In talks with India, pressure is on Pakistan

With Taliban in the west and separatists in the south, Pakistan hopes peace talks with India will shore up its eastern border.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan and India resumed their fragile peace talks Tuesday after nearly a year marked by bitterness and terrorist violence. But Pakistan – with its western and southern borders mired in escalating conflict – is at particular pains this week to secure progress with its nuclear rival, India.

In the west, Pakistan's government faces growing suspicion that it is ignoring – indeed, possibly supporting – Taliban militants fighting in Afghanistan. To the east, India's accusations have been nearly the same. It called off the last negotiating round in July after it accused Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of masterminding the deadly train blasts that left 186 dead in Mumbai (Bombay).

Meanwhile, separatists in the southern province of Balochistan continue to sow violence, the latest claiming the lives of at least one security officer and two civilians Tuesday.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Pakistan cannot afford so many burning fires on its hands, observers say. Its greatest threat seems to be rising in the west, on the border with Afghanistan, and in the south, yet it maintains most of its troops in the east, a legacy of tensions with India. Reconciling with India is therefore a crucial step in stamping out the violence in other areas, freeing up political, diplomatic, and military resources.

On top of the two-fold accusations against Pakistan, terrorism inside the country will create additional pressures this week.

"The more difficulties it has internally, the more the calculus favors India," says Ajay Sahni, director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. "India's position will tend to become a little more inflexible. Why make concessions at a time when your enemy is weakening?"

Analysts in both countries agree that the unrest, while unlikely to change the overall tone of the discussions, is liable to weaken Pakistan's position at the negotiating table. That means Paki- stan's pushing on the large issue of Kashmir, the Himalayan territory to which both sides stake claim, will fall on deaf ears.

Few expect concrete results. Instead, peace this week is likely to be made in small symbolic achievements.

The dialogue between the two countries, which intends to resolve territorial disputes and expand communication across the border, began in 2004 when the two sides teetered on the brink of their fourth war.

The focus during this week's talks, analysts say, is a proposed intelligence-sharing mechanism that could provide an unprecedented chance to end the animosity.

New Delhi still blames Pakistan's ISI for supporting the July train blasts, although it has backed off from disclosing evidence. Observers say it suggests either a softening of India's stance or a lack of credible evidence. Either way, the mistrust remains, bolstered by India's accusations last month that the ISI had attempted to penetrate India's military.

The intelligence-sharing plan would have intelligence chiefs consult with each other in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, in a bid to avoid finger-pointing. The idea for mutual transparency was first proposed by President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a September summit in Havana.

The two leaders effectively planned talks between their foreign secretaries in New Delhi this week on the force of the proposal's potential for peace.

"The long-term benefit is that they're likely to understand each other better, but it's primarily symbolic," says Ayesha Siddiqa, an independent defense analyst in Islamabad.

Others agree, saying India's willingness to discuss the idea constitutes an important and substantial change.

"It's a big shift. It was always the Indians being judge, jury, and everything else. It's a sign that India is willing to be flexible," says Hamayun Khan, a former Paki-stani High Commissioner to India who now works with the Center for Dialogue and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi.

Observers say the intelligence plan is unlikely to result in complete and open cooperation, given the long history of mistrust. But, like the bus route recently opened between the two borders, it opens another conduit for dialogue.

Many hope, for example, that an accord can be reached on the demilitarization of the Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield at more than 20,000 feet. Pakistan and India have squabbled over the virtually uninhabitable territory for decades.

"If we move forward on Siachen ... we can build up solutions to Kashmir," says Shafqat Mahmood, a former senator and now a political analyst in Lahore.

Both nations return to the negotiating table at a time when deaths are actually down by 29 percent in Kashmir, traditionally the central bone of contention.

But, as this week's talks are likely to highlight, reconciliation is for the moment not about Kashmir, but the immediate stumbling block of terrorism in mainland India and in Pakistan.

"We are rapidly coming to the conclusion that the resolution of Kashmir is these confidence-building measures," Mr. Khan says. "I don't see a political, negotiated solution possible given the compulsions on both sides. It's not a solution but a process."

Playing down these doubts would constitute a boon not only for India, but Pakistan itself, given its own host of internal problems.

"Overall, the space to deal with the tribal areas and Balochistan increases if progress with India is made," says Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent defense analyst in Lahore.

• Mark Sappenfield in New Delhi contributed reporting for this article.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...