A fast-debilitating relationship

Published: August 29, 2014
The cross-border firing is an indication that both countries seem to prefer the more expedient option of ‘shoot first, talk later’. PHOTO: AFP

The cross-border firing is an indication that both countries seem to prefer the more expedient option of ‘shoot first, talk later’. PHOTO: AFP

Given recent events, hope hasn’t taken us very far and as suggested by an eminent political scientist, “hope is not a policy”. The unacceptable rise in cross-border firing across the LoC has made a mockery of the ceasefire that has held for the better part of a decade. Civilians on both sides have been killed, many forced to abandon their homes. India scrapped secretary level talks after Pakistan’s high commissioner to India met with Kashmiri leaders, a routine affair. Moreover, India remains on course to build the Kishanganga Dam, a hydro-electric project that could seriously affect Pakistan’s already tenuous inflow of water. Meanwhile, hundreds of fishermen continue to languish in Indian and Pakistani jails in deplorable conditions. The ‘good will’ gestures that ordinarily signify their release have not recently been forthcoming.

Why the break in relations? After all, Nawaz Sharif made better relations with India a campaign promise. Despite fears that a BJP government — especially a BJP government led by Narendra Modi — would be bad for relations with Pakistan, his decision to invite Nawaz to his inauguration was very welcome. That was the high point, however, as things went downhill swiftly afterwards. Hope, it seems, was not followed up by policy.

Both countries are to blame for fresh round of fierceness. Ceasefire violations have now become a daily occurrence. Times are such that it hardly matters who shot first; enough casualties on both sides indicate that even if one side started it, the other most emphatically ended it. Yes, India has legitimate grievances with Pakistan. Despite picking a more benign title — ‘Non-Discriminatory Market Access’ — instead of Most Favoured Nation, Pakistan has yet to grant India the status in either form, failing to stimulate better trade between the countries despite repeated assurances. Prime Minister Modi’s actions have not helped either. That Modi went to Kargil (of all places) and accused Pakistan of waging a ‘proxy war of terrorism’ is not a move conducive to friendliness. Nor is brusquely calling off high-level talks just days before they are scheduled to begin. India must understand that the fact that Pakistan’s foreign secretary met with Hurriyet leaders is neither unusual nor a betrayal of Pakistan’s commitment towards normalisation. Pakistan has always maintained that Kashmiris themselves are stakeholders in their future — which is hardly a stance worth boycotting. If India has objections, it should voice them in the talks themselves — sensibly, level-headedly. Instead, the scuttling has cut off the opportunity for both countries to voice their concerns in person.

The lack of dialogue has made intractable, complicated issues like Kashmir or water distribution seem impossible to solve. It’s a tragedy that negotiations, a policy Pakistan has preferred so insistently with militants and between warring political parties is a stance that hardly gets much traction when it comes to relations with India. The cross-border firing is an indication that both countries seem to prefer the more expedient option of ‘shoot first, talk later’. Such a policy is hardly to going change the reality that Pakistan might receive less than a tenth of the water that currently flows in to the country from the Kishanganga River. The gravity of the issue cannot be overstated, and it requires Pakistan and India’s best efforts at dialogue to avert an impending political — and water — crisis. That has not been the case. Pakistan’s own domestic turmoil has sidetracked political discourse and compelled everyone to look elsewhere rather than at the debilitating relations next door.

India’s own domestic politics have also prompted a more hawkish stance. Modi once goaded former prime minister Manmohan Singh for his ‘soft’ stance on terrorism, and is determined to adopt a more ‘muscular’ foreign policy, which includes a more confrontational stance with Pakistan. A suffering India-Pakistan relationship is as old as the countries themselves, but if the politicians on both sides don’t stem the tide, the relationship is about to get a lot worse — and lethal. And that isn’t good for anybody.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • Dishum
    Aug 29, 2014 - 4:03AM

    Your leaders can’t even talk to one another – how will they talk to another country’s leaders? Modi has a strong mandate and the complete support of his people especially with regards to dealing with Pakistan. He will act in the best interest of his country however and whenever he chooses to do so. For now, he has far bigger fish to fry starting with Japan this week.


  • Arijit Sharma
    Aug 29, 2014 - 4:09AM

    Illiteracy in Pakistan is the cause of the “Kashmir issue”. There is no one who can actually read the UN Resolution on Kashmir.


  • Gp65
    Aug 29, 2014 - 4:54AM

    Pakistan took India to the International arbitration tribunal to stop india from building the Kishanganga dam. The tribunal ruled in favor of India in Jan 2014 allowing it to build the dam but asked for some design changes. http://pakobserver.net/detailnews.asp?id=228183 . India has incorporated the design changes. So in light of this it is unclear why Pakistani overnment and media believe India should halt construction anyway. India has always onored IWT even during the time that it has one to war. It is in really poor taste to accuse India of breaking an agreement when it has done no such thing.

