Thursday, 4 June 2020

India-Pakistan Moving Forward

Updated: December 3, 2011 4:42 pm

During his visit to Pakistan in December, 1996, Mr Jiang Zemin, the then Chinese President, made a speech titled “carrying forward generations of friendly and good-neighbourly relations and endeavoring towards a better tomorrow for all” in Islamabad on December 2, 1996.

He highlighted five points which, according to him, governed China’s foreign policy towards the South Asian countries. He explained one of these points in the following words: “We should look at the differences or disputes from a long perspective, seeking a just and reasonable settlement through consultations and negotiations while bearing in mind the larger picture. If certain issues cannot be resolved for the time being, they may be shelved temporarily so that they will not affect the normal state-to-state relations.”

Even though he did not make any specific reference to India or Pakistan, his highlighting this point was widely interpreted in Pakistan as a hint to it that it should emulate China, which has not allowed its long-standing border dispute with India to come in the way of the development of economic and other relations between the countries. It was seen as an advice to Pakistan that while negotiating with India on the Kashmir issue, it should not allow it to come in the way of normal economic and other relations with India.

Ever since Pakistan became independent in 1947, successive governments have been following a policy of not agreeing to a normalisation of trade relations with India till the so-called Kashmir dispute was resolved to mutual satisfaction. While the Pakistani authorities always cited the pending Kashmir issue as standing in the way of normal trade relations, another reason was their fear that their industries might not be able to compete with their Indian counterparts if trade was normalised.

It was reported at that time that Mr Jiang had raised this point more explicitly with the Pakistani authorities and suggested that Pakistan should emulate China’s example by normalising its trade relations with India without allowing them to remain frozen till the Kashmir issue was resolved. They reportedly did not accept his advice.

Pakistan’s past policy on the question of normalising its trade relations with India consisted of the following:

  1. Not reciprocating India’s action in granting the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan till the Kashmir issue was resolved.
  2. Allowing a strictly limited bilateral trade only in respect of certain commodities included in a positive list without accepting India’s suggestion of having a limited negative list mentioning commodities which cannot be traded and allowing restriction-free trade in respect of all commodities not figuring in the list.
  3. Not allowing Indian investments in Pakistan.
  4. Not allowing banks to open branches in each other’s territory.

Signs of a new thinking in Pakistan on the question of moving towards a normalisation of trade relations with India despite persisting differences on the so-called Kashmir dispute became evident during the third round of the bilateral talks on economic co-operation held by the Commerce Secretaries of the two governments at New Delhi on August 2 and 3, 2007.

The meeting reportedly took a significant decision to work for an increase in the value of the bilateral trade from US $ 1.7 billion as it was in 2006-07 to US $ 10 billion by 2010. Among other important decisions taken were allowing specified banks of the two countries to open branches in each other’s territory, expanding the trade basket, improving transportation links, reducing tariffs and mutual technical assistance in capacity building.

It became obvious that even while continuing to stick to the stand that there cannot be a normalisation of trade relations till the Kashmir issue is resolved, the Pakistani authorities had started quietly allowing a movement towards a de facto normalisation. De jure restrictions, but de facto normalisation seemed to be the direction in which the bilateral economic relations started moving.

This trend towards a normalisation of economic and trade relations between the two countries seemed to have lost momentum after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, when attitude towards each other became hardened once again. Since the beginning of this year, there are again signs of a thaw despite continuing Indian dissatisfaction over the perceived slowness of the Pakistani authorities in taking action against the Pakistan-based masterminds of the 26/11 terrorist strikes and renewed Pakistani concerns over perceived Indian activism in Afghanistan—which seemed to have moved from the economic to the military field.

This thaw became evident during the meeting in March last between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousef Raza Gilani at Mohali in Punjab in the margins of the World Cup Cricket semi-final between the teams of the two countries and the subsequent meeting between Foreign Ministers SM Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar at New Delhi in July last.

