The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK
Last month’s talks between Pakistan and India on conventional and nuclear confidence building measures lived up to the low expectations both sides seemed to attach to the meeting. This was apparent from the anodyne statement issued after the experts-level dialogue on December 27-28, 2012. The talks were held in Delhi under the agenda item Peace and Security – one of eight issues in the composite dialogue.
Since the bilateral dialogue resumed over two years ago there has been virtually no movement on ‘hard’ issues, even as progress has been made in the ‘soft’ areas of trade and people-to-people contacts. All outstanding disputes are in a state of deadlock. More recent irritants have also not been resolved. They include for example India’s opposition to funding by international financial institutions for the Diamer-Bhasha dam.
This raises a number of questions. Can economic and strategic issues really be separated? Can a positive economic trajectory in relations be sustained without any movement on ‘hard’ issues? If contentious issues are left unaddressed will this not risk a reversal in the normalisation process?
The sixth and seventh round of talks on conventional and nuclear CBMs respectively indicated the continuing difficulties of making progress in the security area on issues aimed at escalation avoidance and conflict prevention. The talks largely mimicked the last round held in December 2011. The previous meeting did, however, yield a modest outcome – agreement to extend the 2007 accord on ‘Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons’ for another five years. The latest round produced nothing concrete.
This does not mean there was any shortage of proposals that were deliberated. Some date back to a decade ago. This underscores the hard-to-bridge gap and differing priorities of the two sides. On nuclear issues, the Indian side has been keen to exhaust what it sees as unfinished aspects of the 1999 Lahore process. But Islamabad’s preference has been to press for a more comprehensive agenda of conventional and nuclear restraint measures.
The Delhi round saw the two delegations reiterate their differing areas of emphasis. There was more conversation than convergence on how to move towards concrete outcomes. While the importance of exchanges that help both sides better understand each other’s strategic thinking should not be minimised, this sets too modest a goal for these parleys.
The Delhi talks took up a broad menu of conventional military CBM proposals. They included: speedy return of inadvertent Line of Control (LoC) crossers, implementation of border ground rules (as agreed in 1961), bar on building new posts on the LoC, Prevention of Incidents at Sea (involving naval vessels) and advance notification of military exercises.
Perhaps the most edifying part of discussions in this domain was on a measure that has worked well for nearly a decade: the 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir. With mutual complaints being exchanged about its observance in the post-2008 period, the talks produced a consensus on the need to check future violations by both sides. This has added importance in the wake of last week’s violation by Indian troops in the Haji Pir sector.
There was no movement on the issue of Prevention of Incidents at Sea, with several sticking points remaining to be reconciled. The same applied to an Indian proposal to add a new sector to the four previously agreed for quarterly flag meetings between military commanders.
On non-construction of new posts on the Line of Control, no agreement emerged on how to define security structures for this CBM to cover. The parameters for such constructions were left for future talks to consider. Pakistan proposed a 500-metre distance from the LoC.
On the line-crossing issue, the Indian preference was for an agreement that extended to the international border, while Pakistan’s view was to limit this to the Line of Control. To move negotiations forward Pakistan proposed that as the 1961 border ground rules were in place and being enforced, these could be upgraded into a new agreement. While this process was underway, an agreement to cover inadvertent crossing of the LoC could be formalised. The idea will be taken up in further negotiations.
There was no movement on the proposal relating to notification of military exercises. Pakistan has long seen the existing CBM as setting too high a bar on military movements, especially in the light of recent developments. To mitigate the risks of escalation from India’s new proactive military doctrines Islamabad wants this CBM to extend to smaller sized military exercises and deployments near the border. This elicited no Indian agreement.
For their part, Indian officials retabled the proposal for seminars and exchange of visits between defence institutions and think tanks of both countries. As in the past Islamabad demurred on this.
The nuclear dialogue also broke no new ground. To Pakistan’s proposal for a Strategic Restraint Regime, first tabled in 1999, Indian officials reiterated their standard response – rejecting any linkage between nuclear and conventional military issues. Pakistani officials called for the three ‘unexceptionable’ elements of this interlocking concept – conventional military balance, nuclear restraint and resolution of disputes – to be fleshed out in future discussions. This was met by the familiar Indian insistence that its defence strategy went beyond Pakistan – an obvious reference to China. When Pakistani officials pointed out that over 70 percent of India’s military assets were still deployed against Pakistan, this evoked emphatic Indian denials.
Three nuclear CBMs first offered by Pakistan in 2011, did not receive a positive Indian response: exchange of information on nuclear safety and peaceful uses of nuclear energy as well as early notification of nuclear-related emergencies (made in Fukushima’s wake). In response to the Pakistani argument that the six-year-old agreement on ‘Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons’ needed a civilian equivalent, the Indian side stated that international mechanisms under the IAEA regime were more than adequate.
Pakistan’s reiteration of its proposal on non-deployment of anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs) as a means to preserve deterrence stability got no traction. The Indians declined to accept the link between ABM systems and strategic stability. Their emphasis was on discussing nuclear doctrines and security concepts as stipulated in the 1999 Lahore Declaration. They were also eager to implement another provision of the MoU signed in 1999 – bilateral consultations in the context of multilateral disarmament negotiations. Pakistani officials said there was no need to formalise what took place as a matter of course at these forums.
Discussion of nuclear issues on the international agenda, chiefly the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, laid bare another gap in the positions of the two countries. Indian officials reasserted support for an early commencement of FMCT negotiations. The Pakistani side reiterated that, as currently envisaged, the treaty was discriminatory and would freeze the regional imbalance to Pakistan’s permanent strategic disadvantage. This was because rapid developments in the past decade had provided India with the means to enhance its strategic and conventional capability while leaving Pakistan to fend for itself. Unless growing asymmetries were addressed and the region’s strategic equilibrium, restored Pakistan would not change its stance on the FMCT.
It is evident that Pakistan and India have very different approaches to military CBMs even if they have a common interest in defining and stabilising their strategic relationship. Nevertheless, it remains important for them to continue with the endeavour to achieve meaningful CBMs to improve the security environment.
A purposeful area for future discussions is to develop a framework of measures – standard operating procedures – to help the two countries avert any escalation of tensions as a consequence of unforeseen events and to manage a crisis should one break out. This effort should be informed by the acknowledgement that ‘hard’ security issues cannot be de-emphasised in the normalisation process given the region’s fraught strategic environment and glacial movement on contentious issues. Ultimately the success of the peace process will depend on the two countries’ ability to deal with the issues that lie at the heart of their divergences, not skirt around them.