimental days of erstwhile British regiments.

This could be followed up with inviting senior retired Pakistan Army generals to deliver lectures at Army establishments. India could make a breakthrough by offering fellowships for the duration of six months to one year at established Indian research organisations or think-tank for serving middle-ranking Pakistan Army officials (Colonel and above). Special invitations could be extended to Pakistan officials to attend defence exhibitions in India.

One of the steps India would expect in response from Pakistan is an announcement from President Pervez Musharraf outlining a series of actions his Government has taken to ban the activities of terrorist and religious extremist organisations like Jamat-ud Dawa, the parent body of Lashkar-e-Toiba. These steps could involve sealing of LeT's Muridke headquarters, arrest of LeT leader Hafiz Saeed and extradition of terrorist leaders like Azhar Masood, Syed Salahuddin and Abdul Karim Tunda to India to stand trial. President Musharraf could also offer to help the Indian security agencies in dismantling the LeT network in India. These are but two of the important steps that could form the starting point for the next steps to peace with Pakistan.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, February 15, 2006.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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