Negotiations to Nowhere?
Image Credit: Tore Urnes

Negotiations to Nowhere?


After a significant hiatus, brought on as a consequence of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, India and Pakistan have resumed a dialogue.

The discussions that are under way are multi-faceted. Many of them are covering issues that had previously been under discussion, including the demarcation of Sir Creek, the question of the Wullar Barrage and the demilitarization of the Siachen Glacier. Others are looking into issues of expanding people-to-people contacts through the expansion of the existing visa regime and also the boosting of trade and commercial ties.

To get to this point, both sides have made important concessions. Pakistan hasn’t insisted on granting the question of Kashmir primacy, and India hasn’t sought to highlight Pakistan’s support for terror as a basis of these discussions. Consequently, the prospects of any meaningful discussions haven’t promptly foundered. The avoidance of a swift deadlock would seem, then, to be cause for satisfaction.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Should it be? This is hardly the first time that the two states have engaged in complex negotiations to try and reach a lasting rapprochement. Indeed, if newspaper reports and the statements of a handful of individuals who were actually involved in those negotiations are to be believed, the two sides came perilously close to an overall agreement in 2007. These negotiations had started in 2004 and involved very careful, quiet and determined diplomacy. However, it’s widely held that the negotiations unravelled because of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s domestic woes. The final blow, of course, came in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

The current negotiations probably wouldn’t be under way but for the grim determination of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Despite a lack of support amongst the bulk of his Cabinet colleagues, and a lack of interest in much of India’s civil society, he has persisted in this endeavour. His supporters have argued that the prime minister believes that a diplomatic breakthrough with Pakistan is essential to enable India to transcend the subcontinent, to pursue a glide path to economic growth and to emerge as a major power in the global order.

It may appear churlish to argue against any attempt to ameliorate the tension-ridden Indo-Pakistani relationship. Surely, any effort to try and reduce long-standing differences deserves praise given that the two sides have gone two war four times and have endured multiple crises? More to the point, given that they are now both de facto nuclear weapons states, the stakes of war and peace in the region are higher than ever before.

Yet at the risk of sounding truculent, it’s still necessary to cast some doubt over the wisdom and utility of this latest round of discussions. There are multiple reasons.

At the outset, it’s important to understand that the civilian regime in Pakistan is in an utterly tenuous position for a host of reasons. The country is besieged with terrorist attacks on a routine basis and neither the regime nor the overweening military establishment has the slightest clue about how best to contain them. The military-intelligence apparatus hadn’t merely spawned, but had actually nurtured many of these terrorist organizations that are now wreaking havoc across the land. Unfortunately, they are now not wholly within the control of the organizations that were responsible for their genesis. A state that can’t control the actions of domestic terrorist groups can hardly be counted upon to curb the actions of those which it had explicitly fashioned to terrorize its neighbour as part of an asymmetric war strategy.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief