India has much to gain by taking up Pakistan’s specific proposals on Kashmir and demanding commitments for them to ease tensions between the two nuclear powers in the disputed region, says Shivam Vij.
In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a direct proposal to India to normalize relations. India immediately and summarily rejected his overture, blaming Pakistan for terrorism and taking strong exception of his description of Indian-administered Kashmir as a foreign occupied territory.
In the never-ending saga of India-Pakistan relations, it is usually Pakistan that looks like the party that does not want peace. It is Pakistan that gets blamed for terrorist attacks in India, heightened military confrontation on the disputed Kahsmir border, or militant incursions. Now, with New Delhi not responding even to very specific Pakistani proposals for reducing tensions, India risks being seen as the party that is shunning dialogue and peace.
The Pakistani prime minister proposed putting into a signed document the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Back then, India and Pakistan did not sign that agreement due to diplomatic differences over phraseology. Nevertheless, the 2003 agreement did result in substantially reducing tensions on the disputed Kashmir border, at least until 2013. Over ten years, a lot of military and civilian lives and property were saved. Signing such an agreement can only be in India's interest.
India instead blamed Pakistan for ceasefire violations. It is true that Pakistan's ceasefire violations in Jammu and Kashmir are often aimed at helping militant incursions, but it is not as if India doesn't respond to them.
An objective outsider can never tell what the two armies - standing eye to eye on a volatile disputed border - are up to. That is why the monitoring mechanism of the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan, better known as UNMOGIP, can only be to India's advantage. While Pakistan wants an enhanced role for UNMOGIP, India would rather have UNMOGIP's international observes pack up and go home.
India says that Kashmir and other disputes are strictly between India and Pakistan, and that the two countries signed an agreement in 1972 that there would be no third party.
However, Nawaz Sharif did not seek the UN's intervention in mediation, or dispute resolution. Indeed, India is missing the departure from the strict Pakistani line that Kashmir needs a plebiscite under the UN Security Council resolutions. That is the usual Pakistani rhetoric meant to go nowhere.
But Nawaz Sharif this time tried to show meaningful intent by proposing that India and Pakistan reaffirm that they will not use, or even threaten to use, force against each other. India could take this up and demand commitments from Pakistan on terrorism, asking Islamabad to walk the talk and bring to justice the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008. India could also ask Pakistan to reciprocate India's commitment to not be the first to use nuclear weapons.
Nawaz Sharif proposed demilitarization of Kashmir, to which India has responded by saying that the real solution is “de-terrorizing Pakistan”. However, Pakistan did not demand demilitarization of only India-administered Kashmir. This would apply to both sides of the disputed border. India knows better than anyone that Pakistan's terrorist infrastructure is centered in Kashmir. India could demand linking demilitarization of Kashmir to Pakistan shutting down Kashmir terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.
It is bizarre that India is unwilling to seriously talk to Pakistan to achieve peace and stability in the region. Military action against a nuclear-armed Pakistan is not an option for India. Pretending that Kashmir is not a dispute is not viable. Pakistan is India's greatest foreign policy challenge and India's answer seems to be disengagement.
Talks announced in July went nowhere; they were announced clearly under international pressure. India and Pakistan both typically blamed each other for the failure of talks. India said it would not let Pakistan pay even lip-service to the Kashmir issue and won't let Pakistanis meet Kashmiri secessionists.
Now, with Pakistan making specific proposals to bring down tensions, it is looking difficult for India to make Pakistan look like the party that does not want peace. In this game of play-acting before the international community, India thinks it can isolate Pakistan. But, India might be punching above its weight because Pakistan's geographic location makes it important to the international community. To keep the Taliban in check in Afghanistan, the world needs Pakistan. Deepening Pakistan-China relations have also been a cause of concern for India.
Given these circumstances, it would be fruitful for India to accept Nawaz Sharif's overture, sit down for talks, show serious intent, and not put forward unreasonable and pointless demands. Should there be another Pakistan-backed terrorist attack in India, it will be Pakistan, and not India, that will look like the party in the wrong.
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