Originally Published 2010-07-05 00:00:00 Published on Jul 05, 2010
Terrorism, water and Afghanistan form facets of the wide range of issues which allow possible collaboration between India and Pakistan. These include trade and commerce, energy sharing, increased transport, communication links and simplified visa procedures.
Thrust on making borders irrelevant

Indo-Pakistan relations are warming after being in deep freeze for almost a year-and-a-half after 26/11. With the recent meeting of foreign secretaries being described as ‘cordial’ and ‘constructive’ and more importantly as being an attempt to ‘understand each others’ position’, the foundations for the upcoming foreign ministers’ meeting in July is being laid. Both foreign secretaries have refrained from outlining a definite roadmap for future cooperation suggesting a need for ‘creative solutions’ and new contours. These talks are not novel but what is important is the realisation that India and Pakistan’s core interests are convergent and this is time for capitalisation on the commonalities.

Territorial issues involving Kashmir and others, like demilitarisation on the Siachen glacier, have a long and winding history which would involve considerable deliberation and excruciatingly slow progress. However other issues could be addressed. Rapidly changing realities in both countries have caused the dynamics of the approach to certain issues to change substantially. Nowhere has this been better highlighted than in the ‘terrorism’ issue.

Most terrorist organisations continued to be beneficiaries of state patronage as a tool of asymmetric warfare against India until the late 1990s. However, post-Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the global jihad movement became increasingly America centric. Pakistan, being an ally to the American war in Afghanistan, also became a target. This is evidenced by the present situation in Pakistan which has been victim of a spate of terrorist attacks. Symbolic among these was the attack on the Army headquarters in Rawalpindi. Other attacks included those on the Manawan police academy which was part of the three synchronised strikes on October 2009 in Lahore killing close to 38 people and injuring many. These suggests the changing dynamics of the state’s relations with militant outfits

Pakistan has made progress in its campaign against the Taliban in North-Western Frontier Province (NWFP), now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Given the inexorable links between the ethnic Pashtun and Punjab Taliban, Pakistan would have to take the fight into its heartland in south and central Punjab. Pakistan has taken action in the north-west primarily against the groups which colluded against the state machinery. However, there are still many ‘India centric’ outfits and the lack of action against the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and its front face, the Jamaat-Ud-Dawa (JuD), proven by inaction against LeT chief Hafiz Saeed, who continues to address public rallies and incite anti-India sentiments, has left India deeply concerned. Indian and Pakistani interests would converge if Pakistan decided to dismantle the terror network as a monolithic entity instead of targeting the groups which pose a threat to it alone.

The region is already water stressed, with various agencies, notable among them NASA, suggesting rapid groundwater depletion from North-West India and a Woodrow Wilson Centre report highlighting the criticality of the water situation in Pakistan. Both countries depend on the Indus river system for its agricultural needs. Water has been cited by Pakistan as one of its primary concerns and there is a comprehensive mechanism in the form of the Indus Water Treaty to deal with disputes related to it. Recent examples of the successful resolution of the Baghlihar issue and the ongoing discussions on the Kishenganga project are proofs of success of the treaty. This treaty must be implemented in letter and spirit.

In the near future it is the perception of water scarcity rather than scarcity itself which could be a cause for considerable strife whether in the Sindh region of Pakistan or the Rajasthan and Punjab regions of India. Water management programmes, transfer of technology like drip irrigation and awareness programmes on water usage could be ventures that could be initiated jointly.

It has been mentioned that India has been pushed into these talks because New Delhi wants a stake in the Afghanistan solution. This is far from the truth. India does not view Indo-Pakistan relations through an Afghanistan prism. The complexity and relevance of Indo-Pak relations far outweigh any Indian concerns for strategic leverage in Afghanistan. India only wants a stable and independent Afghanistan, and if Pakistan were to look beyond theoretical concepts of strategic depth it would see reason for a stable Afghanistan.

These talks have been conceived and propelled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as this is the first step in his vision of economic integration following the maxim: “if borders cannot be changed, they must be made irrelevant.”

Perceptions on either side would play a critical role in shaping the course of the relations. The media, which has been inclined to inject nationalistic fervour in the coverage of the issue, would have to be more responsible, emphasising on the positive and being wary of being treated like political pawns in the Indo-Pak quagmire. Terrorism, water and Afghanistan form facets of the wide range of issues which allow possible collaboration. These include trade and commerce, energy sharing, increased transport, communication links and simplified visa procedures.

One option is 60 more years of bloodshed, incessant rhetoric, drought, proxy wars and shackled status quo over land which has more security people than civilians, over water, which gets wasted and flows into the sea and over a neighbouring country which is already ravaged by years of war. The other option is respect, peace, flourishing trade, economic growth, better perceptions and understanding. The world accepts that this century belongs to Asia, what do we choose to make of it?

The choice is ours.

(The author is Researcher, Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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