The peace process was still bleeding from the wounds of the Mumbai terror attacks that violation of ceasefire on the LoC has put a serious question mark on the future of the on-going peace process between the two countries.
The blame game once again got ignited and the two sides indulged in the infamous practice of summoning each other’s diplomats. The entire goodwill, if any, generated through the resumption of the dialogue process brought back to square through unnecessary statements and irresponsible media hype.
The motivated hype
Before the current LoC flare-up, Delhi was abuzz with protests in their ‘red zone’ on the rape incident and media was absolutely focused on the scope and the intensity of the protest. The incidents at the LoC provided a diversion and the Indian media started indulging in an unnecessary hype. The story of ‘decapitation’ and ‘mutilation’ of the Indian soldiers bodies lured renowned anchors of the TV channel in India to divert and provide to their viewers a new spice, the Pakistan-bashing as usual. The enraged Indian Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, duly informed the media of ordering Indian soldiers to remain on the offensive. The foreign minister of Pakistan labelled Indians of war-mongering, while she was in the United States. While the soldiers were violating the sanctity of the ceasefire and the media was creating hypes, the quest for peace (Aman ki Asha) was desperately hovering around inside the cage of the Pakistan-India traditional hatred.
From the very first incident of the ceasefire violation by the Indian side, Pakistan followed the course prescribed and practised through the established mechanisms of handling such situations. The Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) of Pakistan Army spoke to his Indian counterpart and asked for halt to the recurrence of such incidents. The Indian side obviously refused to accept such a gesture wherein they were ‘accused’ of killing a Pakistani soldier. Then the Indian side came up with a story of their soldiers being ‘mutilated’ and ‘decapitated’. Before India could sell its story abroad, the Indians started contradicting each other. The LoC is on high mountains which are snow-covered and far beyond the approach of common citizens. The allegations and the counter-allegations emanate from the two respective armies. The army-fed information prompted the two governments to summon each other’s diplomats. The media was lured to create hype on the basis of information from the same source. An independent investigation into the two opposing claims seemed imperative. And that is why Pakistan officially proposed an impartial investigation through the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). For obvious reasons, India refused to accept the suggestion.
Pakistan has not left the path of sanity and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has proposed the foreign minister-level talks between the two countries for de-escalating the situation. The Indians have not rejected the offer.
The world’s major capitals have sharply reacted to the deteriorating situation along the LoC and have been demanding immediate de-escalation. Washington, London, Paris, Berlin etc reacted sharply and urged for restraint shown from the two sides. The United States in particular has been prompt in urging the two countries to show respect for ceasefire. Knowledgeable sources believe that with the rising tensions across the LoC, US Ambassador to Islamabad Richard Olson discussed at length with his host authorities and similarly the US Ambassador to New Delhi.
Nancy J. Powell discussed with her host authorities the need to de-escalate on the LoC. Calling upon the two countries to de-escalate, the United States has consistently been asking the two countries to get engaged themselves, thereby ruling out any chances of mediation. The Indian side never likes outsiders to mediate between Pakistan and India and the US might not like to jeopardise its new found friendship with India.
Implications on the Pak-India relations
The incidents across the Line of Control have certainly created a ‘pause’ in bilateral relations. Implementation of the new visa agreement notwithstanding, the trade normalisation is suffering suffocation. The first victim of the LoC incidents is cancellation of Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim’s visit to India. Mr Fahim was invited by his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma to attend the Global Partnership Summit, to be held in late January at Agra. Pakistan has already conveyed its willingness to attend the summit. Their meeting along with two commerce secretaries would have provided an opportunity to move forward, even if by an inch.
The issue of the Non-Tariff Barriers hampering growth of Pakistan’s exports to India is another major irritation. Pakistan has consistently been calling upon India to remove its non-tariff barriers. The general perception in Pakistan has been that despite the grant of an MFN status to Pakistan by India, the bilateral trade has been in favour of India. Now India, for its part, has agreed to examine its non-tariff barriers. To promote trade both tariff and non-tariff barriers (NTBs) need to be reduced/removed. The two governments established a Working Group (WG) specifically dedicated to address and resolve the clearly identified sector-specific barriers to trade. The WG comprised technical experts and representatives of regulatory bodies directly concerned with the clearly identified barriers.
The two countries have travelled a long to agree on normalisation. However, some serious issues still remain unresolved. On the top of the impediments to bilateral trade lies the decade-old mistrust between the two countries. The mistrust emanating basically from the inability of the two countries in resolving the disputes like Kashmir and others has never let creation of a cooperative atmosphere between the two countries. In order to build up confidence, dispel misunderstandings and allay any misapprehensions, it is essential that governments in both the countries support the business communities in promotion of a bilateral trade. The European Union (EU) and ASEAN are examples of the successful trade diplomacy for peace and development. The two countries must learn to control odd incidents like violation of the ceasefire across the Line of Control.