This process of thaw has since resulted in two positive moves by the two countries. The first is the reported decision of the Government of Pakistan to grant the MFN status to India without linking it to the progress in the bilateral talks on the Kashmir issue. The reported decision is yet to be formalised, but what is significant is that there are no signs of any opposition to it from the Pakistani Foreign Office and the Army. In the past it was the opposition from Pakistan’s Foreign Office and the Army that stood in the way of a forward movement on this issue. The economic ministries of the Government of Pakistan had been in favour of this since 1996 onwards.


With atypical attention-grabbing flourish the just-concluded 17th SAARC Summit in Maldives has been described by the media as indicating that SAARC has reached a tipping point. But this has repeatedly been stated over the past three decades since SAARC was established in December 1985 following an initiative taken by Zia-ur-Rahman of Bangladesh. There is absolutely no doubt that SAARC has moved some distance since its first summit in Dhaka, but the pace has been rather slow.

The two most prominent reasons for SAARC remaining effete over the years are familiar to everyone. First, the implacable hostility of Pakistan towards India, which informed the former to use all available international gatherings, including SAARC, to raise controversial issues like Kashmir to disrupt and dampen the proceedings. Second, the smaller countries in SAARC were not remiss in using this forum to disparage India for its allegedly hegemonistic designs upon the South Asian region. In truth, India was a very reluctant entrant into SAARC. It had realistically assessed at that time (early eighties) that SAARC would be used for ‘India-bashing’, as it provided an opportunity for its neighbours to ‘gang up’ against India. At the same time, larger considerations informed India that it would be seen as a ‘spoiler’ by the international community; hence India agreed, reluctantly, to join SAARC.

In terms of its charter, bilateral issues are not permitted to be raised in SAARC Summits. All decisions must also be reached by consensus, which has inhibited progress in SAARC forum. There is little doubt, moreover, that with the global financial crisis looming largely over the international system, economics has been fore-grounded, while politics has receded somewhat into the background. Consequently, it is theoretically possible to argue that greater trade and commerce between adversarial nations can mitigate political tensions that divide them. But reality intrudes into this simple formulation and renders it untrue.

India and Pakistan are the two largest countries in South Asia, and their embroils have excoriated SAARC over the years, while the smaller nations in South Asia have sought to exploit this situation to serve their own national interests. Therefore, the device of a retreat has been conceived whereby the leaders meet bilaterally on the margins of summit meetings and resolve their mutual differences and other issues. This might have proven useful on certain occasions provided the political will was present and adequate preparatory work had been done. Currently, there is much euphoria that a ‘breakthrough’ in Indo-Pak relations has been achieved and that bilateral trade will grow exponentially. But, these are preliminary endeavours and the two nations will need to take hard decisions when they return to their national capitals and face up to the harsh constraints of domestic politics.

The overarching theme of the recently summit was “Building Bridges” and the Addu declaration, issued thereafter, called for energising the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement, reducing items in the ‘sensitive lists,’ reviewing non-tariff barriers, and harmonising standards and customs procedures; permitting greater flow of financial capital and intra-regional long-term investment, concluding the regional railways agreement and finalising a Motor Vehicles Agreement; besides addressing the issues of an Indian Ocean Cargo and Passenger Ferry Service.

These thrust areas are closely related to “Building Bridges” between the South Asian countries. But there is much else that finds mention in the Addu declaration like negotiating framework agreements for energy cooperation and regional power exchange; establishing a SAARC market for electricity; addressing climate change; investing in renewable energy; starting a food bank; rooting out terrorism, illegal trafficking in narcotics and small arms; combating terrorism and maritime piracy. There is much else; in fact, the list is almost unending.

It is wholly unsurprising therefore that a major reason for SAARC to have met with so little success is that it has attempted to do so many things with little effort to prioritise all these difficult problems into a work agenda. Inevitably, this inchoate agenda has resulted in a diffusion of the focus. But, the more pertinent reason underlying SAARC’s exceedingly modest success over the last quarter century is the unfortunate reality that a vast chasm exists between rhetoric and action. SAARC leaders have no difficulty in making the most extravagant commitments in SAARC summits, but forgetting about them almost immediately thereafter, until the next meeting comes around. Hence, the need to bridge the gap between rhetoric and action cannot be over-emphasised.

