India could roil peace process
Hindustan times recently carried news that India will soon erect a ‘floating fence’, anchored by submerged metallic meshes along the disputed Sir Creek border area with Pakistan. The Union Home Ministry has reportedly entrusted the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) to install an all-weather ‘gabion box’ fence along the stretch. A ‘gabion box’ is a meshed metallic box-like structure with hexagonal wire nettings and it is lowered down the bed of the water body after big stones are filled inside it. India and Pakistan are continuously in talks with regard to the maritime boundary dispute in this area; thus India’s act of erecting floating fence in Sir Creek can prove counter-productive. It will negate the spirit of confidence building measures and the efforts to resolve the disputes through dialogue.
Pakistan and India have the history of failed dialogues due to the intransigence of Indian leadership, and ineptness of Pakistan’s foreign office babus as well as leaders. Apart from that, there is lack of political will and trust between the two governments, which has stymied the progress on the disputes. The composite dialogue was started in 2004 after the realization by India’s former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that resolution of the disputes between India and Pakistan is the only way to ensure sustainable peace in the region. Anyhow, after a long hiatus of about five years, negotiations between India and Pakistan were initiated in August 2004; however, the composite dialogue had moved at snail’s pace, and no progress on any substantive issues like Kashmir, Siachen or Sir Creek could be made, and every time there was just ‘ritual’ of the talks that remained inconclusive.
Pakistan and India failed to resolve their differences over the Sir Creek issue also, as both sides stuck to their stated positions. In fact, there is lack of political will and trust between the two governments, which has stymied the progress on the disputes. After a long hiatus of about five years, negotiations between India and Pakistan were initiated, and at the conclusion of talks on Sir Creek under the fourth round of composite dialogue they had only agreed to continue discussions for amicable settlement of the issue. From 2004 to 2007, whatever progress had been seen was only in the matters of trade, communication contacts including Srinagar-Muzaffarabad, Khokharapar-Monabao communication links, economic and trade cooperation and upgrading military hotline. Although confidence-building measures were doing reasonably well, the ‘conflict resolution part’ was not doing well because India did not show any flexibility. The Indian side has been insisting that the Sir Creek boundary lies in the middle of the channel, while Pakistan says that it is on the east bank. There are 17 creeks on the Sindh coast, and Sir Creek is the 17th creek. The boundary along this Creek between India and Pakistan had not been delimited. There are two issues involved in the dispute - the delimitation of the boundary along the creek and the demarcation of the maritime boundary in the Arabian Sea. For quite some time, both the countries are seeking its resolution but they seem to be devoid of the political will to take a practical step. They started negotiations to resolve this issue in 1969 but could not make any progress due to their tense relations. Even during the composite dialogue no concrete steps had been taken till the time the dialogue was stalled after Mumbai terrorists’ attack, which has been restarted a few months ago.
The irony is that the 65 years of Indo-Pak history is marked with distrust and doubts that have led to embitterment of the relations. In this backdrop they are unable to resolve their contentious issues through negotiations. Whereas the peace process between the two countries is marked by silence of the guns but that cannot be considered peace. Despite being peaceful, the India’s intransigence is hurting both the countries due to the non-resolution of their contentious issues. It goes without saying that only the resolution of a smaller issue such as Sir Creek can open the way to resolve more complicated issues like Kashmir, as it will be a solid confidence-building measure. It is also opined that this area contains rich potential, but both the countries will be deprived of exploring this potential if they leave this issue unresolved for an indefinite period, as it will become a part of international waters. It is said, ‘negotiating in the classic diplomatic sense assumes parties more anxious to agree than to disagree’. But as far as Indo-Pak talks are concerned, result always comes either in the form of ‘disagreement’ or rhetorical statements. It seems both the countries come to negotiation table with a view to disagree than to agree. Either it is due to lack of political will or distrust, this behavior has been a source of discomfort to both these developing countries since long time. There is a redeeming feature that both the countries have changed their track from military confrontation to peaceful dialogue to settle their disputes. However, only incorrigible optimist s can hope that mere holding several rounds of talks could produce fruitful results in the scenario where the bilateral issues are becoming rather complicated.
So far as the Kashmir issue is concerned, several rounds of negotiation have been held but the outcome of each round of talks was to hold yet another round of talk. Despite the flexibility shown by Pakistani side, the chances of resolution of this issue look bleak. The Siachen dispute is also a festering sore of both the countries, which is getting worse due to the delaying tactics. All talks on Siachen so far have been doomed to failure despite the perceivable catastrophe in the form of increasing melting glacier that is approaching both the countries day by day and mammoth spending that is a burden on both these poverty-ridden countries. It is time that leaderships of India and Pakistan display wisdom, move forward and work together to complete the process of resolving issues as soon as possible.