Urging analysts to take a “holistic view of relations with Pakistan,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh guardedly said the 3 year old peace process was making “progress” but acknowledged that it was “premature” to conclude to claim success. Singh pointed out that both sides had “several rounds of composite dialogue” on “Siachen, Sir Creek and other issues” and vowed to “sustain the momentum.”
Talking on the sidelines of the Asian leaders conference in the Philippines, Singh hinted that there was more progress on Siachen and “holding negotiations” on “authentication of ground positions.” Siachen is an unclearly marked glacier at 20,000+ feet above sea level that overlooks the Karakoram Pass connecting China with Pakistan and also provides a gallery view to the Shaksgam Valley—an area in erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir that was illegally ceded by Pakistan to China. On actionable intelligence that Islamabad was planning to take over these heights, India moved to occupy the high points in 1987. He also sounded positive insisting that there “are hopeful features in the present dialogue.”
Singh and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had met on the sidelines of the Commonwealth meeting at Havana to fast-track the peace process. Despite political willingness, practical considerations and history is stopping any progress on critical disputes. For example, the lack of trust and historical violation of bilateral commitments by Pakistan is stopping New Delhi from accepting Islamabad’s position on Siachen. India wants the authentication and verification of ground level positions on the glacier because it fears that Pakistan will quickly move to occupy the high-ground that India occupies. Islamabad balks at the suggestion. Indian Army officials have been insistent on such verification being a pre-condition for any movement on Siachen.
After fighting pitched battles to take these posts, Pakistan has given up trying to take the positions by force and agreed to a ceasefire in November 2003. Further, the increased pressure arising from cost of operations and the near civil war conditions in the tribal areas to the west is motivating Pakistan to consider a tactical withdrawal without sounding like it has lost.
Even the low hanging fruit of Sir Creek has not been resolved because both nations continue to hold their respective positions. However, cognizant of an upcoming international deadline that will turn unresolved maritime boundaries as international waters, many positive interactions have taken place between the two nations on this score so they can share the anticipated gas reserves beneath this sparsely populated area. Even smaller issues such as Pakistan’s refusal to grant most-favored nation trade status, adherence to South Asian Free Trade Association (SAFTA) agreements, refusal to allow an Indian mission in Karachi because of its inability to get a comparable space in Mumbai, and other minor irritants continue to stop confidence building between the two estranged nations.
In continuation of the peace process, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Pakistan to invite Musharraf to visit New Delhi for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting. Peeved by a lack of give by India, Musharraf has reportedly refused to attend New Delhi even though this is a multi-lateral meeting and not a bilateral one. Instead of taking advantage of proximity to Indian leaders to give more political push, Musharraf has chosen to be reclusive. However, he did acknowledge that the confidence building measures taken so far had helped to create a “conducive atmosphere to resolve outstanding issues” and was upbeat that the countries “will achieve results maybe sooner than we expect.” All he said was needed was “resolve and flexibility of leadership.”
India continues to hold Pakistan responsible for various terrorist activities directed at Indian from within and outside its borders—a charge that Pakistan refuses to accept even though there is enough from independent sources that confirm India’s accusation.