People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 39

September 26, 2004

Indo-Pak Détente: A Must For South Asian Prosperity


Harkishan Singh Surjeet


BY the time we go to press, Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf were yet to meet in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session 2004, with Musharraf promising that he would meet Singh with an open mind. The proposed meeting is significant in view of the hopes it has generated, as sentiments for friendly relations between the people of India and Pakistan were never so intense as they are today. It is being increasingly realised that mutual cooperation and friendship between the two countries can go a long way in solving the problems facing the population of not only India and Pakistan but of the entire subcontinent.


And such sentiments are not confined to the people of India and Pakistan. As the two countries are now nuclear weapons states, any flare-up in this part of the world can pose a serious threat to world peace. That is why the current round of Indo-Pak negotiations are being keenly watched all over and the world peoples have repeatedly expressed hope that progress in the talks would be unhindered.  




IT was with such feelings that as soon as the government of India announced its intention to hold a dialogue with Pakistan, the CPI(M) extended it an unconditional welcome. To recall a bit of history, way back in 1965 we were even persecuted and hounded for advocating that the two countries must solve their disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations. Just as we were persecuted and hounded in 1962 for advocating a peaceful, mutually advantageous solution to the Sino-Indian dispute.


Be that as it may, the fact remains that, compared to the day Vajpayee and Musharraf met at Agra, substantial progress has taken place in Indo-Pak dialogue even though much more remains to be done on several fronts. Many less entangled issues like those of fishermen, war prisoners, etc, have been more or less solved; visa restrictions in the two countries have been further eased. At the same time, the process of people to people contact has gone much ahead and steadily helped in reducing the tension between the two countries. The successful treatment of a couple of Pakistani children in hospitals at Bangalore and Hyderabad, of an Indian child in a hospital in Pakistan, and the people’s heartfelt desire for the success of these treatments have in a most dramatic manner demonstrated that the process of détente between the two countries will have unreserved support of the masses of the subcontinent and the world. This is an asset whose value cannot be minimised.


It was in this atmosphere of pro-peace sentiments that Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Ahmad Qasuri recently visited New Delhi and his talks with his Indian counterpart yielded a bit of positive result, including the idea that technical hitches in running the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service would be sorted out soon. The resolve to continue the composite dialogue was in itself a big thing, at least in the present stage when sceptics were vocal about its utility and its continuation.




YET, hardly had Qasuri settled in his job after getting back to Islamabad when the newly appointed Pakistan prime minister Shaukat Aziz stunned the people by saying that even the initiative in allowing the Iran-India pipeline to pass through the Pakistan territory would depend upon the successful conclusion of the Kashmir dispute. This was a piece of bad diplomacy, to say the least.


One need not go too far to understand the illogicality of Aziz’s demand. There was a time, in a not too distant past, when both India and Pakistan used to put forward preconditions for initiating a dialogue. India’s position under Vajpayee was one of no talk till cross-border terrorism was stopped and the terrorist training camps were dismantled. From the other side of the fence came the voice that the Kashmir tangle should be resolved before the start of any dialogue. We may recall here that Musharraf went back from Agra with precisely this contention that he was not prepared to discuss any other issue till the Kashmir dispute was resolved.   


On the contrary, saner voices kept urging the two countries that, all their mutual bickerings apart, they must come to the negotiating table without any precondition, first settle as many less complicated issues as possible, and thereby create and increasingly strengthen an atmosphere of mutual confidence in which even more complicated issues may be sorted out at some later date. To the satisfaction of one and all, it was this sane view that finally prevailed and both India and Pakistan agreed to have a composite dialogue in which Kashmir and cross-border terrorism were not preconditions but two among the issues to be discussed. In fact, whatever progress has so far been made has been because of this change in approach.




THIS underlines the illogical nature of Shaukat Aziz’s demand that Kashmir must be resolved first before Pakistan allows a gas pipeline to pass from Iran (or from Central Asian countries) to India through its territory.


That it was a piece of bad diplomacy is also evident. India has two options before it about how to get gas from Iran. It may lay a pipeline either through the Arabian Sea or through Pakistan, and it is yet to take a decision in this regard though the discussion in official circles is in an advanced stage. However, while in New Delhi, Qasuri had himself asked India to give priority to laying a pipeline through Pakistan, and had even promised that Pakistan would guarantee the safety of that pipeline or of the gas passing through it. But if Qasuri made this promise, it is certain that he must have got the prior approval from his prime minister, Shaukat Aziz. In other words, by linking the progress of this pipeline with Kashmir, Aziz has not only pushed his own foreign minister into an ackward position but even lowered the credibility of Pakistan ruling circles in the comity of nations.


Nor does Aziz’s statement make any economic sense. If the envisaged Iran-India gas pipeline passes through Pakistan, the latter stands to gain 80 million dollars a year as royalty, which may be of much help to it in meeting the social sector needs in particular. The importance of this money for Pakistan cannot be underestimated as more than half of the country’s budget goes only for defence expenditure and debt servicing, leaving very little for the social sectors. Indeed, this was the reason Qasuri made a strong plea that India must decide in favour of laying the proposed pipeline through Pakistan. In fact, Aziz’s contention that India’s development would suffer if Pakistan does not allow the pipeline to pass through its territory carries little weight because, even if with difficulty and at a higher cost, India may well run this pipeline through the Arabian Sea.   


The good thing to happen in this regard is that India has refused to get provoked by the statement made by Aziz.