    As far as LOC firing, Modi is different from Manmohan. Both desire peace but if Pakistan starts firing, Modi has given full freedom to Border Security Force aggressively rather than Manmohan’s approach of measured response. These things are invariably triggered by Pakistani army any time there is possibility of progress in talk.

    As far as calling off talks is concerned, Abdul Basit had been told in no uncertain terms that he cold either talk to Hurriyat or to India. He chose Hurriyat. To pass it of as a routine meeting is disingenuous in light of clear and unambiguous communication from Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh. The fact that in the past such proocative behavior has been tolerated ( there were protests from India but they were ignored by Pakistan), does not mean it should continue forever.

    Peace is a 2 way street. If you look at Modi’s approach to conflict resolution with Bhutan, Nepal, Burma and Bangladesh, it is clear that he is highly motivated to resolve problems, so that he can focus his energy on resolving India’s many problems. India’s army is totally under civilian control and would not defy the elected PM. It is Pakistan PM who has no control over his army. This was the problem in 1999 when Kargill happened and this is the problem now.


  • Np
    Aug 29, 2014 - 5:02AM

    India’s conerns about talking to Hurriyat have been conveyed ‘sensibly’ and ‘leelheadedly’ many many times in the past. These concerns have simply been ignored. Also Pakistan is welcome to talk to Kashmiris in The part of Kashmir that Pakistan administers. India can and does talk to representatives of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (elected by the people despite boycott calls by Hurriyat) .

    Shimla agreement spells out very clearly that discussions on Kashmir will be bilateral between India and Pakistan. So what Pakistan did was wrong. They have ignored India’s sensible and level headed concerns in the past. So it was time to communicate these concerns in a different manner.

    It is unclear why India should stop building Kishanganga dam after Pakistan took to an international tribunal which ruled that India had a right to build the dam under IWT.


  • ModiFied
    Aug 29, 2014 - 5:59AM

    More and more people in India believe that Pakistan does not want peaceful relations with India. Pakistan has not taken a single step to prove her sincerity. India granted MFN status to Pakistan in 1996. Pakistan has been dragging her feet even now. Pakistan regularly sends Jihadis in India. List is very long. If peace is not possible between two countries, then why waste time in trying for the same. It has not happened in last 67 years and unlikely to happen anytime soon. India has almost given up on Pakistan now. With current turmoil in Pakistan the chances of peace are very remote.


  • Sunil
    Aug 29, 2014 - 7:56AM

    The hawkish stance you talk of is the will of the people. We want the total liberation of Kashmir and the reintegration minus Pakistan’s of what is occupied India in the long term into India. We have not forgotten what you did to us and what Islamic invaders were like.


  • vinsin
    Aug 29, 2014 - 8:33AM

    Good Article but disagree that Kashmiris themselves are stakeholders in their future. All parties are responsible for Kashmir Issue and biggest one is India. India has always send confusing messages over Kashmir, from plebiscite, to convert existing line of control to international border to Kashmir being integral part of India. India stance has changed from . India which has been governed by single party Congress (voted by Indian Muslims) has always been disinterested in resolving Kashmir issue because of fear of Indian Muslims that if Kashmir get lost then they maybe asked to leave too. Kashmiri themselves has kept on changing their stance too from initially wanted to move to pakistan, then to add Kashmir to Pakistan then to add Kashmir Muslims majority areas to paksitan to independent country for kahsmiri muslims. Pakistan has never proposed any solution to Kashmir issue till now, except asking for plebiscite exclusive for kashmiri muslims in kashmir valley, why not for whole subcontinent.


  • pakiindi
    Aug 29, 2014 - 8:48AM

    It would help matters greatly if Pakistan diplomats and politicians were to meet and hear the views of elected representatives of Kashmir also instead of meeting only the unelected separatists from the valley. India should then have no complaints.


  • wonderer
    Aug 29, 2014 - 8:59AM


    More and more people in India believe that Pakistan does not want peaceful relations with India.

    Pakistan and Pakistanis do want; only Pakistani Army does not.


  • BlackJack
    Aug 29, 2014 - 11:54AM

    Ceasefire violations – unwittingly, the article hits the nail on the head. The person who shoots first is indeed not likely to shoot last.
    NDMA – Pointless if Pakistan does not see its own benefit. As with most mutually profitable ideas (no first-use/ maintaining sanctity of LoC/ avoiding the rearing of snakes in backyard/ dropping dream of strategic depth and so on), the avowed policy is apparently cut the nose to spite the face.
    Kishenganga – the approach seems to be that if you can’t convince impartial international arbitrators of your case, let’s at least fool our own citizens. Good luck with that.