Why this chasm exists between rhetoric and action could be placed on the agenda of the next summit meeting, and the host of other meetings that are regularly occurring between SAARC officials, and also the plethora of Track-II efforts taking place between people of goodwill in South Asia. Any light emerging on this critical issue could ensure that SAARC becomes something more than a talk-shop, as at present.

By PR Chari

(The author is Visiting Professor at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi)

The lifting of opposition to the grant of the MFN status by the Army is a tentative indication that it has started looking at India through a less hostile prism. It is important to encourage any sign of new thinking in the Pakistani Army by taking the first steps towards building a military-military relationship by inviting Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff, to visit New Delhi at the invitation of his Indian counterpart. I have been advocating this for quite some time and reiterate my continued support for it.

The second significant move has come from Dr Manmohan Singh during his meeting with Mr Gilani on November 10, 2011, in the margins of the SAARC summit in the Maldives. The Hindu has reported that Dr Singh said that India had decided to move towards a Preferential Trade Agreement with Pakistan and a liberal visa regime for Pakistani nationals. His announcements were apparently meant to reassure Pakistan that its decision to grant the MFN status to India would have economic dividends to it.


Unlike al-Qaeda Central (the core organization hiding in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas), which confronts a challenging security environment and relies heavily on other outfits for assistance with launching attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba controls a robust infrastructure that operates in plain sight. Its leadership operates out of Lahore and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, not from a hidden redoubt somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, though the group has increased it presence there. This freedom of movement carries with it a number of benefits the core al-Qaeda organization does not enjoy, but also serves as a leverage point that can be used to constrain Lashkar’s activity. The leadership’s ongoing relationship with the ISI and susceptibility to state pressure robs it of legitimacy in the eyes of some jihadis, who respect the sacrifices al-Qaeda leaders have made and the forthright manner in which they challenge the US as well as its many allies. At present, Lashkar or at least significant elements within it, are still ‘tamed by the ISI’ as one former member observed. The group no longer needs financial or much operational support; rather it requires protection and the freedom to continue its military as well as social welfare activities. In the 1990s the group needed the state to build up its infrastructure, whereas now it is reliant on the army and ISI not to tear it down. It is worth highlighting Lashkar’s devotion to dawa through the delivering of social services—a capacity al-Qaeda lacks—and the fact that protecting its domestic infrastructure has at times limited its military adventurism…

Lashkar’s threat to India remains greater as well as more straight-forward. After a period of calm following the Mumbai attacks, evidence suggests Lashkar’s leash was loosened once again. The potential costs to the group for attacks against India remain lower than for its global jihadi activities because they are less likely to result in ISI sanction and so Lashkar is able to plan, prepare for and operationalize-attacks against India with greater ease. Thus, the threat to Pakistan’s neighbor is not simply about the likelihood or frequency of attacks, but also their scale since Lashkar can more fully capitalize on its extensive organizational capabilities for these operations. Moreover, although degraded, it appeared at the time of writing that the indigenous terrorist network in India that Lashkar helped to build was being regenerated with the help of external support. The Indian Mujahideen network is part of a wider jihadi project in India, and many indigenous militants have connections to multiple actors in Pakistan. On the whole, however, Indian jihadis are closest to Lashkar, which continues to train and support them. Although it appears the ISI remains able to influence Lashkar to modulate its terrorist activities vis-a-vis India, the group’s regional presence in the Gulf as well as other South Asian countries means that its ability to inflict damage is not limited to what it can accomplish from Pakistan. While Lashkar’s transnational networks can be used for multiple purposes and Western security officials are therefore correct to worry about the threats they pose to their own countries, the group still employs them primarily for attacks in India. Furthermore, their existence means that Lashkar would remain able to support or execute attacks against India were Pakistan to crack down on its domestic infrastructure. Should this occur, these networks also could be unleashed on the many countries they currently permeate, or on Pakistan.

