When things are in a hopeless mess a messiah will come with a big stick and lead the people to prosperity and happiness, so runs the common South Asian belief. The trouble comes when society places all its faith in the powers of a single individual—doesn't matter even if he is the PM—to 'take' the country forward. Our own quite unreasonable expectations in India are mirrored in Pakistan society. The commoner may be forgiven if he imagines that A.B. Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf are personally responsible for the nastiness that Indians and Pakistanis wreak on each other.
But those who head institutions involved in the daily business of being nasty to the other side know better. The Indian and Pakistani Coast Guards set out each morning to catch fishermen. Embassies deny visas to each other's people, police and immigration officials harass blue and green passport holders, the armies fire at each other, business lobbies lobby against liberalisation and cheaper products from across the border. Indians ridicule the medieval-looking mullah and his jehadi rhetoric; the Pakistani says that surely digging up a cricket pitch is even more daft. Above all this is the overarch of the Kashmir tangle and the dangers of accidental or misperceived nuclear war.
The question is: can two individuals wipe the slate clean of all this hostility, merely because they are heads of state and have agreed to a summit? Great political milestones like the Helsinki accord were made possible because of years of plugging away at the peripheries of enmity through agreements like incsea (Prevention of Incidents on and over the High Seas), the abm (Anti-Ballistic Missile) treaty, non-militarisation of space, salt (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) 1, the cfe (Conventional Armed Forces in Europe), inf (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) and the mbfr (Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction) talks.
There has never been a dialogue between India and Pakistan on the 'mechanics' of negotiation. Do the two countries have a common view on the relative merits of engaging in political discussions followed by technical discussions, or the other way around? Islamabad, on the other hand, clearly believes that it is politics first and its stand flies against the facts of the geo-political agreements achieved so far worldwide. Vajpayee's offer is certainly statesman-like but successful statesmen have always had huge and competent institutional backing. Does Vajpayee have this backing?
The Lahore agreement was way ahead of its time in political sagacity, particularly those concerning nuclear cbms (Confidence Building Measures). Despite Musharraf's public denigration of Lahore, the Pakistan government has amplified to every visiting Indian delegation their adherence to its major clauses. But what is astonishing is the sheer inefficiency of its implementation, even assuming that the political will to back Lahore collapsed in Kargil, three months later. We need to examine many of the simpler, sensible, mutually beneficial agreements that were signed in February '99 and could have easily been implemented by May '99, when Kargil apparently froze all forward movement.
Here are the agreements that were signed and their status. A two-member ministerial committee on each side to examine issues like civilian detainees and missing pows—not implemented. Exchange of nuclear doctrines—India has done so, not Pakistan. CBMS in the nuclear field—not implemented after Lahore.Advance notification on ballistic missile tests—being done. Strengthening and identifying national command systems—Pakistan has implemented it, not India. Accidental nuclear occurrences on each other's soil—being implemented. Agreement to prevent incidents on sea—not signed, not put up. Review the cbms signed in 1991 and expand—no action so far. Review military communications between the two sides—not done. Upgrade dgmo-dgmo (Director-General Military Operations) communication—not implemented. Speedy mechanism to release captured fishermen—not signed, not put up. This terrible record does not indicate political failure or absence of political will as much as gross institutional inefficiency.
What do countries do when placed in this seemingly vicious cycle where political agreements are stymied by hostility, while technical agreements to reduce hostility are victims of either institutional inefficiency or political vacillation? The answer to this conundrum in South Asia is to stop imagining that the region is unique and incorporate the relevant lessons from other regions, particularly Cold War-smitten Central Europe.
To expose Indian and Pakistani representatives to the Central European successes and failures, a conference was conducted at Wilton Park, Sussex. At the conference were British, German, French and retired ex-Soviet negotiators who provided the background staff support to the cfe, the mbfr and, to some extent, the inf. The lessons for the subcontinent were clear: political and diplomatic agreements can never reduce hostility. Only technical agreements can.
But then technical agreements are driven and implemented by technical departments. These departments must be in the frontline of negotiations. The present method of directing technical departments to implement agreements through the mea will never work and is a recipe for unending hostility. All technical agreements are mutually beneficial, and given the go-ahead, the departments, which are not subject to the political climate, will implement them particularly during times of hostility.
The Pakistanis have to be led into this approach philosophy over a period of months or years. On-again-off-again diplomacy has never worked anywhere in the world. (Raja Menon, a former naval officer, writes on strategic affairs.)