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Mediation and South Asia

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Aug 24, 2008
DAWN.COM | Columnists | Mumbai?s winners and losers

By A.G. Noorani
Saturday, 28 Nov, 2009

India should not go into high dudgeon nor Pakistan into ecstasy whenever any country or organisation talks of mediation in Indo-Pak disputes or pleads with them to move expeditiously towards their settlement or evinces interest in these matters.

India must view such exertions calmly, and Pakistan must assess them realistically. We dwell on an island which is home to a global community whose links will only increase with time. People will talk if disputes fester anywhere; especially between two nuclear states.

However, neither of them will yield to external pressures where its national interests are at stake. India must realise that Pakistan, as the weaker power, will solicit mediation by others. On its part, Pakistan must realise that India will respond to external influences only up to a point and no further.

Presumptuous and silly are the only words one can use for the formulation of the Obama-Hu Jintao joint statement issued in Beijing on Nov 17. They first ‘welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia’; next, expressed ‘support (to) the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism’; and went on to ‘support’ [sic] the improvement of relations between India and Pakistan. All this is mother love and apple pie; unexceptionable but patronising.

The next formulation reads thus: ‘The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in the region.’

This smacks of joint oversight or monitoring. The US and China will strengthen cooperation on issues related to South Asia. More, they will ‘work together to promote peace in that region’.

The last time we heard of all this was in their joint statement on June 27, 1998, during Clinton’s visit to China shortly after the nuclear blasts by India and Pakistan.

They never repeated that pledge in all these 11 years. Their interests diverge, as do their respective relationships with each of the countries in South Asia, and in consequence, their perceptions also.

Reaction in the region was predictable. Pakistan was happy and India got angry. ‘A third country role cannot be envisaged’.

American and Chinese retractions followed swiftly. The very next day the US under secretary of state for political affairs, William J. Burns, said that it was for the two neighbours to decide on the ‘scope, content and pace’ of the peace process.

The assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia Robert Blake echoed this on Nov 19. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang spoke in a similar vein on the same day asserting besides that the boundary dispute with India should not ‘undermine our greater bilateral relations’.

Nothing will come out of the joint statement so far as South Asia is concerned. But even without it, the US and China would have chatted about this strife-torn region in confidence.

The record on mediation is instructive. Without it the Indus Waters Treaty (1950) would not have been signed nor the results of the war of 1965 arranged efficiently but for the Tashkent Accord. But the Simla Pact (1972) was a bilateral affair.

In 2002 the Vajpayee government leaned heavily on the US to pressurise Pakistan after the massing of the troops. The US responded for a while, extracting its gain in the process.

When the optimum point was reached, it washed its hands off the affair, and issued travel advisories to its citizens. India called off Operation Parakram.

On the other side of the coin, even after its military reversals in the war with China in October 1962, India did not yield to joint Anglo-American pressure on Kashmir. Howard B. Schaffer served as political counsellor in the American embassies in Pakistan (1974-77) and India (1977-79).

His excellently documented book on ‘America’s role in Kashmir’ sums up accurately in the title the conclusion of his study: The Limits of Influence. It covers the period 1947-2009. Fortunately neither side accepted the obscene Anglo-American proposal for partition of the Valley.

His advice to the Obama administration is to ‘work quietly’; that is, ‘if Washington does decide on making a stronger effort’. It is very unlikely that it will. The Great Powers step in only when there is a threat of war or in the aftermath of one.

But right now we are not doing badly by ourselves. President Musharraf revealed on May 18, 2007 that a broad outline of a solution to the Kashmir dispute had been worked out ‘but we have yet to reach a conclusion’.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on May 2, 2009, ‘Gen Musharraf and I had nearly reached an agreement’. The then foreign minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri confirmed that.

One thing after another prevented a summit: the train blasts in Mumbai in July 2006, the crisis in Pakistan’s judiciary in March 2007 and the Mumbai attack on Nov 26, 2008.

The composite dialogue understanding has run its course. Foreign secretaries cannot tackle Kashmir, Siachen, Wullar Barrage and Sir Creek. On all four a broad framework for agreement exists.

They can be settled only at the highest level provided there is a political will and resolve to do so by stable governments uninhibited by predictable cries of a ‘sell-out’.

The rest of the matters are best left to the joint commission set up by an agreement signed on March 10, 1983 by foreign ministers Sahabzada Yaqub Khan and P.V. Narasimha Rao.

That process cannot begin unless and until the ‘battle of dossiers’ is brought to a swift, satisfactory and amicable conclusion. Mediators have no role to play. Discreet inquiries are the stuff of diplomacy, though.

The writer is a lawyer and an author.

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