(Excerpts from STORMING THE WORLD STAGE: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba by Stephen Tankel, Hachette Book Publishing India Pvt. Ltd.)



Apart from the Kashmir issue, past Pakistani reluctance to grant the MFN status to India had strong economic reasons too—namely, its fears that the MFN status would be more beneficial to India than to Pakistan and could reduce Pakistan to a position of economic dependence on India. It is important to remove these fears from the mind of Pakistan.

Pakistan continues to take a rigid stand on one economic issue of considerable interest to India—that is, the right of transit through Pakistani territory of Indian goods moving overland to Afghanistan. This rigidity might continue for some time till the fears in the minds of Pakistan regarding the implications of India’s strategic relations with Afghanistan are diluted. We should not allow this to stand in the way of a forward movement in respect of other economic and trade issues.

The SAARC summit provided an opportunity for meetings between the Foreign Secretaries, Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers of the two countries. Even in the absence of any substantive movement on the question of Pakistani action against anti-India terrorists operating from its territory, one is gratified to note the evolution of a new vocabulary between the two countries, which highlights the positive more than the negative and which reflects a budding feel good atmosphere in the relations between the political leaderships and civilian bureaucracies of the two countries.


Textbooks in Pakistan foster prejudice and intolerance of Hindus and Christians, claims a study by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. “Religious minorities are often portrayed as inferior or second-class citizens who have been granted limited rights and privileges by generous Pakistani Muslims, for which they should be grateful,” the report says.

The findings are based on a review of more than 100 textbooks from grades 1 to 10, which was followed by visits to 37 public schools and 19 madressahs where some 500 students and teachers were interviewed.

The Associated Press that reported the findings adds a little perspective of its own, noting Pakistan was created as a homeland for South Asian Muslims and was envisaged as a moderate state where minorities would have full rights: “But three wars with India; state support for militants fighting Soviet-rule in Afghanistan in the 1980s; and the appeasement of hardline clerics by weak governments seeking legitimacy have led to a steady radicalisation of society.”

No one is safe. The years of continuing lawlessness and political instability in the country have made everyone vulnerable. The collapse of institutions and inadequacy of celebrated icons, including the army, have dangerously disillusioned generations of Pakistanis.

Radical groups have smoothly stepped into this leadership vacuum, preying on people’s deepest insecurities and prejudices. But no amount of rabblerousing by fanatics and self-serving politicians could match the damage inflicted by toxic textbooks. Lessons and images imprinted on young impressionable minds do not just stay with us forever, they fashion our whole personality, outlook and approach to life.

This is why there may be something in there in the US claim that textbooks are to blame for the growing intolerance of minorities in Pakistan. The day the US report came out, four Hindus were killed in an attack on a clinic in Sindh, the most serious crime recorded against the community in years.

The authorities, however, view the incident as part of the general lawlessness prevailing in the country. Thousands have died over the past few years in attacks and mindless, indiscriminate violence targeting civilians across the country, ostensibly in response to US wars that have destabilised the whole region. Ninety percent of such terror attacks have targeted mosques and public places.

Nonetheless, it’s impossible to ignore growing instances of attacks on minorities. There have been many incidents where Christians were meted out “vigilante justice” after being accused of blasphemy under the much abused laws inherited from the British. The assassination of federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti earlier this year was the most high-profile of crimes against the community.

Sectarian violence isn’t limited to Christians and Hindus, though. The Shia Muslims have also suffered despite their epic sacrifices to get to the “promised land.” Whatever the socio-political explanation for this state of affairs, it’s shameful and unacceptable in a country founded in the name of Islam.

Pakistan’s architect Muhammad Ali Jinnah had promised complete freedom and equal rights to all citizens. In his address to the Constituent Assembly on Aug 11, 1947, he had declared: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the state. We are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.”

Which is how it should be—and should have been. But Pakistan doesn’t enjoy a monopoly over toxic textbooks or demonisation of minorities. The game has been played on both sides of the border with great dexterity and goes way back—long before the division of the subcontinent.

