Pakistani Perceptions on Indo-Pak Dialogue

- Sreedhar

 

The coming of Pakistan Muslim League (N) to power in elections of Pakistan in February 1997 and the friendly overtures it was making towards India, before and after elections, generated a considerable amount of interest in both India and Pakistan. Some even started thinking that, at last, both countries have decided to leave the baggage of history and start a new chapter. The reasons for this optimism are many and varied. Foremost among them could be the end of Cold War and the emergence of economics as the dominating factor in inter-state relations. This is too obvious in India's case and not so in Pakistan's. In fact, India went a step further by keeping the Pakistan factor in her adjustment to the emerging new world order aside since the beginning of 1991. Many India watchers felt that India succeeded in it; and for the past year and a half, the Gujral Doctrine has provided the needed conceptual framework for it.

The Nawaz Sharif government realised this development in the Indian policy and made some tentative moves immediately after assuming office. With the Indian response being positive to these overtures, things started happening on the Indo-Pak relations front much faster than anticipated. In this paper, an attempt has been made to examine how Pakistani intelligentsia looks upon the new initiatives taken by its political leadership on Indo-Pak relations. For this purpose, I largely relied on writings in two popular English language dailies, the News and the Nation, (Islamabad editions).

The Backdrop

Before examining Pakistani perceptions on the Indo-Pak relations since Nawaz Sharif assumed office in February 1997, three factors need to be noted. First, majority of the Pakistani intelligentsia, as reflected in their media and academic writings have a tendency to compare themselves for everything and anything with India. In the process, they perceive that Indian hegemony is out to dominate them in every sphere. The only explanation one can offer for this could be Pakistan's defeat in war with India in December 1971. This trauma of 1971, apparently, is still haunting them.

All the available evidence shows that the unfortunate part of post independent history of Pakistan was of its own making. Whether it was 1947-48 or 1965 or 1971, it was Pakistan which formally declared war with India. This is a historical reality. No right thinking person would have launched a war against its neighbour which is four to five times bigger than his country in every macrolevel indicator—territory, population, Gross Domestic Product and military potential etc. And, Pakistan paid a price for its irrational behaviour.

In the normal classification of big, medium and small countries in the international system, Pakistan is undoubtedly a big country. But the geographical reality is, it is next to a continent-sized country called India. And Pakistan has refused to accept this geographical reality and behaves like a big country in Indian subcontinental politics. One can offer any number of explanations for Pakistan's unwillingness to accept this geographical reality. The most commonly believed is that such a perception suited the ruling elite of Pakistan during the 50 years of its independence. For a Indian policy maker it looks like a Mexico or a Cuba comparing itself with the United States of America.

Secondly, over the years, Pakistan has provided sanctuaries for terrorists/militants, to begin with from India and over the years, from other countries too. While Pakistan's providing sanctuaries to the hijackers of Indian Airlines plane in 1970s is well known to the people of the Indian subcontinent, of late it has also started for other known terrorists. The most recent examples one can cite is Rameez Yusuf and Ameel Kansi, the two people who have supposedly indulged in acts of terrorism in the US.

According to official accounts, Pakistani authorities have deported a sizeable number of wanted criminals/terrorists to Arab countries like Egypt and China. Egyptian authorities have openly accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists/criminals wanted in their country.

Why Pakistan is harbouring these terrorists is the immediate question that needs to be answered. One explanation could be that Pakistan perceives that they can be given shelter in the name of Jehad (holy war) against infidels; and make them the pressure point vis-a-vis others to achieve political ends. The example that is being cited is how Rameez Yusuf's handing over to the US brought in the Brown Amendment in the US Congress to get the one time waiver for military supplies to Pakistan. Similarly, within days of handing over of Kansi, a bill was introduced for bailing out the Pakistani economy to some extent. One cannot say that this is a coincidence.

This apart, Pakistan acquired a profile of being the training ground for terrorists. From time to time, the international media carried details about how these training camps were being conducted. These reports clearly implicated some of the official agencies and religion based political parties like Jamait Ulema Islam. While the agencies looked upon these training camps and trainees therein as pressure points to achieve certain political objectives, the religion based parties provided the needed ideological framework and a certain amount of legitimacy.

