July 25, 2021
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' We Must Seek Creative Solutions'

' There is a trust deficit. Some also refer to a vision deficit, especially since India has over the years sought to spell out a broader vision of our relationship while a similar definition has not been easy for Pakistan to enunciate'

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' We Must Seek Creative Solutions'

From a speech by the foreign secretary on Afghanistan-India-Pakistan Trialogue organised by Delhi Policy Group on June 13:

I think it is a truth universally acknowledged that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan share bonds and linkages that transcend the immediacy of the present. Often, we are also treated to the refrain that India-Pakistan issues have impeded the collective progress of the region. There are those who maintain that for peace and stability in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan should resolve all their differences. The complexities in such equations are not resolvable through the application of simple formulae, although it can be conceded that peace between the two largest countries in South Asia would have a salutary impact on the destiny of the entire region. Of course, the issue of peace and stability in Afghanistan needs to be addressed separately and comprehensively and not within the matrix of India-Pakistan relations.

I believe that the issue of peace and stability in Afghanistan has facets to it which concern governance, which concern issues of grass-roots level administration and deliverance of public goods like transport, trade, health, education and women’s empowerment, the mitigation of the culture of the gun, the eradication of terrorism, the creation of a strong Afghan National Army and Police and, structuring the role of regional countries in ensuring that long term peace and security in Afghanistan cannot be a bridge too far. A good outcome, and the realization of these goals, in Afghanistan can change the current of history in our region.

When the searchlight is turned on what we – as India – do in Afghanistan, the vista is clear. India is engaged in developmental and humanitarian work to assist the Afghan people as they build a peaceful, stable, inclusive, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan. The landscape of destruction must change. India neither sees Afghanistan as a battleground for competing national interests nor assistance to Afghan reconstruction and development as a zero sum game. (Indeed, may I venture the proposition that development and security in the entire region of South Asia should not be a zero sum game. We must be creative and flexible in our thinking on such issues). Our $ 1.3 billion assistance programme is aimed at building infrastructure, capacity building in critical areas of governance, health, education, agriculture etc. and generating employment. We have paid a heavy price in terms of the lives lost of our citizens who work in Afghanistan, as we are targeted by those whose agendas conflict with the emergence of a strong and stable Afghanistan. Last year, over 300,000 Afghans- mainly women and children- trekked long distances to avail of free medical treatment from the Indian Medical Missions in Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. The economy of battle-scarred Nimroz province was transformed with the building of the Zaranj-Delaram highway and the homes of the people of Kabul have been lit after more than a decade by the Pul-e-Khumri transmission line from the Uzbek border. These are by no definition, activities that are inimical to the interest of the people of Afghanistan or its neighbours. We have sought to assist Afghanistan within our means. In fact, the international community as a whole has made great contributions in terms of diplomacy and development, in assisting Afghanistan to stand on its feet. We welcome these efforts and are fully supportive of them.

The security of Afghanistan and what happens there impacts us, as a country in the region, as a close neighbour whose ties with the Afghan people stretch into antiquity. A stable and settled Afghanistan, where the rank and file of the Taliban has given up violence against the government, and the people, cut all links with terrorism, subscribe to the values of the Afghan Constitution and its laws, and where development is the hard rationale, is what we seek and quest for. It is important also that for such a structure to be durable and enduring, Afghanistan’s neighbours, and regional partners, will need to be in the picture – both by consultation and by adherence to the principle of non-interference in the country’s affairs, ensuring that it thrives as a trade and transit hub for the region, and by eradicating trans-national terrorism.

I will now focus on the dynamics of our relationship with Pakistan, particularly following the meeting of the two Prime Ministers in Thimphu in April. India-Pakistan relations are, by virtue of a complexity that has grown, rather than diminished over the years, literally, a class apart. Theories about why such distances separate us, abound. Geographical contiguity and shared history, ethnic and linguistic affinities, and similar developmental challenges have not induced an inevitable congruity between our interests. That is the tragedy of our relationship. The last sixty years have had more than their share of bitterness, recrimination, mistrust, misunderstanding and miscommunication. There is a trust deficit. Some also refer to a vision deficit, especially since India has over the years sought to spell out a broader vision of our relationship while a similar definition has not been easy for Pakistan to enunciate. Therefore, there is need for articulating a common definition of what kind of relationship we want for the future. The welfare of our millions should be the common denominator of our efforts.

