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Monday, October 04, 2004

Progress towards peace, or a raw deal for India?

    Posted by Adam Crouch

The New York City meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf went rather well:
India and Pakistan are both masters of the defensive game and could go on for years in talks characterised by more activity than movement. Both India and Pakistan have concluded that their interests are served better by talking than by maintaining a hard line. The Singh-Musharraf summit in New York has provided a valuable political push. Their statement implicitly recognises that without tangible results, hardliners on both sides will become more vocal. Pakistan needs a visible sign that there is a meaningful dialogue on Kashmir. India similarly needs a visible sign that Pakistan is willing to change its tactics, both on infiltration and on aspects of India-Pakistan relations other than Kashmir. Several of the agreements they have reached are valuable, notably, strengthening hotlines, new nuclear risk reduction measures, and liberalising visas. But none of these measures are irreversible. In the short term, two issues in particular will tell us whether they are truly on the road to peace: the proposed bus service between both sides of Kashmir, and the future of talks on a gas pipeline.

The bus service:

A few Kashmir-related issues were discussed under other parts of the dialogue. The proposal to institute bus service between the two sides of Kashmir is the most promising potential gesture of reconciliation, but the two sides disagree sharply on what kind of documentation will be needed for travel on the bus. India insists that all travellers have passports and visas; Pakistan prefers some other form of documentation, to protect its position that Kashmir is not part of India.

If they can work this out, it will definitely be significant. I was in India when the Delhi-Lahore bus service was started, and it had a profound psychological effect on everyone. There was a feeling of encroaching normalcy, and the bus service helped to humans the other side a bit more.

The solution they came up with is rather odd though:

The problem that has dogged the issue of bus and train links also seems to have been resolved. India insisted on passports for Pakistanis crossing the LoC. Pakistan retorted that to do so would be to treat the LoC as an international border, something it is committed to denying.

The agreement reached by National Security Adviser Mani Dixit and his Pakistani counterpart is that both sides will check the passports of its own citizens. That is to say, Pakistan will check Pakistani passports on its own side of the border and we will then allow its citizens in without stamping their passports. And India will check Indian passports on our border, before our citizens go to the Pakistani side.

Such a scheme can only work in an atmosphere of trust and Singh and Musharraf agreed to try and create that climate.

So the Indian police will make sure that no dangerous Indians enter Pakistan, and Pakistan will make sure no dangerous Pakistanis enter Indian-held Kashmir. Is there an Indian expression that means "letting the fox guard the hen house"?!?

And the pipeline:

The most significant announcement in the economic realm was that the two petroleum ministers will meet to discuss the possibility of a pipeline from [natural] gas fields in Iran or Central Asia, through Pakistan, to the large North Indian market. "This was picked up by Musharraf and Singh, and a conference on Iranian gas exports to Pakistan and India will take place in New Delhi in December. The political risk of transporting a strategic commodity between adversaries would require careful handling, but the benefits to both could be enormous," the analysis adds.

India really has its back against the wall here. It needs more natural gas to fuel its economic growth, but no good way to pipe it in. To the north are the Himalayas, to the south is the ocean, to the west is Pakistan, and to the east is nothing (gas-wise). Their only real hope for piping in natural gas without Pakistan would be to connect off of a branch of China's West-East Pipeline from Kazakhstan. But that's a very round-about path, and the pipeline would be much more expensive (due to the mountains, as well as the length). Regardless, it's not like India and China have always gotten along all that well either.

Still, this doesn't seem like a very good proposition for India. They're essentially putting a rope around their neck, and asking Pakistan, "please don't pull on it". Even if Pakistan never actually turns down/off the spigot, the possibility will always loom during negotiations and conflicts. And there's always the possibility of terrorist attacks (with or without the Pakistani government's complicity).

This is how India sees it:

A former Indian diplomat said that if the pipeline went forward it would boost the peace process by enhancing "strategic inter-dependence."

Possibly, but the dependence seems pretty one-sided to me. And keep in mind, this is something India is pushing for. So India is going to be granting concessions in order to get the privilege of granting an on-and-off hostile nation control over one of their lifelines.

So what has India received so far in these talks? They've given Pakistan the ability to let whomever they please into India, and they've also given Pakistan control over a potentially large energy lifeline. Sure, India has to grant some large concessions to Pakistan, because India will never yield on Pakistan's key objective, releasing control over Kashmir. But what is India getting out of this? The big thing is more friendly relations with their nuclear-armed neighbor. That's definitely a large benefit, and hopefully it will last, but past history doesn't promote a great deal of optimism. Combine that with the potential increase in terrorists and ISI agents flowing in under Pakistani watch (though there would presumably still be Indian customs searches, and hopefully not even India's police are that corrupt), and India's net gain in security is murky at best.

Here's to hoping that future rounds go better, resulting in a much more stable and secure situation in the region.

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