The best example one can cite in this context is how the students of madrasas in North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan provinces became warriors overnight and started fighting alongwith local forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban phenomenon of Afghanistan was tried to be duplicated in the Jammu Kashmir province of the Indian Union. And Indian security forces captured a number of foreign mercenaries from Jammu and Kashmir. Interestingly, all of them confessed that they came via Pakistan with the active connivance of authorities there.

Whether Pakistan succeeded in its objective or not is a debatable issue. But the backlash of nurturing these mercenaries had its impact on Pakistani polity. Pakistan is now one of the states experiencing most violence in South Asia—whether it is sectarian violence or subnationalist violence. Again Pakistan is the most weaponised societies in South Asia today. And authorities in Islamabad are clueless on how to go about it. At least that is impression the print media is conveying.

In other words, the Indian policy maker has to take into account these Weird pressure points for any meaningful dialogue with Islamabad. We cannot debate whether acquiring pressure points of this nature is right or wrong. They are there. The issue is how to go about it. Lastly, about the type of government in Islamabad. Since Pakistan became independent, the country has witnessed more than 18 heads of governments. Strangely enough, no elected government lasted its full term. And the two spells of long military rules, first for a decade under Gen Ayub Khan (later he became Field Marshal), and second for eleven years under Zia ul Haq came in to power through coups.

Since democracy returned to Pakistan in 1988, the situation has been no better. The elected governments were dismissed at regular intervals with the covert connivance of the armed forces. And if we go by the media reports, the armed forces created political parties, financed them to fight elections and probably influenced the election result. In other words, the armed forces call the shots in every aspect of Pakistani decision making.

If we go by the statements of the leader of the opposition party, in June 1997, the situation is quite grim. First, she compared the present Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif to Gorbachev and warned her countrymen against Pakistan going the Soviet way. About three weeks later, speaking at a national seminar on National Security in Lahore, she advocated the formation of the national government with all the politcal parties and the armed forces and intelligence agencies (emphasis added.) Though both these statements of the leader of the opposition were severely criticised by the ruling elite, atleast this shows the grim picture that is foreseen by a section of the Pakistani elite. This factor needs to be noted by everyone dealing with Pakistan because it is not certain what from of government will be in power in Islamabad. If we take former Prime Minister and present leader of the opposition's June 1997 statement seriously, what would be the shape of things that are likely to happen there is, in fact, difficult to predict. And if such a thing happens, how the new government in Pakistan will look upon relations with India is difficult to foresee. In fact, every foreign diplomat with whom I have talked to during the past decade tells me, that in Pakistani memory, there is no Simla Agreement of 1972. Since its two signatories, Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Zuflkar Ali Bhutto are dead, the agreement no longer needs to be taken seriously.1 One may argue that this Pakistani attitude towards Simla Agreement is due to the special circumstances under which it was signed; hence they would like to forget it. There is some merit in this argument. But at the sametime, this portion of history cannot be wished away.

Indo-Pak Dialogue Since 1988

Nawaz Sharif's initiative of normalising Indo-Pak relations can be better understood if we take a quick look, after the return of democracy in 1988, at the successive Prime Ministers' efforts in Pakistan to normalise relations with India. The beginning of the current phase can be traced back to December 1988, SAARC summit meeting in Islamabad. At that time, India was under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi who was in his forties and Pakistan under Benazir Bhuto, who was also more or less in the same age group. Everybody knows, that Benazir assumed power in rather peculiar circumstances by placating the armed forces. And like his predecessor, Rajiv Gandhi too wanted to strengthen the democratic forces in Pakistan without, in any way, seriously endangering India's national interests.2

Well educated and shrewd, Benazir was making efforts to strengthen her position by reducing the predominant role of the military in the Pakistani polity. This she could do only by demonstrating that there was no threat from India. Rajiv Gandhi understood Benazir's predicament and reciprocated her every gesture with an equal amount of warmth. In fact according to a commentator, "For a while there appeared to be a good rapport between her and Rajiv Gandhi and this was reflected in the exchange of visits by high level delegations, including those headed by the Home and Defence Secretaries. Concrete suggestions were taken up by them—"joint patrolling" and "parallel patrolling" to check illegal movement across the border, and redeployment of forces in Siachen area. Rajiv Gandhi's bilateral visit to Islamabad, first after a gap of 30 years in June 1989, was the high point of the new cordiality which, unfortunately, proved short lived. The reasons for this setback are now not difficult to imagine. In fact, from various accounts available, including that of J.N. Dixit, then India's Foreign Secretary, Benazir tried to bring Mr. Gandhi around to her views on Kashmir and Rajiv refused to yield.

In a way, after no achievement at the summit, Benazir's position became vulnerable. This automatically resulted in a drift in bilateral relations between India and Pakistan; marked by an escalated rhetoric by Pakistan which continued until Benazir was dismissed in August 1990. Two meetings of the Foreign Secretaries, one before and the other after the change, did not break any fresh ground. The third meeting, on the direction of Chandra Sekhar and Nawaz Sharif (who succeeded Benazir) marked the first serious attempt at that level. Finally, a deadend was reached after the January 1994 meeting between the Foreign Secretaries of two countries.3

A close scrutiny of the joint statement issued at the end of the three meetings show that a lot of ground was covered in these meetings. On April 7, 1991, the outcome of the meeting between Muchkund Dubey and Shaharyar Khan in New Delhi was recorded officially: The talks were held in a cordial and frank atmosphere. The two sides covered the entire range of bilateral issues. They also exchanged views on international issues of mutual interests. At the end of the talks, the Foreign Secretaries signed agreements on (i) Advance notice on military exercises, manoeuvres and troop movements and; (ii) Prevention of air space violation and for permitting overflight and landings of military aircraft. In this connection, the two sides expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the meeting of military experts held in New Delhi from April 1 to 4, 1991.4

"During the talks, the Foreign Secretaries reached agreement on the following schedule of meetings; (i) Tulbal navigation project/Wullar Barrage-July 1991. (ii) India-Pakistan Committee to combat drug traffic and smuggling-July 1991. (iii) Delimitation of the boundary in Sir Creek area at the Secretaries level-early August 1991. The two Foreign Secretaries also agreed in principle on the resumption of the dialogue on Siachen at the appropriate time. There is already an agreement in principle to convene the Sub-Commissions of the Joint Commission. These will meet on mutually convenient dates."5

In October that year, another meeting between the two in Islamabad considered a new set of issues: The talks were held in a cordial and frank atmosphere. The two sides covered the entire range of bilateral issues and also exchanged views on international issues of mutual interest. "The two sides expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the meetings on Wullar Project and on Sir Creek. They discussed issues relating to disarmament and the banning of weapons of mass destruction. They agreed to consider issuing a joint declaration on chemical weapons. They also agreed to convene a meeting of the experts of two sides at mutually convenient dates, to exchange views on a bilateral agreement to ban the development, production, deployment and use of chemical weapons. The two sides agreed to exchange the coordinates of their nuclear installations and facilities in pursuance of the Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations and Facilities between Pakistan and India, on a date to be mutually agreed upon, before the 1st of January 1992. The two sides discussed the Siachen issue and agreed that the dialogue on Siachen should be resumed at an early date."6

In New Delhi in August 1991, Mr. Khan and Mr. Dixit, Foreign Secretaries, exchanged the Instrument of Ratification of the Agreement on Prevention of Air Space Violations by Military Aircraft and the Agreement on Advance Notice of Military Exercises, Manoeuvres and Troop Movements which were signed in New Delhi in April 1991 and subsequently ratified by both governments. The two sides also signed a Joint Declaration on the complete prohibition of chemical weapons and the code of conduct for treatment of diplomatic/consular personnel in India and Pakistan. The two sides agreed to discuss additional confidence-building measures.7 The Indian side formally handed over a letter of invitation to the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan to visit India. Both sides reviewed the on-going Secretary level discussions on Tulbal/Wullar Project. The Foreign Secretaries discussed issues relating to disarmament and the banning of weapons of mass destruction. They agreed to consider issuing a joint declaration on biological weapons."8

Finally in January 1994, "Both sides reiterated the need to engage in a meaningful dialogue with a view to addressing all outstanding problems. The talks addressed all aspects of the Jammu and Kashmir problem. Both sides recognised that there are basic divergences. It was agreed that sincere efforts would be made to resolve the problem. The two sides will consult each other on the question of further talks at the Foreign Secretary or other levels."9

Breaking the Ice

In this backdrop one should first examine the circumstances that forced Pakistan to come to the conference table and pick up the threads that were left out in January 1994. Foremost could be that, like Benazir during her first term as Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif in his second term as Prime Minister, wanted to reduce the predominance of the armed forces in Pakistani polity. Fortunately for him, the political environment is far more congenial than say 4 years back. The double digit inflation, an almost empty treasury, worsening balance of payments position, pressure from the donor countries to reduce the defence expenditure, all presented a grim picture of the economy in the immediate future. Therefore, he could argue with the armed forces that the possibility of normalisation of relations with India would reduce the threat from the eastern flank. This must have sounded convincing to the latter. Atleast they were not able to look at the proposal as alarmingly as they did at the time of Benazir's Prime Ministership in 1988-90. In fact, Nawaz Sharif during the last leg of his election campaign declared that if his party comes to power, it would ask India to sit on the table and hammer out the outstanding issues bedeviling bilateral relations between the two countries. He went on to add that "this is not a soft approach but a realistic approach."10

The much needed opening for translating this policy statement on Indo-Pak relations was provided by the then Indian Prime Minister, Deve Gowda, who in his letter of felicitations to the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan observed the "need for wide ranging and comprehensive talks on all issues of mutual concern." Nawaz Sharif responded to this offer by proposing a resumption of Foreign Secretary level talks at the end of March 1997 to prepare for a summit meeting between the Prime Ministers of both the countries to "settle all outstanding disputes."11

By and large, all shades of opinion makers welcomed this new initiative by Nawaz Sharif. One of the leading Pakistani commentators, Umer Farooq offers two plausible explanations for Nawaz Sharif's intention to normalise relations with India. First, it was directed towards Washington. A senior official told Umer, that Nawaz Sharif "wants to convey a message to Washington that he agrees with America's agenda for South Asia." Secondly, there is a growing thinking in Pakistani establishment that the whole ambit of relations with India should be reviewed. It is a foregone conclusion that the hawkish stand taken during Benazir's tenure towards India did not pay any dividend. Pakistan was isolated in all the international fora. Even friends like China and Iran did not side with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.12

Another commentator, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed, feels that with the Indian satellite television becoming very popular in Pakistan, the artificial barriers between the two countries are becoming "more and more nonsensical." Similarly the annual inflow of illegal Indian goods into Pakistan is estimated to be around one billion US dollars and this demand is rising.13 Therefore, "bound by external commitments as well as faced with domestic, regional and international pressures, Pakistan has no choice but to pursue amity with India," observes Dr. Ahmed.14

Dr. Ahmed also makes an interesting point on the two prominent leaders of Pakistan by saying that, "the trust and confidence the establishment reposes" on Nawaz Sharif is higher than on Benazir Bhutto.15 Nawaz Sharif, being one of the successful businessmen of Pakistan understands the importance of a sound economic base and trade with India despite political constraints. This was also emphasised by some commentators.16

However, notwithstanding these positive responses and rationalization of Nawaz Sharif's new attitude towards Indo-Pak relations, Gen. Jahangir Karamat, reacting to an Indian Prime Minister's statement that Kashmir is a closed chapter and it is an integral part of India, indicated that Pak establishment is still undecided. He observed that these comments are "irresponsible and alarming."17 He wanted the Kashmir issue be resolved first before other issues can be taken up. This, more or less in a way set the agenda for the talks.18

From the above it becomes clear that by and large, Pak intelligentsia, for a number of reasons, welcomed Nawaz Sharif's idea of a dialogue with India. But the establishment, especially the armed forces, kept their options open. They neither supported nor condemned the initiative of the Prime Minister.

Debate on the Agenda for Talks

With the Indo-Pak Foreign Secretary level talks scheduled for three days from March 28, 1997, the month of March 1997, witnessed a flurry of writings in the media about Indian hegemony, and what should constitute the agenda for the talks, besides some subtle and not so subtle warnings about Indian intentions. In a two part article entitled' "Options for Peace in South Asia," published just a week before the talks, the controversial Gen. (Retd Mirza Aslam Beg, observed that "Effecting peace in South-Asia is indeed a noble venture and cooperation and trade with India is not at all disputable provided these are judiciously determined as a sequel to the core issue, Kashmir (emphasis added).19

