A spiritual journey
On a private one day visit to India to pay his respects at the Ajmer Sharif shrine, President Asif Ali Zardari and his hosts have taken advantage of the occasion to set up a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The one-to-one meeting lasted about 40 minutes. From Dr Manmohan Singh’s side, the issue of Hafiz Saeed, as expected, was raised with the request for progress in this regard. From the president’s side, the issues of water, Siachin, Sir Creek and Kashmir were, again not unexpectedly, discussed. As was on the cards, this ‘informal’ diplomacy was hardly likely to yield more than a discussion and at best a reiteration of the positions of both sides on these issues. What then explains the extraordinary media hype in both India and Pakistan prior to the visit, and the sense of deflation after the meeting? In India, the anticipation focused around Hafiz Saeed in the context of the recent $ 10 million bounty on his head declared by the US. The accusations against Hafiz Saeed include masterminding the Mumbai attacks, which he denies and the Pakistan government rejects in the absence of concrete proof. President Zardari on the eve of his departure had clarified that his position on the issue was no different from the government’s. Since the joint investigations of the incident have not made much progress, the visit to India of a delegation from Pakistan to gather evidence about the attack notwithstanding, New Delhi would dearly like to see some forward movement on the issue. However, from the reaction of Islamabad to the bounty announcement, that appears still difficult, if not unlikely.
President Zardari naturally raised some issues of recent concern and some of long standing. Water has of late become a point of friction between the two countries, with sections of opinion in Pakistan accusing India of building storages on, or diverting the waters of, the three western rivers allocated to Pakistan under the Indus Water Treaty, thereby depriving the lower riparian of its due share of water. India has assiduously denied this, and while the officials of the two countries are engaged in discussions (and verging on arbitration in one or two instances), the usual cast of suspects is hard at work to use the points of discord to fan the flames of anti-India hatred in Pakistan. What is needed is an objective appraisal of the water issue under the terms of the Treaty, without emotion and based on the facts. If after such an appraisal (and this is by no means a settled view even amongst Pakistani officials, spin aside), India is found to be in breach of the provisions of the Treaty, redress lies in using the resolution mechanisms laid down in the Treaty, including international arbitration, to sort out the matter. Sir Creek has defied resolution for far too long. The problem is a relatively simple one of demarcating the boundary between the two countries in the area according to international law. Although such disputes are known to have led to wars in other places (the Shatt-el-Arab between Iraq and Iran readily comes to mind), it is about time the mistrust that has dogged Pakistan-India relations is put behind us and the problem resolved to mutual satisfaction.
Kashmir remains a bone of contention between the two neighbouring countries even after all these years. Conventional wars on the issue have yielded the conclusion that neither side can prevail against the other. At best inconclusive wars on the dispute have led afterwards to reversing and making adjustments to the minor changes in the Line of Control (LoC). Nuclear weaponisation of both countries since 1998 has made all-out war unthinkable, with Kargil, despite being an aberration, proving that international and local pressures would stop the conflict crossing the dangerous nuclear threshold. The issue can therefore only be settled through negotiations, implying a historic compromise that satisfies all three parties, Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir. The sine qua non for this outcome is an internal political settlement between the Indian government and the estranged Kashmiri forces. This could open the door to a settlement between Pakistan and India, including revisiting some of the proposals during Musharraf’s tenure to make the LoC porous to trade and people-to-people exchanges. One of the spinoffs of the Kashmir dispute has been the irrational standoff over Siachin. On the highest battlefield of the world, more men have been lost on both sides to the elements than to warfare. The landslide disaster that has buried 124 Pakistani soldiers the other day is a case in point. The glacier needs to be de-militarised and reopened to international mountaineering pursuits for the mutual benefit of both Pakistan and India.
Hopefully, the president’s visit, albeit a private spiritual journey, and the invitation (graciously accepted) to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan would yield more opportunities for interaction and the improvement of bilateral relations between the two countries.