The opportunity of the current context

Salman Haidar, former Foreign Secretary of India The international situation at this time is extremely conducive for India and Pakistan to resolve their differences. Nobody is playing heed anymore to complaints that India and Pakistan might make about the other. Traditional Southasian diplomacy in that sense is now obsolete. 'Dehyphenation' means that we can no longer hope to prevail by running down the other side. For instance, every advantage India gets in strengthening its ties with America should not be viewed as being against Pakistan. Instead of being pushed, we are being encouraged at most by the supreme superpower, the hyperpower. The US has been wise enough to do so in a discreet manner. There is no public presentation, no public expression of concern that these two countries should make stronger efforts to resolve their differences. The US position about Southasia has gradually been changing. In the early 1990s, visits from the Pentagon started taking place. Then a political dimension to this relationship was established, with the highly successful visit of Bill Clinton. A little later we came across this notion of a strategic partnership between India and America. There is a general sense that these two countries have harmonious, broader interests. India is seen as a factor for stability by America. And its influence outside its borders is not seen in negative terms. This is in fact a reversal of a traditional perception. The conclusion that was reached and then pursued by the US was that India was an acceptable and useful potential partner at that stage. Some dangers in this relationship are also fairly obvious. India is accused, within India, of accepting a second role, even a subordinate role vis-à-vis the superpower. There have been times when this seemed to go further than the public could accept. There was a very real move, for example, for a couple of Indian divisions to go to Iraq as part of the coalition forces. This was scotched by Parliament – there are enough correctives within the system. There is a danger of complacency. Figure everything is going well; we are chums of America. We've got our external coordinates worked out, and now can go along smoothly and steadily on this established course. Events are now going in our favour, and all we have to do is hold steady. Such an attitude would support the view that Pakistan cannot do anything much to disturb this. But I believe that Manmohan Singh knows that a supportive neighbourhood, good neighbourhood relations, are necessary if India is going to make the strides forward. Energy needs are important. Here India has been very active, gone global – in Central Asia, Latin America, Sudan. Even though oil and politics go together, these are essentially commercial issues, not geopolitical issues. The Iran gas pipeline has been mentioned in this context, also a pipeline from Central Asia. It can be a major building block of good relations between India and Pakistan. I think that one should not think of the American position as unalterably opposed. I do not see China anymore as a factor that promotes strife between India and Pakistan. China has been moving to a position of equidistance on Kashmir. However, if Indians are 'midnight's children', we're also children of 1962, and the memories and the lessons, the unabsorbed shocks of 1962 are still with us. There's an inclination in India to see Chinese assistance for the development of Gwadar port as a power-play on our doorstep, and as an attempt to establish a presence where it did not exist. Mutual disarmament between India and Pakistan has been discussed – it is a good idea, but it's not a simple idea, because from India's point of view, there is this other factor of China. We also have other naval responsibilities, and need to upgrade our equipment. The war on terror does have difficult consequences. There is a perception and the sense that India is subjected to Pakistan-grown, Pakistan-trained terrorists. The 'war on terror' came long after our own concerns with terrorist activities in Kashmir and elsewhere. But it has reinforced those factors and increased the difficulty of India and Pakistan being able to come to a common cause. This knee-jerk reaction, blaming Pakistan every time something goes wrong, has to do with this history and present global environment. The fact that a lot has happened, especially in Kashmir, will provoke a certain type of reaction. Terrorism in India has been supported by Pakistan, which has trained terrorist in its own training camps. There is no international bar to India and Pakistan sorting out their problems. Each will have to take into account many factors, but it is in their hands. The way forward is to be discerned. I think a process does exist. Autonomy is a big issue. We have already commenced the kind of activity that can permit a kind of statutory arrangement at the almost municipal, state-level arrangement between Azad Kashmir and Jammu & Kashmir. The other great area of concern is that of demilitarisation. Here again there is no dispute on the acceptability of it. But the notion of what demilitarisation is, where it leads, what it involves, is very different on the two sides of the Line of Control.  

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