Another commentator, writing in the Nation observed that from the days of Quaid-i-Azam and Liaquat Ali Khan to date, Pakistan has always endeavoured to establish good neighbourly relations with India and hence sought a just and peaceful solution of all disputes including the core issue of Kashmir. On the contrary India has always gone back on all its commitments."20

However, saner elements like Dr. Istiaq Ahmad identified Pakistani approach as a topdown approach, that is address the core issue first and others afterwards and India's as bottom-up approach, that is settling small issues first to normalise relations. In these circumstances, both need to make a climbdown. He argued that in the current round, the initiative is in Pakistani hands.21 Arguing, that there is an urgent need for Pakistan to get out of regional isolation, Dr. Ahmad, said that "currently with a massive mandate to Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan is in best position to resolve its outstanding disputes with India."22

Similarly, Prof. Khalid Mahmud felt that absence of a framework for talks, or in more concrete terms the failure of the negotiating sides to reach an agreement on the agenda for talks has been the basic cause of deadlock in the normalisation process.23 Saying that Nawaz Sharif was the last person to be reminded of Pakistan's commitment to stand by the Kashmiris, Prof Mahmud opines that Nawaz Sharif is "prepared to make hard political decisions."24

These divergent views indicate three broad trends.First, every one in Pakistan more or less agrees that the massive people's mandate to a Punjabi politician like Nawaz Sharif, gives him sufficient amount of political clout to attempt normalisation of relations with India. A close scrutiny of Gen. Beg's and Ikram Ullah's articles reveal that they are unwilling to accept the changed geostrategic realities in South Asia. In fact in 1997, their recalling 'Akhand Bharat' concept of Hindu Mahasabha of 1930s, showed an element of desperation about the inevitable changes that are coming in the socio-political equilibrium in Pakistan. Secondly, while a section of the academics wanted the dialogue to start and keep it going along with the 'core' issue, Kashmir, others seem to think that first Kashmir issue needs to be resolved before anything else could be discussed with India.25 As the later events have shown the so called 'core' issue, Kashmir, advocated by a section of the Pakistani intelligentsia, especially the armed forces, emerged only as one of the issues to be discussed alongwith others. Lastly, most of the Pakistani writings during this period show an element of urgency for Islamabad to resume the dialogue with India. The reasons cited varied from domestic economic compulsions to foreign policy reverses that Islamabad had suffered in the recent past. In fact, their precarious economic position was too obvious from the budget presented in June 1997-98.26 After making debt repayment, adequate federal revenue receipts are not left for meeting the defence expenditure of Pakistan. Some of these harsh economic realities, alongwith foreign policy reverses on the Afghan front, enabled the Nawaz Sharif government to move ahead with their agenda, even if it meant taking a calculated risk to marginalise opinion of the armed forces and President.

Another aspect that needs to be highlighted at this juncture is that some of the Pakistani commentators started projecting India as also being quite desperate to break the ice in Indo-Pak relations to puruse its global ambitions. Writing on India-Pak talks, one commentator goes to the extent of saying that "India is keen to open up trade with Pakistan as it hopes to flood the Pakistani markets with their cheap goods. Since the issue of Kashmir is standing in the way of achieving its economic goal vis-a-vis Pakistan, Deve Gowda would like to show some positive signs towards a solution of the problem."27 Simultaneously, "India is keen to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. A possible hurdle in achieving its ambition is the Kashmir intifada."28 Why Pakistan commentators decided to project Indo-Pak talks this way is difficult to understand. One interpretation could be to tell the domestic audience, that India will concede Pakistani demands so as to build up a hope that was more than warranted. Alternatively, Pakistani intelligentsia would like to project that both are desperate (not Pakistan alone) and each had its own compulsions.

In this backdrop the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan met from March 28 to 31 in New Delhi. The joint statement issued at the end of the meeting said that the two Foreign Secretaries discussed, "All outstanding issues of concern to both sides in a frank, cordial and constructive manner." They also decided to continue their discussions at Islamabad "on dates to be mutually decided."

