Missing the forest for the trees!


Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

WITH the recent developments on the political front in Pakistan, a renewed interest in certain quarters in resumption of India-Pakistan talks has been evident. A look over the shoulder may not be out of order. We appear to have a rather short memory. Not all that long ago, one had noticed a regrettable tendency among some otherwise distinguished analysts to jump to unwarranted conclusions. To quote just one example, one such stalwart, writing in an Op-Ed piece, had the following to say about the long-standing un-settled India-Pakistan issues: “We refuse to see our disputes for what they are – bloody and painful, yes, but only border disputes”. The mind boggles!
What led the analyst in question to make this somewhat outlandish assertion is anybody’s guess. It is certainly not borne out by the facts, historical or otherwise. Why, one may be permitted to ask, was the analyst in question led to believe that ‘our disputes’ are ‘only border disputes’? Border disputes between not too friendly states are no doubt painful, but not insolvable per se! Most lingering issues between India and Pakistan do not exactly fit in this category. In an effort to sift fact from fiction, it would be necessary to take a closer and more incisive look at the situation.
First, let us examine what has come to be classed as the ‘core issue’- that of Jammu and Kashmir. This issue cannot, through any stretch of imagination, be classed as ‘a border dispute’. The dispute in question involves not just India and Pakistan in terms of International Law but four parties ie (i) India, (ii) Pakistan, (iii) the (14 million) people of Jammu and Kashmir and (iv) the International Community, through the United Nations. The relevant United Nations Security Council (UNCIP) resolutions on the subject make that unambiguously clear.
Keeping the foregoing in view, therefore, to term the Jammu and Kashmir issue a ‘border dispute’ is nothing short of frivolous. It is also extremely painful, to say the least. India and Pakistan have no right to bilaterally alter the situation. In fact, it may not be far-fetched to aver that it is the people of Jammu and Kashmir (rather than the states of India and Pakistan) who constitute the prime party since they were mandated by the United Nations itself to decide the future dispensation of their State. No border dispute that, by any standard!
The Siachin squabble is an off-shoot of the same wider dispute. Even without going into the intricacies of the dispute, it can only be classed as crass violation by India of the Ceasefire Line/ Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and thereby that of the UNCIP resolutions and Simla Agreement of June 1972. India had in the 1980s violated the internationally accepted status quo by landing its troops in the Siachin glacier area. By no stretch of imagination can it be classed as a border dispute. The issue of just apportionment of waters in the rivers flowing into Pakistan from Indian-held-Kashmir, in which the former is being denied its legitimate rights as the lower riparian, is another issue that hardly falls under the umbrella appellation of ‘border disputes’. The questionable manner in which the Indian government is playing ducks and drakes with provisions of the Indus Basin Treaty of 1960 is a case in point.
The only India-Pakistan issue that may be considered as falling under “border disputes” would perhaps be the one that carries the misnomer of the ‘Sir Creek dispute’. But then this issue has a much wider connotation due to its bearing on the determination of the land/sea terminus point between the two countries. The matter is further complicated due to the fact that this terminus point will determine the extent of Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under the International Law of the Sea Convention, to which both India and Pakistan are signatory parties. Moreover, it is India and not Pakistan that is holding out on this determination perhaps because of the possibility of off-shore oil deposits in the region.
Coming now to the current clamour to revive the dialogue between the two countries that is very much in vogue! Frankly speaking, this matter is neither here nor there. Before going gaga over the prospects of a revival of the bilateral negotiations, it may well be in order to assess and evaluate the ‘results’ of the rather extended sessions as part of the composite (or comprehensive, if you prefer) dialogue that fizzled out without producing a rabbit out of the bilateral hat! Before making a bid for the resumption of the dialogue, an assessment would need to be made as to what went wrong with the past exercise. The only aspect one can point a finger at is that the negotiations were centred too much on cosmetics rather than working towards reaping tangible results.
One can also allude to the problems connected with the thorny road of India-Pakistan Trade issues. Suffice it to state that India, while shouting from housetops criticising Pakistan for withholding its Most Favoured Nation status, continues to be most reluctant to dismantle its non-tariff barriers against Pakistani goods entering the Indian market. Notwithstanding the aforesaid, one would whole-heartedly endorse the oft-repeated assertion that leaders on both sides need to get their act together. Here it is necessary to clarify that the above applies not just to politicians alone! There are other entities on either side that take their turn in muddying the waters. Meanwhile, it would perhaps be best to keep one’s fingers crossed and, more importantly, make an endeavour not to miss the forest for the trees!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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