Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The India-Pakistan Peace Process: The Incremental Approach

The month of July saw India Pakistan relations circumambulating the usual cycles of troughs and crests. There were no transformative events to either wreck the ongoing peace process or provide it a major boost but a rather incremental thaw and frost. The three larger areas where this thaw and frost were visible were trade ties, easing of travel restrictions and the Ayodhya terrorist attack respectively. The Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) attack on the make shift temple at the disputed site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was a big challenge to what can be described as the nascent peace process. The Indian establishment regarded it as a ‘major incident’ capable of disrupting the peace process by fomenting sectarian reactions within India. The External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh in an interaction with the press made it clear that the success of the peace process depended upon public opinion and support and that an incident like the Ayodhya attack would seriously undermine the Indian government’s ability to carry the people’s support.

India conveyed to Pakistan that is continues to violate its most fundamental commitment of January 6, 2004 - to curb terrorism against India and that India has ‘concrete’ evidence of cross border terrorism. There is a view in India that jehadi outfit continue to have influential links with the Pakistan military intelligence (ISI) and military. And that’s why Pakistan is not doing more to clamp down on terrorist activities? Therefore, the important question, is Pakistan unwilling, or is it unable? If there is a lack of will, the peace process is just a cover dressing and if it is unable to do so, the peace process appears to be a waste of time? The other important though minor hiccup was the Pakistani allegation of Indian troops crossing the Line of Control (LOC) in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and abducting an individual on 18 July which was denied by the Indian army. This is the second time since the cease fire in November 2003 that an alleged violation of the LOC has been made.

Trade and Easing of Travel Restrictions

However, it would be wise to also turn our attention towards the more positive developments in this month, which involved some spur to trade ties and easing of restrictions and simplifying procedure for people from both sides to visit the other. The most important development was the crossing over of Indian goods through road for the first time in fifty years at the Wagah border check point. An early May decision of the Pakistan government allowed the import of five specified food items free of tax via the land border to tide over shortages in the domestic market. The agreement between the two governments allowed Indian export of four kinds of vegetables and livestock to meet shortages in Pakistan. Indian exporters are allowed to send onions, tomatoes, garlic, potatoes and livestock - mostly goats, sheep and buffaloes - to Pakistan. In return, India is keen to import lentils, cotton yarn, sugar and dry fruit from Pakistan. There are also discussions and negotiations on about the export of sugar and wheat from India to Pakistan.
Officially, trade figures are $500 million, although trade routed through third countries most likely exceeds $2 billion. Indians investors were also for the first time allowed to take part in an international tender floated by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) for the import of 200 bulldozers worth Rs 3.4 billion meant for Balochistan and the NWFP.

Despite these developments, Pakistani establishment stuck to its rhetorical stand on the need to the need to resolve the core dispute of Kashmir with India for enhanced trade and other bilateral relations between the two countries. It has long been seen that Indo-Pak relations are "a stumbling block in carrying forward the processes of regional cooperation", in South Asia. The South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) is to be operational with effect from January 2006.

The other developments were efforts towards easing travel restrictions between the two countries. The Pakistani government issued fresh criteria for visitors from India owing to the increasing number of visa applications. The two governments also stepped up efforts to start the Amritsar-Lahore bus service and security consultations took place. The Indian government on 8 July announced a one-year medical visa for Pakistanis, among others, to enable them to stay in any Indian city for an extended period for medical treatment. In a related move the Indian High Commission in Islamabad owing to the ever swelling numbers announced the setting up of a special counter on its premises to give "medical visas". There are also moves to steps to ease visa restrictions for cultural activities and exchanges programmes between the two countries.


The month of August is another crucial marker for there are talks scheduled on all aspects of India-Pakistan peace process. The month has a series of talks among which the consultations on commercial and economic cooperation would offer a more definitive road map towards the development of trade ties between the two countries. It would also be essential to watch the developing embryonic ties and hope that it is not sacrificed at the altar of the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir.

On the political front, the channels of secret diplomacy between Pakistan and India was brought alive again to offset the negative impact of unprovoked statements by top leadership on both sides on the composite dialogue, which could derail the peace process.

This piece is a review of the most important developments in India-Pakistan Relations in the month of July 2005.

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