After the talks, people like former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, expressed cynicism at any headway being made, due to the fast changing political developments in India.29 Commentators like Fahd Hussain felt that the momentum achieved in the talks was lost due to change of guard in Delhi.30 Fahd Hussain also emphasized the point that Pakistani delegation made it clear to the Indian side about the "centrality of Kashmir issue" and "no headway can be made unless and until the Indians are ready and willing to talk meaningfully on Kashmir."31

However, commentators like Tariq Butt were far more cautious. Writing in the News he said that "the process of bilateral talks started by Pakistan and India after a hiatus will be a longdrawn and protracted exercise before it would produce any worthwhile result."32 Neither side has expected, and "rightly so, instant results." With the official Pakistan Foreign Ministry's spokesman describing that the Foreign Secretary level talks were "not stuck at square one and can move forward", the intelligentsia realised that the momentum on Indo-Pak talks would be kept going.33

Pak Perceptions on Change of Guard in New Delhi

The meeting between Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers at the summit of the Foreign Ministers of NAM in New Delhi on April 7-8, 1997 was more or less a non event as the Pakistanis viewed the developments within the ruling United Front in New Delhi as presenting a picture of total uncertainty. The Nation in an editorial goes to the extent of saying that "the sudden withdrawal of Congress support to the United Front government raises the suspicion that it is intended to sabotage the thaw in Indo-Pak talks. After the dust settles one way or the other, the talks will be subjected to the necessity of a new beginning." Similar views were expressed by the News and Dawn.34 However, the official Pakistan position that irrespective of who ever comes in power, they are ready for dialogue with India, was more or less, welcomed by everybody on the premise, that now the "ball is in India's court."

With the appointment of Inder Kumar Gujral as Prime Minister of India on April 19, 1997, an all round hope was generated in the Pakistani media. In fact, some of the seasoned commentators like Brig (Retd.) A.R. Siddiqi cautioned people against this excessive optimism. In his article "Gujral— Nawaz Punjabi Raj: Hopes and Fears" Siddiqi argued that "the fortuitous coincidence of two Punjabi Prime Ministers being at the helm of affairs at the same time across their national borders cannot go unnoticed. Unlike Mr. Gujral, a blue-blooded, native Punjabi, Nawaz Sharif, an ethnic Kashmiri, can just the same trace his Punjabi descent back to several generations."35 A native West Punjabi Prime Minister Gujral understands our mindset better than a Madrasi or even a up-ite? He would do his best to manipulate it."36 And he adds, "the so called Gujral Doctrine is an ingenious device (hand tooled by Mr. Gujral himself) so designed as to operate within the South Asian milieu together with Pakistan if possible, without it, if it is necessary. The grand strategy underlaying the doctrine is to make Pakistan behave or else put it on the spot vis-a-vis its neighbours and rest of the world as a compulsive maverick and spoil sport".37

After this initial euphoria about two Punjabis being the heads of the government in India and Pakistan at the same time, the focus shifted understandably to Male summit between them. While most of the commentaries harped on the by now familiar ground, 'core' issue 'Kashmir', there was a subtle shift in this formulation. Unlike in the previous months when it was argued that the core issue should be addressed first and others afterwards, from the beginning of May 97, commentators started arguing that the 'core' issue should be discussed alongwith others. Interestingly, commentators like H.K. Burki went to the extent of saying "there is no harm in holding discussions, if these relieve tension especially along the borders and produce confidence building measures. An honourable end to that futile confrontation in the icy wastes of Siachen should not be spurned."38 Whether this shift in the Pakistani intelligentsia is accidental or deliberate is difficult to judge. But definitely, writings during this period have shown a general acknowledgement of the fact that their perceived 'core' issue is not the core issue for India. Apparently this realisation prompted the Pakistani intelligentsia to accept that the whole gamut has to be tackled simultaneously without undue emphasis on any one particular issue. Also, some of the commentators started articulating that Pakistan is not in the same league as India's and therefore Islamabad cannot pressurise India in any respect.39

Against this backdrop, the Male Summit betwen the two Prime Ministers took place on May 13, 97 and a couple of confidence building measures were taken like the releasing the fishermen captured and establishing a hotline between the two capitals. The two Prime Ministers agreed, in principle, to establish working groups to identify and examine the major problems between India and Pakistan.

Once again cynics like Ikram Ullah, looked upon the build up in the media for Male summit as an unwanted euphoria. In his view, "none of the proposals made by the aggrieved party, i.e. Pakistan at Male met with any indication of positive response" from India.40 It is a different matter altogether that the later events have shown that people like Ikram Ullah were totally wrong in their assessments.

