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Have India-Pakistan Confidence Building Measures Reached A Plateau?

Colonel Satinder K. Saini was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • October 10, 2007

    The Indian media recently carried reports of angry protestors at Attari, smashing into pulp tomato cartons from trucks on their way to Pakistan. The protestors were porters who had till now been engaged in trans-shipment of goods and commodities as head loads across the border, since loaded vehicles were not allowed to cross over. The significance of this maiden movement of loaded trucks across the border was lost in the sympathy generated for the porters who could become redundant at the border check point and thus lose their means of livelihood. That such an arrangement as this existed between the two countries does not do much good for their reputation in this age of globalization, which is forcing nations to evolve integrated transportation and logistics systems for efficient and uninterrupted movement of goods worldwide.

    The proposal to allow loaded trucks to cross over was on the table for a long time and had been mired in procedural wrangles owing to security considerations. While the concerns of security agencies, including their insistence on the installation of cargo scanners, have been taken into account, this breakthrough squarely places the onus on Pakistan to ensure that the trucks are not used to covertly ferry illegal items, including arms and explosives. At the same time, it symbolises enhanced mutual confidence and an unprecedented display of will on both sides to overcome procedural differences and implement mutually beneficial proposals. Undoubtedly, this should also increase the volume of trade between the two countries. More importantly, it should also lead to the early fructification of similar proposals like the commencement of a truck service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.

    Lately, however, one notices a general lack of media attention and public interest in the India-Pakistan peace process, especially the composite dialogue, on both sides of the border. This can be attributed largely to the prevailing domestic environments in both countries. While Pakistan's preoccupation with its internal situation is likely to continue in the short term despite cosmetic changes in the political dispensation at the top, in India, the submission of the reports of the five working groups constituted by the Prime Minister during the second Round Table Conference on Jammu & Kashmir has facilitated the shifting of internal focus to issues of governance, rather than on the external factor, namely Pakistan. It is, therefore, no surprise that oft-repeated assertions of "Kashmir being the core issue" or "Jammu & Kashmir being an inseparable part of India" have not been reiterated for some time. The reduced expectations from each of the meetings to discuss the eight elements of the composite dialogue have eventually transformed the interaction into a "process" as India desired, rather than as an event centric, over hyped engagement. Such a benign and non-confrontational environment should be a boon for quiet diplomacy and further progress on incongruous issues in a spirit of give and take, without compromising our basic stance and national interests.

    An erroneous impression has been created in certain quarters that the confidence building measures between India and Pakistan have peaked, with very little scope and strategic space available to take them further. It is important to understand the nature and framework of the composite dialogue process, which is unique and reflects the dynamics of the uneasy bilateral relationship that has existed since independence. This dialogue process is likely to carry on for a protracted period and provide an opportunity for increased understanding of each other's perspective. Modest incremental achievements should be able to sustain it. In fact, what has been achieved so far is just a tip of the iceberg and there is immense possibility for enlarging the scope of our constructive engagement with Pakistan.

    For instance, out of a list of 72 confidence building measures that India proposed in 2004, covering such diverse fields as peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, economic and commercial co-operation, promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields and environment, only a few have been implemented so far. The existing ceasefire on the borders has facilitated the creation of a stable military environment in which conflict is an extremely low probability. Against this backdrop, both sides need to focus more on non-military confidence building measures such as the promotion of trade, investment, technological collaboration, tourism, education and medicine.

    The remainder of the meetings under the ongoing fourth round of the composite dialogue should provide both sides an opportunity to consolidate the existing confidence building measures and make tangible progress in agreeing in principle to implement at least some of the proposals already exchanged earlier.