Indo-Pak peace process
Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
Peace between India and Pakistan is the prerequisite for achieving stability and economic development in South Asia. In the past efforts were made at bilateral and multilateral levels to normalize the relationship between these key South Asian neighbours. Nevertheless, these attempts were limited to economic interactions, leaving aside the core political issues, which have always been the cause of instability in their bilateral relationship. The strategic culture of animosity, the sense of insecurity and mistrust, and the divergent geopolitical interests of the great powers have kept hostage the peace process between India and Pakistan.
In the past, attempts of economic integration have not been effective in bringing both countries closer. The history of regional associations is testimony to the fact that without achieving political understanding, an environment of trust cannot be generated. The critical nature of the relationship between India and Pakistan needs particular attention at the bilateral, regional and global level. Whereas, the severity of tensions between both rivals could bring the world to the brink of nuclear disaster, the resolution of core issue; indeed, the cause of conflict between India and Pakistan would bring the region to the new heights of peace and prosperity.
The adoption of a people-centric approach is the recipe needed for addressing the core issues of conflict between India and Pakistan. Such an approach would bring economic prosperity in South Asia, thus alleviating the worst poverty, currently rampant in the region. In order to improve the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan, composite dialogue process started in 1997. Unfortunately, there remained inconsistency in this process mainly owing to sporadic incidents on both sides and lack of trust between both countries.
Nevertheless, despite nuisances, there have been negotiations and peace talks between officials and at ministerial level to shed away the environment of distrust between key neighbours of South Asia. These talks even continued during the extreme tensions between both countries. In the same connectivity, on September 7-8, 2012, a meeting was held between Pakistani Foreign Minister Ms Hina Rabbani Khar and Indian External Affairs Minister, Mr S.M Krishna in Islamabad. Indeed, this visit of Indian External Affairs Minister was reciprocal to Pakistani FM visit to New Delhi on July 27, 2011 and as part of continuation of the peace process between these two South Asian countries. Two aspects were agreed upon during this meeting; the liberalization of visa regime and revival of the joint commission.
Agreement on liberalized visa would facilitate many on either side, particularly the members of divided families, business community, people-to-people contact, old citizens and among the academic circle. The joint commission however, will look into the new avenues of cooperation between India and Pakistan, apart from the eight issues, already part of foreign secretary level talks. Continuation of peace process between Pakistan and India is a welcoming step. Indeed, under the changed international environment, where globalization is the order of the day, immediate neighbours like India and Pakistan cannot afford strained relationship for an indefinite period. Therefore, negotiation and peaceful resolution of the core bilateral issues between these South Asian neighbours is the only way forward.
Besides foreign ministers level talks, the 7th round of the Indo-Pak talks on Commercial and Economic Cooperation was held from 20-21 September, 2012 in Islamabad. Commerce Secretaries of both countries led the talks on behalf of their respective countries. During the meeting, three agreements were signed to facilitate bilateral trade between India and Pakistan. The first agreement includes cooperation and mutual assistance in custom matters, whereas the second will help redressing the trade grievances. Third pact is about conforming standards; the Bureau of Indian Standards and the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA).
Relevant ministries of both countries would frame procedures to implement these agreements through a mechanism. Both sides agreed to sign another agreement between Export Inspection Council of India and Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA). Indian side offered 100 locomotives to Pakistan Railways and assistance in setting up the coal, hydro and gas power plants. As indicated in the joint statement, the “roadmap drawn in the earlier ministerial meetings for liberalized and preferential trade regimes would be scrupulously adhered to.”
Following the foreign minister level meeting, Pakistani FM Ms Hinna Rabbani Khar said that: “We are willing to forge ahead with a different future which is people-centric, which is development-centric, which is centric to the common citizens of India and Pakistan, which is committed to creating stakeholders in the economic interests and the future of the two countries.” In the joint statement issued after the meeting, it is said that, that both ministers have reviewed the status of bilateral relations and agreed to hold talks and meetings on all other issues. These issues include; counter-terrorism (including progress on the Mumbai trial) and narcotics control; humanitarian issues; commercial and economic cooperation; Wullar Barrage / Tulbul Navigation Project; Sir Creek; Siachen; peace and security including CBMs; Jammu and Kashmir and the promotion of friendly exchanges. Salient of the meeting was that, the real causes of the confrontation between India and Pakistan were not discussed, except left for the passing reference of the joint statement. Both sides also agreed to enhance cross-LoC travel and cross-LoC trade as confidence building measure between the two countries.