Sudden Irritants

After the Male summit it became clear to everybody that the next round of Foreign Secretary level talks will take place on June 18-19, 1997 in Islamabad and the political leadership in both the countries want the talks to continue. However, suddenly three developments happened in quick succession:

— Pakistani authorities claimed that their air space was violated by an Indian Air Force MIG-25 at an altitude of over 50,000 feet and before Pakistani Air Force could intercept it, the IAF plane moved away from the Pakistani airspace.

— A report in Washington Post said that India deployed its short range Prithvi missile on the Indo-Pak border in Punjab sector.

— In an exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistan, an officer of the Pakistani army was killed.

The suddenness and speed with which these developments occurred never created any doubts in any Pakistani commentators mind about the Indian intentions. Even the cream of the Pakistani intelligentsia, like Abdul Sattar and Dr. Maleeha Lodhi joined the bandwagon to attribute some hidden motive behind these Indian actions. In her article, "India's ballistic missile ambitions: Crossing a critical threshold," Dr. Lodhi says, "it is ironic that the region is exposed to the danger of a hair trigger security environment at the very time Prime Minister I.K. Gujral is singing paeans to peace and stability. For its part, Islamabad should leave no doubt in Delhi's mind that Pakistan will take appropriate counter measure to safeguard its interests."41 These people refused to acknowledge that the story of Prithvi is well known and that Washington Post story was nothing but a mischief played by somebody to vitiate the atmosphere. In fact, they refused to take cognizance of the Indian Prime Minister offering a clarification to a newspaper report.

While the intelligentsia were asking a strong response from Pakistan, the most ambitious politician of Pakistan today, the Foreign Minister in Nawaz Sharif cabinet, Gohar Ayub, went a step further by saying that "I would assume that if Prime Minister I.K. Gujral had known about (these developments), had been properly informed about them, he probably would not have approved of these acts. But I cannot commit myself (that Gujral did not have knowledge of these acts beforehand), I really don't know whether or not Gujral knew about these happenings." In the same breath he adds, "such acts would not help secretary level talks... would create unnecessary tensions."42

Unfortunately for Gohar Ayub, there were not many takers even in Pakistan for this extraordinary interpretation of developments on Indo-Pak front. After about ten days hype in the media, the importance of these developments suddenly died down in Pakistan, especially after the announcement of dates of next round of Foreign Secretary level talks on 18-19 June 1997. And when the talks did take place and it was agreed by both the Foreign Secretaries to create working groups on various issues, the skeptics in Pakistan were caught totally unawares.43

In an interesting article in the Sunday Review of the Nation, Ishtiaq Ahmed, says that "the outcome of the talks establishes the fact that both sides are now deeply interested in making some real progress in normalisation and improving their decades long strained relations." Ishtiaq goes on to add that the Pakistan decision to discuss Kashmir with India bilaterally is itself a bold move. Most of the time, since the signing of the Simla Agreement in 1972, whereby India and Pakistan committed to negotiate Kashmir bilaterally, Pakistan had been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue.44 These efforts have not proved fruitful. Pakistan must acknowledge the fact that the uprising in Kashmir is fast losing momentum for various reasons. The Indians have launched a counter insurgency by sponsoring their own militant Kashmir elements. They have held elections and no matter how farcical this electoral process is, it is being seconded, although with some reservations, by the Western nations, including the US. In such a situation, Pakistan's resorting to just one option, that of merely internationalising the matter, would not have made any sense."45

Ahmed Rashid, another influential commentator, writing in the monthly the Herald felt that the "positive result" of the talks will come as a relief to Nawaz Sharif. Remarking that Nawaz Sharif's government has been battered on a number of issues in recent weeks Rashid suggests "a foreign policy breakthrough is exactly what the government needed at this ponit."46

To sum up, from the above analysis it is obvious that Pakistani intelligentsia is as divided now as in the past about their attitude towards Indo-Pak relations. But there is a minor change. There are a growing number of people who feel that the confrontationist posture with India cost the country dear. Some among these people also feel that in the war of wits, they lost almost every round and fifty years after independence, India is in a much better position in every respect than Pakistan.

