Eliminating the irritants

THE BRIGHT spot in an otherwise fraught regional environment has been the slow but steady improvement in Pakistan-India relations. Better atmospherics, however, still outpace the substance. Even in trade liberalisation where there has been progress, delay in addressing Pakistan’s concerns on India’s non-tariff barriers could retard implementation of MFN status for India.

By Dr Maleeha Lodhi (Debate)

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Published: Wed 29 Aug 2012, 9:28 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 3:30 PM

Pakistan and India still have contesting visions about how normalisation should proceed. Pakistan sees resolution of festering disputes as the foundation for enduring normalisation. India accords priority to promoting economic relations and people-to-people contacts.

In early September the two countries’ foreign ministers will meet in Islamabad to review progress in the ‘composite’ dialogue whose second round, under the resumed process, concluded recently. They will find that other than on trade the dialogue has come up short in many areas. Here’s why.

Trade: Trade liberalisation got underway in February 2012 when items to be traded were significantly increased. But three MOUs, steps towards removal of non-tariff barriers, have yet to become agreements because of delay by Delhi. MFN formalisation depends on their finalisation.

Water issues: This agenda item refers to the twenty five year old Tulbul Navigation or Wullar Barrage project. The impasse on this persisted in the March 2012 talks.

Siachen: No progress was made in talks on the 28-year-old dispute. The main sticking point remained India’s insistence that before demilitarisation Pakistan should agree on authentication of present troop positions and demarcation of the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL). Pakistan’s call for a settlement on principles agreed by the two countries in 1989 and its offer for a withdrawal schedule identifying “present” and “future” positions was rejected.

Sir Creek: The 12th round in June 2012 failed to make headway on the disputed maritime border region. Both sides restated their known positions that invoke different principles and precedents for demarcating the boundary in this Rann of Kutch area. India insists on drawing the maritime boundary in the middle of the estuary. Pakistan wants the boundary on the Creek’s east bank.

Visa regime: The working group established to revise the 1974 visa regime was able to frame a new agreement, which awaits signature. This will ease procedures for businessmen, senior citizens and members of divided families.

Peace and Security: The foreign secretary level talks on July 4-5 reviewed all segments of the dialogue process. The Indian foreign secretary sought to focus discussion on terrorism, framing his arguments in the light of Abu Jundal’s arrest (accused of coordinating the Mumbai attack). Jalil Abbas Jilani urged Delhi not to take terrorist cases first to the media but engage quietly and candidly with Pakistan engagement for better cooperation.

Jammu and Kashmir: In the foreign secretaries’ talks, Pakistan reiterated its well-known position on unimplemented UN resolutions, involving Kashmiris in the dialogue and ending human rights violations in Kashmir. Jilani also proposed a joint working group empowered to solve the dispute within a specified timeframe. This was turned down. The Indian side repeated its position that Kashmir was an “integral part of India” and human rights an internal matter.

Discussion on Kashmir related CBMs was more edifying as the two sides reviewed existing ones, identified hurdles in their operation and also considered new measures. These were then taken up in a meeting of the joint working group on cross LOC CBMs in July.

These multi-tiered talks covered a lot of ground. By de-linking trade liberalisation from resolution of disputes Pakistan has shown flexibility. But its expectation of Indian reciprocity on settling disputes has yet to materialise. Sustainable normalisation still rests on addressing contentious issues, not skirting around them.

Dr Maleeha Lodhi served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and United Kingdom

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