The peace process between Pakistan and India should not be held hostage to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, rather back and front channels diplomacy should be launched to find out a peaceful solution to all the outstanding issues, including the dragging Kashmir issue.
The Indo-Pak talks on all outstanding issues are always very sensitive. Indian stand on talks with Pakistan since the Mumbai incident is to first put an end to terrorism as well as bringing the 26/11attackers to justice. On the other hand, Pakistan wants to bring all outstanding issues to the negotiating table for the permanent peace in the region. Indian rigid stand on relations with Pakistan always destroyed the constructive atmosphere of the parleys aimed at arriving at any conclusion. Despite this Pakistan always try its level best to hold positive dialogue with New Delhi. India always avoids talks and comes to the negotiating table due to some external pressure.
Finally this year the ice melted when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh initiated cricket diplomacy like February 21, 1987, when Pakistan’s former President General Ziaul Haq went to India to watch the second day of the India-Pakistan Test match at Sawai Man Singh Stadium, Jaipur. It was the time when the armies of both countries were on high alert on the border, during a period of high tension over Kashmir. The second time the cricket diplomacy started on April 17, 2005, when Pakistan’s ex-President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watched the last One-day International match at Delhi’s Feroze Shah Kotla grounds. Now after the lapse of four years both countries started holding talks on two important issues ‘Sir Creek and Siachin.
The Sir Creek issue is one of the more easily resolved issues between India and Pakistan and could lead to progress on more contentious disputes. Latest round of talks on Sir Creek was held in May this year which also remained inconclusive. Both countries conducted a survey of the Sir Creek estuary in 2007 as part of a peace process begun in 2004.
The Siachen dispute began in 1984 when Indian troops forced Pakistani soldiers to retreat west of the Saltoro ridge. Since then the two countries fought intermittently in the region as high as 20,000 feet until they agreed on a ceasefire in 2003. Over 2,000 troops have died from both sides, a majority due to the harsh weather. India wants Pakistan to authenticate the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) along the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro ridge, while Islamabad insists reverting back to the pre-1984 position. India fears that reverting back to pre-1984 troops’ position in Siachen will set a wrong precedent and put pressure on it to resolve the longstanding dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. India has also turned down a Pakistani proposal to immediately demilitarise Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield.
According to the US confidential diplomatic cables released recently, the Indian Army was held responsible for the ongoing deadlock with Pakistan over the Siachen dispute. Earlier, an agreement on Siachen was almost reached in 1989 between then Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her Indian counterpart Rajiv Gandhi. However, it was widely believed that the final deal could not be sealed due to opposition by the Indian army.
The two sides again came close to striking an agreement on Siachen and Sir Creek during former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s regime but political upheaval in Pakistan prevented the historic breakthrough.
The basic cause of conflict between the two countries is Kashmir, the unfinished agenda of the partition of the Subcontinent. The history of the conflict over Kashmir is well documented with three wars taking place since their independence in 1947. Since the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, the tension has grown considerably. India accused Pakistan of supporting terrorist groups. Pakistan, in turn, pledges its support to Kashmiri freedom fighters. One state’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Since the attack on Indian Parliament, Pakistan has arrested around 1500 ‘militants’ and banned five groups, two said to be sectarian, one pro-Taliban and two who have been fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. From the end of 2001 there were clashes in that border region, with sometimes one or two people being shot at. The chances of first direct war between two nuclear-armed states is a real threat.
In an atmosphere of increased tension and sabre-rattling rhetoric on both sides, this led to the situation in May 2002 where millions of troops were gathered near the border. Any mistake or small incident could set off something far, far worse.
The peace process between Pakistan and India should not be held hostage to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. No doubt, Indian PM Manmohan Singh is facing public pressure for not resuming dialogue with Pakistan, but he should not leave the people of both countries at the mercy of extreme mentality of a few Indians. It is a fact that whenever the Indian prime minister tries to cool down the heat of tension between the two countries, the hawks present in the Indian cabinet and Congress foil Manmohan’s efforts. Unless the Indian prime minister controls these elements, there is no chance of peace in the region. For the solution of this problem, back and front channels diplomacy should be launched to find out a peaceful solution to all the outstanding issues, including the dragging Kashmir issue. There are peace activists in both India and Pakistan working hard to get their views across. Their work has been particularly difficult since the nuclear tests carried out by both countries in 1998. They have the entire might of the government and military propaganda machine ranged against them. We should do all we can to support them.