At another level, lots of Pakistani misperceptions are due to a disinformation campaign in the media, and lack of accessibility of the Pakistani intelligentsia to the Indian source material. Probably this lacuna can be filled in if there are more people to people contacts and willingness on the part of Pakistani authorities to allow such contacts.

Above all it is too early to judge whether this momentum, willingness to talk all bilateral issues and find a way out with India, can be sustained by the political leadership in Pakistan or not. It remains a debatable point. Already a section of the Pakistani political elite is talking about the need to change the form of governance altogether as the democratic process has failed to alleviate the poeple's problems. If that happens, not due to Indo-Pak talks but due to Pakistani domestic compulsions, like in the past rulers of the country may be talking "heads I win, tails you lose" language. Therefore, a measured step by step approach without any hype by the present political leadership in both countries seems to be the only way out to sustain Indo-Pak dialogue.

 

Notes

1. In a conversation with the Indian journalists who accompanied the Indian Foreign Secretary to Islamabad in June 1997, the Information Advisor (IA) to Nawaz Sharif said so. Only when an Indian journalist asked him whether the same can be said about the UN Resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir, the IA withdrew his remark.

2. Katyal K.K., A Diary of Indo-Pak Talks, The Hindu, March 31, 1997.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. The Nation, February 1, 1997.

11. The Statesman (New Delhi), February 28, 1997.

12. Umer Farooq, "Nawaz Sharif's initiative may draw positive US response." The Nation, February 8, 1997.

13. Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed, "Nawaz Sharif and Friendship with India." The Nation 8 February 1997.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. For instance see Moonis Ahmad, "New Policy for South Asia." The News, February 26, 1997.

17. The Hindu, February 19, 1997.

18. Ibid.

19. The Nation, March 21-22, 1997.

20. Ikram Ullah, "Cautious Optimisim without rationale," The Nation, March 30, 1997.

21. Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed, "The Intiative in Pakistan Hands," The Nation, March 4, 1997.

22. Ibid.

23. Prof. Khalid Mahmud, "Normalising ties with India," The News, March 7, 1997.

24. Ibid.

25. Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, "The Indo-Pak Normalisation Process," The News, May 1, 1997.

26. The net federal revenue receipts and capital receipts amounted to (p) Rs 354 bn in 1997-98 budget. Of this amount if debt repayment amount totalling Rs 248 bn, is deducted, The balance left out was only Rs 107 bn. And the defence expenditure for 1997-98 is Rs. 134 bn.

27. Kamal Matinuddin, "Indo-Pak talks ; 8th Round" The News, March 31, 1997.

28. Ibid.

29. The Nation, April 1, 1997.

30. Ibid.

31. See Fahd Hussain despatches from New Delhi, Ibid.

32. Tariq Butt, "Pak-India Talks: Hopes and Despair," The News, April 2, 1997.

33. Ibid.

34. See POT (Pakistan) vol. 25, n.81, April 5, 1997, pp.843-45.

35. The Nation, April 30, 1997.

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid.

38. H.K. Burki, "Normalisation : Indian Style," The News, May 3, 1997.

39. Ibid.

40. Ikram Ullah, "The Male Euphoria,' The Nation, May 18, 1997.

41. The News, June 12, 1997.

42. As reported in The News, June 13, 1997.

43. Acording to the text of the joint statement issued at the end of Foreign Secretary level talks from 19-23 June in Islamabad, for promoting friendship and harmonious relationship between Pakistan and India, the Foreign Secretaries have agreed:

(i) To address all outstanding issues of concern to both sides, (a) peace and security including CBMs, (b) Jammu & Kashmir (c) Siachen (d) Wullar Barrage Project/Tulbul Navigation Project (e) Sir Creek, (f) terrorism and drug trafficking, (g) economic and commercial cooperation, (h) promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields.

(ii) To set up a mechanism including working groups at appropriate levels to address all these issues in an integrated manner. The issues (a) and (b) of above will be dealt with at the level of Foreign Secretaries who will also coordinate and monitor the progress of work of all the working groups. For full text of the joint statement see, Pakistan Times, June 24, 1997.

44. Ishtiaq Ahmed, "Zeroing on Kashmir," Sunday Review, The Nation, June 29, 1997.

45. Ibid.

46. Ahmed Rashid, "A Great leap forward," Herald, July 97. p.54.