WITH this we come to the issue of how to go about solving the pending issues between India and Pakistan. Not that these are the only countries to have disputes between them. There was a time when Indonesia and Malaysia had had serious disputes between them, but yet they decided to cooperate in economic, trade and other spheres, and thus created an atmosphere of mutual confidence in which their territorial disputes were amicably solved. France and Germany adopted the same approach, as did China and the former USSR or as did China and Vietnam.


Or take another example. Even today, keeping their border dispute in abeyance, China and India are forging their cooperation in other areas. Moreover, to cite just one example, the easing of situation on the Sino-Indian border is helping us save some Rs 4,000 crore a year; otherwise this money could have gone waste instead of being utilised for productive purposes. The process of détente between the two countries has even elicited from China a de facto recognition of Sikkim as Indian territory.


The question is: why can’t Pakistan and India adopt the same approach in solving their problems? Shaukat Aziz should better give a thought to it.




THE fact is that the military dispensation in Pakistan has its own compulsions and it is these compulsions that make the establishment try to divert the people’s attention from real issues. Today, in Pakistan, the demand that President Pervez Musharraf must give up the post of army chief is becoming increasingly strident. In the past three years, Musharraf has promised several times that he would give up his uniform but never bothered to fulfil his promise, nor has he set a date for honouring this promise. This has created a lot of resentment in the country.


At the same time, works by scholars like Dr (Mrs) Ayesha Siddiqa and others are increasingly exposing the “corporate role” the army’s top brass, serving as well as retired, are playing. Many of these army officers are running NGOs, housing societies, educational institutions and other businesses, and are not only minting money but even milking the state exchequer by both hands. If a country arranges for employment for its retired army personnel, it is perfectly justified. But this is not what is happening in Pakistan. According to a recent report in the Dawn daily and another in Washington based South Asia Tribune, several corporate businesses in the country took loans from banks, then went bust, and the military government poured in more funds to rescue them. In yet another case, a road project was recently converted from a BOT (build, operate, transfer) project into a government funded project, and handed over to a company that had no expertise in road construction but got the contract only because its promoters were close to the establishment. In return, that company employed a retired brigadier as a consultant for 25 years, with the provision that that ‘consultant’ would get 2 per cent of the annual profits. And why was this brigadier thus obliged? He happens to the father-in-law of Bilal Musharraf, General Pervez Musharraf’s son.   


Only last year, a number of peasants were evicted from the sprawling Okada farm so that valuable prime lands could be handed over to the top army brass. A number of them are engaged in land development all over the country so as to sell plots at exorbitant prices.


Such instances of naked corruption are coming out everyday in Pakistan, causing popular resentment against the military establishment’s lack of accountability. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that, after throwing Nawaz Sharif into jail and subsequently throwing out elected president Rafiq Tarar in a patently illegal act, the Musharraf dispensation sought to gain legitimacy by pointing to the rampant corruption under the civilian regimes of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. To their grief, now the people find that the Musharraf regime is no better than its predecessors insofar as corruption is concerned; the only difference is that this regime feels it is not bound to give an account of its deeds and misdeeds to anybody.


A third major factor is the grievance the Baluchistan people are harbouring against the military establishment that is adamant to create three new cantonments in the province, in addition to the existing ones. The people are not prepared to buy the argument that these cantonments are needed to fight terrorism, as the province is comparatively free from this scourge. Their fear is that these will be used to crush their own legitimate aspirations. Discontent is already simmering in Sind. 




IT is these and some other factors that are causing a lot of discontent in the country where the successive regimes have failed to meet the people’s aspirations. Hence, trying to incite the people’s passions in the name of Kashmir or some such slogan remains the only course open for the establishment.


Yet the pitfalls of this course of action are not hidden from the people. After having okayed the Kargil misadventure, Nawaz Sharif did realise the folly at one stage, but only when it was too late. And paid a heavy price in the bargain.


Therefore, the only sensible course open to Pakistani rulers is that they bow to the wishes of their people and renounce their antipathy towards India. At a time the USA has forged the NAFTA and is trying to regain its prominence in the American continent, and while the European Union has already expanded, the people in other parts of the world are set to face tougher days in their dealings with these economic giants. This is all the more true of the people of South Asia where the SAARC has failed to grow into a viable unit, and bodies like the SAPTA and SAFTA are yet to take off. Forging mutual cooperation remains the only course for the countries of the region if they want to cope with the travails of a globalised economy.


This is all the more necessary in view of the fact that, barring the sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia is perhaps the least developed region of the world. Be it literacy and education, health and sanitation, housing and potable water, or any other area, the region is beset with a myriad of problems that at the moment seem intractable. Not that these countries are devoid of resources. They have tremendous manpower and natural resources, and while working in western countries their scientists and technicians have proved their worth. These countries do have a shortage of financial resources but, given their mutual cooperation, ways to overcome this problem can also be devised. There is therefore no reason why these seven countries should not develop cooperation to their mutual advantage.


It goes without saying that, being the biggest countries of the region, India and Pakistan have to take the lead in this process. In the not very distant past, the SAARC summit could not take place for three consecutive years simply because the then prime minister Vajpayee was not agreeable to attending the summit as it was to take place in Pakistan. This amounted to holding to ransom the aspirations of smaller countries --- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka --- for no fault of theirs. Such a folly has to be avoided. On its part, while continuing its dialogue with India, Pakistan too has to avoid trying to incite people’s sentiments in the name of Kashmir, so that the process of détente moves ahead and the whole region is able to move on the path of prosperity and development.