So, what has gone wrong so far? While some would trace the current state of India-Pakistan relations to the circumstances that led to the birth of the two countries, others would blame events thereafter, but what is important for us today is to try and assess the reasons underlying the existing state of this relationship and to think afresh on the way forward. It is only through such an analysis that we can overcome the difficulties in our relationship. This is the spirit of Thimphu.

And, as we commence this exercise, it is important to reiterate a few points. We seek a stable, peaceful, economically progressing Pakistan. Secondly, we sincerely desire peace with Pakistan. Thirdly, we have to learn to live with the asymmetries in our sizes and capabilities. Such differences of scale should not deter us from working with each other. Pakistan should shed its insecurity on these counts. Fourthly, India is a neighbour which has exhibited true restraint despite misguided and serious provocations. Fifthly, the entry of radical ideology into the domain of religion, and, the consequent implications for peace and security between India and Pakistan, making differences over Kashmir even more difficult, must be prevented. Radical, terrorist forces are also increasingly battling for larger space in a deathly struggle that seeks to overwhelm moderate, democratic forces in Pakistani civil society. The writing on the wall must be seen.

There is agreement today on both sides that dialogue is the only way forward. Consequently, our Prime Ministers have charged the Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries with the responsibility of working out the modalities of restoring trust and confidence in the relationship and thus paving the way for a substantive dialogue on all issues of mutual concern.

For bridging what is called the “trust deficit” between the two countries, we are ready to address all issues of mutual concern through dialogue and peaceful negotiations. Let me however, pose a question, here. The progress in our Composite Dialogue especially from 2004-2008, and the frequent references to the deliberations of the back channel during the same period, do not diminish the import of one dilemma. How do we deal with the persistent threat of terrorism? It is a given, that this dialogue can best progress in an atmosphere free from terrorism, which has been the bane of our region. Most terrorist attacks in India and elsewhere have their origin in our region. Every terrorist attack, including the one in Mumbai, hardens Indian public opinion, making our task more difficult. Terrorism as a continuation of war by other means, and the use of terrorist groups selectively, as strategic assets against India, cannot and must not, continue. As an intrinsic part of the long-term vision of relations it desires with India, Pakistan must act effectively against those terrorist groups that seek to nullify and, to destroy the prospects of peace and cooperation between our two countries.

We often hear about Pakistan’s apprehension about India’s conventional defence superiority and growing strategic capabilities after the civil nuclear deal with the United States. Suggestions have been made for a strategic restraint regime in South Asia. I would like to reiterate that India’s defence posture and capabilities are not of an offensive nature, and not targeted against any country, including Pakistan. We want to see a peaceful, stable, energy-secure and prosperous Pakistan that acts as a bulwark against terrorism for its own sake and for the good of the region. Asymmetries in size and development, should not prevent us from working together, building complementarities, and realizing a vision of friendly, bilateral relations. In my opinion, there can be no better strategic restraint regime than greater economic and commercial integration; more and more people to people contacts and cultural exchanges, which lead to mutual understanding of each other’s views. Here rests the key to bridging the trust and vision deficit.

In recent times, we have also seen unprecedented focus on the “water issue” between India and Pakistan. Breast-beating propaganda and baseless charges alleging stealing of water and illegal construction of dams have been spread and poisoned the atmosphere of our relations further. The myth of water theft does not stand the test of rational scrutiny or reason. India has never sought to deny Pakistan its fair and stipulated share of the Indus waters. We firmly believe that the Indus Water Treaty is an example of mutually beneficial cooperation between India and Pakistan. For fifty years now, it has been a very successful and useful mechanism for discussing water-related issues between the two countries. India has always adhered to its Treaty obligations, even during the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971, and will continue to do so. We are committed to resolving whatever differences that exist in this regard under the mechanism that is provided by the Treaty. This apart, as developing countries, India and Pakistan also stand to benefit from consultations in the context of multilateral processes dealing with environmental issues, including water. In future, India could consider, under a suitable bilateral intergovernmental mechanism, co-operation, such as sharing best practices in water utilization and irrigation.

