Najam Sethi is a well regarded voice in Pakistani media & public life.His past has included a struggle against dictatorship in the ’60’s,exile,subsequent pardon and then as a prominent member of the Pakistani intelligentsia.A recent article by him in the Friday Times & published in India Today as well makes a case that peace between India and Pakistan is being hampered by Indian intransigence in insisting on resolution for 26/11 Mumbai and making an issue of Kargil. He says,forget the past,make “minor” concessions on Siachen & Sir Creek.In return for Pakistan having generously agreed to liberalize visa regime and equally munificently granted MFN status to India on trade.
The Indians extended MFN status to Pakistan in 1996,unilaterally.Now Pakistan proposes to return the favor 20yrs later.As for Visas,Indians fear another Headley-like recce trip by “Businessmen” like David Headley.Who’s to tell,so long as Jihadis lurk in the Pakistani state as a sort of extension of the state? Yet,visa liberalization has occurred in India despite those reservations. So perhaps India might be forgiven for not regarding either of those as significant enough.
Where am I coming from? I guess I am not of the same mind as Arundhati Roy on this matter,notwithstanding the fine job I think she has done of championing Tribal populations.But neither do I take a position denying all Pakistani viewpoints on this matter as some do nor do I hold all Indian govt positions correct.
Here,I don’t wish to repeat many of the arguments Mr Sethi has already anticipated in his piece. But the “concessions” made by Pakistan have a couple of essential characteristics – they don’t HARM pakistan,and NEITHER are the concessions irreversible. So,as a principle, I would say to the Pakistanis – ask for concessions from India that neither HARM india,NOR are irreversible. I don’t want to espouse the more common Indian view that both of these steps are not concessions,but in Pakistan’s own economic interest,since that view may not be held by ardent pak nationalists.I don’t want to dwell on the Indian view that Siachen & Sir Creek “concessions” have irreversible strategic implications,but assume its true,since usually territorial concessions are irreversible.
So,let’s begin by assuming Pakistan doesn’t have anything it may ask of India that meet the criteria above,simply because I can’t think of any.But from an Indian standpoint,since Najam Sethi’s article hasn’t received a very enthusiastic response from the Indian twitterati/bloggerati,what can Pakistan do that may be acceptable to its own stated positions,but also give India a sense of sufficient comfort that things are moving in the right direction,or enough to move on Sir Creek,Siachen,or Kashmir? I can think of 2 things,which may do that.
One is prosecuting and convicting all the actors in 26/11. Not doing that and proposing that India make further concessions in the interest of normalization is trivializing the attack that happened,and trivializing terrorism.This is absolutely essential to demonstrate any sort of good faith or change in attitude by Pakistan.
The second issue is Kashmir.Here,I don’t want to repeat India’s oft repeated line,but move closer to Pakistan’s oft repeated position that Kashmir is independent,free to make up its own mind to join India or Pakistan in a plebiscite. According to the U.N resolutions on Kashmir, 1st step is that Pakistan is obliged to withdraw completely from the erstwhile state of J&K – now comprised in Pakistan of AJK (Pakistani “Azad Jammu & Kashmir”) and G-B (Gilgit Baltistan).India’s position was that the area be returned to Indian control,since that was the intent & letter of the relevant UN resolution.But my view is to the left of that. Let Pakistan withdraw completely and allow AJK/G-B to be truly independent,with the proviso of an ultimate plebiscite. By giving Pakistan-held Kashmir true Independence & allowing it to be member of UN,etc, Pakistan will not be put at a loss to its own oft-held position,and at the same time, will dramatically reduce the border threat it is perceived to be by India. At a masterstroke,Pakistan will also have fulfilled its responsibility to withdraw from J&K in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and will put the matter squarely in India’s and UN’s lap for next steps. Withdrawing does not mean that all ties with AJK/G-B are severed,but only that AJK/G-B is free to join the U.N,free to have a sort of skeletal army of its own,free to have or use own currency,etc – In short, all the periphernalia of an Independent state. That really lets Pakistan put its money where its mouth is.Its easy to ask of India to vacate Kashmir,but it bugs Indians as sheer hypocrisy & lying. Once Pakistan withdraws from Kashmir and leaves it entirely to kashmiris and UN, Indians would be less likely to dismiss the matter out of hand.
With these steps above things may progress to a point where Siachen and Sir creek needn’t be considered as confidence building measures or even be relevant.In fact, with the steps above the complexion of Siachen may change completely down the line.