Saturday, September 03, 2005

The India-Pakistan Peace Process: Power to the People

The month of August was an important one as the second round of talks between the two countries came to an end. The nuclear and the conventional CBM’s talks were held, as also the trade talks and the home secretaries began the third round of talks on issues of terrorism, narcotics and organized crime. The two foreign secretaries are meeting currently to review progress on the peace talks.


Nuclear Confidence Building Measure (CBM) Talks, 5-6 August 2005

The expert level meeting held on 5-6 August 2005 in New Delhi on Nuclear CBM’s was the third round of dialogue between India and Pakistan. The last two meetings were held in June 2004 and December 2004. The past talks remained inconclusive because of disagreement on exchange of information on specification of weapons, exact launching time of missiles, their type and range etc. The Pakistan delegation was led by Additional Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tariq Osman Hyder and the Indian was headed by Additional Secretary, External Affairs Ministry Meera Shankar.


The focus of the meeting was on finalizing agreements already under negotiation and putting new proposals on the table. The joint statement issued by the two sides has three crucial elements, first is the understanding on the proposed Agreement on Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles. The second, early operationalization (by September) of the hotline link proposed to be established between the Foreign Secretaries and the third was the discussions on their respective security concepts and nuclear doctrines and which also included a draft agreement undertaking national measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons under their respective control.


Under the existing system, too, the two sides inform each other of a scheduled missile test. But after these talks, the two countries have agreed to have a structured procedure. The Pakistani delegation did not agree to the Indian proposal of a series of CBM’s which covered exchanges like holding of seminars between academics and research institutions dealing with strategic and defence related issues. The Indian proposal also called for exchanges, lectures, seminars between the defence training establishments like the National Defence Colleges.


In the context of the Nuclear CBM’s provision on the pre-notification of missile test agreed upon during the 5-6 August talks, the testing of Babur, within a week lead to consternation among the Indian media. Though it would be pertinent to clarify that during the negotiations Pakistan had sought to expand the agreement to include the launch of Cruise missiles but India was focused on ballistic missiles since they remain the primary delivery system for nuclear weapons.


The agreement aims to enhancing mutual confidence and engendering predictability and transparency of intent between the two actors. This draft will be put up before the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan for formalisation and would come into force only after their approval on 1-2 September. The two foreign secretaries meet to review progress on the peace talks and will pave way for the meeting of the Foreign Ministers in October.


The significance of the accords is in the timing. The talks come after a series of unsavory developments on many fronts and most notably to provocative political rhetoric on both side of the Radcliff Line. Most importantly, the peace process as well these scheduled talks were not derailed or postponed due to the early July terrorist attack in Ayodhya.


Conventional Confidence Building Measure (CBM) Talks, 8 August 2005

The talks on conventional CBM’s was held in New Delhi on the 8 August 2005 soon after the Nuclear CBM talks generated positive feedback due to the agreement on the pre-notification of missile tests. The Indian side was led by Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Dileep Sinha while the Pakistani delegation was headed by Tariq Osman Hyder.


The two sides have so far produced two conventional military CBMs in the last 15 years: prior notification of army exercises of a certain size near the border and a commitment by the two air forces not to violate each other’s airspace.


The joint statement issued after the 8 August talks reflected the concurrence between the two sides. The first was that both the sides agreed to periodic flag meetings of commanders at designated points on the Line of Control (LoC), as well as measures to reduce inadvertent crossing on the Line of Control. The monthly flag meetings, between local commanders, would be held at Kargil/ Olding, Uri/Chakothi, Naushera/ Sadabad and Jammu/ Sialkot sectors. They would enable speedy return of inadvertent ‘line’ crossers, and to work out a comprehensive framework to that end.


The second was the decision to “upgrade the existing hotline between the two DGMOs by the end of September 2005” and not to develop any new posts and defence works along the LoC. This is to be seen as a separate issue to the fencing of the LoC, which Pakistan has allowed India to go ahead with.


The joint statement also said the two sides “exchanged views on their respective security concepts.” They reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the ongoing ceasefire along the LOC and in Siachen and implement the 1991 agreement on air space violations in letter and spirit. The statement finally concluded with a pronouncement to periodically review the existing CBMs.


The Conventional CBM talks benefited from the agreement arrived at the Nuclear CBM talks scheduled two days earlier and while some of the differences between the two sides remained intact, the agreement lays ground for a more durable and trusting relationship between them.


‘Prisoners’

The ‘prisoners’ issue in Indo-Pak relations goes back to 1947 when members from either community were left in the wrong country and there have been efforts since 1948 to repatriate them. The media too in the past few years and more specifically in the euphoria of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Lahore visit in 1999 raised the issue of prisoners in both the countries. However, in 1999, the Pakistan Interior Ministry turned down the idea of exchanging prisoners even though a proposal on the exchange of prisoners was to be taken up during a meeting between then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.


The number of prisoners is disputed but what is increasingly being seen as a triumph of civil society is the fact that the issue of prisoners has been added to the composite dialogue taking place between India and Pakistan. The two sides have also decided to not treat the issue on a ‘politico-legal’ sense but a humanitarian one. The ‘prisoners’ are civilians, whose offenses are over-staying their visa periods; staying with an expired passport; failing to register with the police; or fishing in the territorial waters of the other country. Some have completed their sentences while others are under trial for such minor offenses.


The two home secretaries agreed on the 30 August to release fishermen and civilians, who have completed their terms and have confirmed their nationalities, on 12 September. The Home Secretaries also decided to provide immediate notification of arrests made by either side, give consular access to all persons within three months of arrest and release prisoners immediately after completion of sentence and nationality verification. They agreed to implement the decisions arrived at by the Foreign Secretaries in December 2004 on prisoners.


The month of August marked an important leap ahead for the involvement of the ‘people’ in the peace process and on their ability to determine the agenda or at the minimum reflect some of their aspirations. Sarabjit Singh, while reflecting the anguish and pain of an individual mirrored those of thousands on either side of the border. The Sarabjit Singh case may have begun as a family’s cry for help and by the end of the month; it had become the most important issue in Indo-Pak relations with the media providing and keeping the focus on the issue of ‘prisoners’.


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

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