India Pakistan relations have been discussed under the Composite Dialogue process. The Composite Dialogue, which was resumed in June 2004, was predicated on the solemn commitment given by Pakistan that it would not allow any territory under its control to be used for terrorism directed against India. Four Rounds of the Composite Dialogue were completed. During the 5th round, the dialogue process was paused after the terrorist attack on Mumbai. We appreciate the relevance and achievements of the Composite Dialogue, particularly in the period 2004-2008. During this phase, all issues of mutual concern, including Jammu & Kashmir, were discussed. Amongst the achievements, we can cite a number of Confidence Building Measures related to peace and security, such as agreements on pre-notification of flight testing of ballistic missiles and reduction of the risk from Accidents relating to Nuclear Weapons, hotlines between various officials on both sides; enhanced people to people contacts through bus/truck and train services; revival of the Bilateral Joint Commission after 16 years; setting up of the Judicial Committee to look into the humanitarian issue of civilian prisoners/fishermen held in each others jails and growth in bilateral trade by 550% between year 2003-04 and 2007-08 from US$ 344.59 million to US$ 2.23 billion.

On Jammu & Kashmir, progress was made based on the common understanding that boundaries could not be redrawn but we could work towards making them irrelevant; and people on both sides of the LoC should be able to move freely and trade with one another. Towards this goal, a number of cross-LoC CBMs were put in place, which included the opening of five crossing points on the LOC; introduction of triple entry permits; increase in frequency of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkot bus services; starting of cross-LOC trade on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakote routes through movement of trucks, etc.

On the way forward, we have to build on these achievements. We also have to reaffirm the progress made through complex negotiations and dialogue through patient and unsung effort whether in the composite dialogue or back channel diplomacy, during this period. We must seek creative solutions.

India’s rise should not be seen in subjective or negative terms by our neighbours. In fact, our fast growing economy and large market should be seen as a growth opportunity: a reliable source for investments, technology and entrepreneurial resources, besides being a rapidly expanding market for our neighbours' exports. Unfortunately, economic and commercial integration within SAARC has been stymied by political considerations at the cost of economic benefits. Intra-SAARC exports are a mere 5% of the total SAARC exports.

Pakistan has nothing to fear from Indian commerce and industry. This has been said by its own Panel of Economists, appointed by Pakistan’s Planning Commission. The Panel in its report on Medium Term Development Imperatives and Strategy for Pakistan has assessed that bilateral trade between our two countries, can grow from the current around US $2 billion per annum to a range of $3 to $10 billion. The report enumerates several advantages for Pakistan if trade is normalized with India, which includes geographical proximity and cheaper transportation costs. It concludes that shorter distances will render it unnecessary for Pakistani industry to carry high levels of inventories of raw material. We hope that Pakistan implements the recommendations of its own economists to give India MFN status and shift from a positive list to a negative list regime. Growing economic integration will not only contribute positively to our common developmental imperatives but will also facilitate in building trust and confidence. Moreover, Pakistan could benefit from trade and permitting transit through its territory between India and Afghanistan, thereby creating a win-win situation for all three countries.

In conclusion, I would like to echo what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on the 7th June at the Convocation of the Sher-e-Kashmir University in Srinagar:


“Our issues with Pakistan are well known. Good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan are in the interest of both the countries. At the same time they are necessary for peace and harmony, stability and development in our region. The relations between the two countries over the past one and a half years have been under the shadow of the terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. As you are aware, I met the Prime Minister of Pakistan in Thimphu last month. Both the countries accepted that there is a trust deficit between us. We also agreed that this distance between the two countries must be reduced.

Prime Minister Gilani Saheb has assured me that Pakistan will not allow its soil to be used for terrorist activities against India. Meaningful talks between the two countries, which can lead to a resolution of old issues, are possible only when Pakistan does not let its territory be used for acts of terror against India.

The destiny of our people is linked to each other. Therefore both the countries should adopt effective ways of co-operation to the benefit of the people of the two countries. A strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in the interest of our whole region”

The road ahead is a long and winding one. But as fellow travellers, India and Pakistan must tackle the challenges of this rocky road with the belief that a secure and prosperous future vitally and crucially depends on our ability to do so.


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