The British took the classic game of “divide and rule” to a new level by repeatedly using it to target religious harmony. Having snatched power from the Mughals, they tried every trick in the devil’s book to malign and defame the former rulers and turn the majority Hindus against Muslims with whom they had lived in peace for over a thousand years. The Muslims were portrayed as invaders who came to India to plunder its riches, destroy every temple and convert every Hindu to Islam at sword’s point. The paid historians of the Raj tried to wipe off every sign of the Muslim love affair with India, sowing seeds of strife that eventually led to the division of the country before the British departed.

That selective reading of history did not stop with the end of the Raj but went on in the secular and democratic India, even though the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, himself was an eminent historian and was known to be secular and liberal in outlook. Even Maulana Azad, the first education minister and a formidable thinker, could do little to check this poison being administered to generations of Indians at a tender age.

The understanding and interpretation of history acquired a totally new meaning during the years the militant BJP was in power, with the government undertaking a massive exercise to “rewrite and saffronise” the past. As a result, children grow up on this staple of history, imbibing early how Muslims ravaged India and went about razing temples and building mosques on their ruins and, to cap it all, by dividing the motherland. Even Muslims studying this history are sure to grow up loathing themselves and their ancestors.

Is it any wonder, then, that Muslims today face so much antipathy and find themselves so hopelessly marginalised and alienated from the rest of the country? And does anyone think of the long-term consequence of this perpetual demonisation of the minority community?

Of course, Muslims who ruled India were not all paragons of virtue. Be it the mighty Mughals or Mahmud of Ghazni or Mohammed Shah Ghauri, they were not on a proselytising mission. They were merely greedy conquerors like scores of others who were attracted to India by its fabled riches. They just happened to be Muslims, just like some European conquerors happened to be Christian.

What Babar did to Ibrahim Lodhi and what Sher Shah Suri did to Humayun is what emperors and kings routinely did to each other in those days. If Muslim rulers fought and killed Hindu kings and their subjects, they also killed fellow-Muslim rulers and their subjects with equal impunity. Aurangzeb incarcerated his own father and killed his brothers. All this was for power and the religion of these rulers had nothing to do with the whole circus. Even the most benign of Muslim rulers did not represent Islam or Muslims, just as most of the current lot of Muslim rulers do not.

If these men had indeed been real representatives of Islam, their subjects would have thanked them as the persecuted Jews did when Caliph Omar entered Jerusalem or as Christians did when Tariq Ben Ziad arrived in Spain after burning all his ships. If the Muslims had indeed converted the indigenous population at sword’s point, India would have been a Muslim country today.

History is a double-edged sword and those who play with it eventually end up hurting themselves. Remember what the Bible says about harvesting hatred. Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.

(Courtesy: The News International, Islamabad)

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

This feel good atmosphere is yet to percolate through to the Armies and intelligence agencies of the two countries. There are as yet no signs of any dilution in the ranks of the die-hard hawks in the analytical communities of the two countries. It is important to bring the Armies, the intelligence agencies and analytical hawks on board if this feel good trend is to be sustained and strengthened.

The only way of doing this is by encouraging greater interactions at different levels. Nothing like personal interactions to reduce suspicion and distrust. In this connection, I reiterate what I wrote after the Mohali meeting between the two Prime Ministers.

I wrote as follows: “ To prevent an attempt to derail the “re-engagement” process by elements which are against it, it is important that the “wide-ranging conversations” initiated at Mohali are kept moving forward by the two Prime Ministers by taking an early decision by our Prime Minister on his acceptance of the invitation from Gilani and by quick follow-up on the visits of parliamentary delegations.The goodwill and the benign interest in each other generated by the World Cup cricket semi-final was taken advantage of by our Prime Minister to make the “re-engagement” and “re-connecting” process possible. He should readily accept the reported suggestion of Gilani for a friendly cricket match between the two teams in Pakistan in the near future and visit Pakistan to keep this process of strategic discovery of each other going forward.”

By B Raman












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