  • Vik Joshi
    Aug 29, 2014 - 11:57AM

    “That Modi went to Kargil (of all places) and accused Pakistan of waging a ‘proxy war of terrorism’ is not a move conducive to friendliness.” … the logical corollary being that when Pakistani agents go to Kargil (as in 1999) it is a ‘move conducive to friendliness’ …!! Yeah right!


  • AVMPolpot
    Aug 29, 2014 - 2:21PM

    Be Ready to see more such Blaming India Editorials…
    just reflects the reality that Pakistans India Policy is now almost completely the domain of the Paki Establishment and the media feels ‘safe’ in being pro Establishment.


  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Aug 29, 2014 - 2:47PM

    @GP65…”..If you look at Modi’s approach to conflict resolution with Bhutan, Nepal, Burma and Bangladesh..”
    India did not ave conflict with all the above u mentioned, do not deviate. Do not say conflict it is more an improving of relationship to solve issues of mutual interest for better co-existence.

    don’t always sing about modi …..
    see what will happen soon…..it will always has to be measured response not as MMS only.
    Every good leader of the world does that. I am talking about world leaders, OK


  • S K Chadha
    Aug 29, 2014 - 3:54PM

    Will anybody reply that despite ‘Simla Agreement’ and India’s time and again reminding to Pakistan for not indulging in India’s internal affairs what was the pressing need to meet so called Hurriat leaders on Indian soil? If not in past, I think it is conveyed now in uncertain terms. Both nations should desist from such acts.

    Forget about ‘Simla Agreement’ and ‘Lahore Declaration’, it is the talks only which resulted in 2003 LOC peace agreement, 2004 Joint statement of PMs, FMs statements of 24.09.2004, joint statements of 18.04.2005, 14.09.2005, 3.10.2005 etc. The guns on border and LOC were also silent because of these humane measures. The need is to pursue them first before discussing any contentious issues as that will lead to more animosity.


  • Aug 29, 2014 - 5:59PM

    I have a few questions.
    Article says “accused Pakistan of waging a ‘proxy war of terrorism’ is not a move conducive to friendliness.”
    1. The whole world is factually and literally aware that this is true. The doctrine of delivering thousand cuts to bleed is well known. It is also a fact, written by Pakistani Generals, that during 1965 terrorists were dropped in the valley. So how is this that saying so is not conducive to friendliness? How long should we keep pretending and will it help.?.. has it helped??

    The article further says “Pakistan has always maintained that Kashmiris themselves are stakeholders in their future — which is hardly a stance worth boycotting.” Sir, you sound good. The question is which Kashmiris?
    2. If separatists, mongers of violence and those who continuously oppose democratic processes like elections are invited on the table than what do the people who take part in elections in spite of open threat to their life and property should do. What the elected government of Kashmir should do?
    This blatant insult to the elected representatives has to be stopped.


  • Gp65
    Aug 29, 2014 - 6:39PM

    ET mods- please allow rebuttal to someone who has written o me.

    India may not have gone to war but it DID and does have a conflict with Nepal and Bangladesh which was exploited by China (string of pearls theory) and Pakistan (pushing counterfeit currency and terrorists through). You must be very naive if you are not aware of this.

    But then India has not initiated a war with Pakistan either – all wars were initiated by Pakistan and Nepal, Bangladesh have better sense than o o to war with India.


  • Strategic Asset
    Aug 30, 2014 - 12:40AM

    @Gp65: @VINOD: I know one of you is a BJP supporter and the other is a Congress supporter and as for me I am ambivalent though I like the direction we are in.

    I am glad that both of you are roughly in agreement on this topic and while I respect the diversity of opinions, I am glad that there is a confluence as well.


  • Gp65
    Aug 30, 2014 - 6:18AM

    @Strategic Asset:
    The congruence with @Vinod comes from the fact that we both love India and sibscribe yo Indian ethos of unity in diversity and hence are not against any comminity/religion and would like to live in peace, just as in the apartment block where I lived, I had Christian, Parsi, Jain, Sikh and Muslim neighbors with whom one lived peacefully – so also one would like that in our wider neighorhood too there is peace.

    The other characteristic we share is. Pragmatism. Even as most neighbors get along fine with each other, there is always that one quarrelsome neighbor that is spoiling for a fight. If one can ignore them we should. If they. Continue o bully you though you have to stand up o them. Standing upto the bully nowhere counts as aggression.


  • Rakib
    Aug 30, 2014 - 8:39AM

    It will remain a moot point whether Modi painted himself into a corner or did Pakistan force him into taking that position. Indifference would have damaged the Separatists but Modi deferred to them. All that may now happen is Modi will have to use “gentle persuasion” from Japan, and USA later in September, as a face saving device to restart talks and for same reason Pak-PM will have to blame preoccupation with local crisis for lack of attention on what Basit was up to. Both have NO choice but to talk. Just couple of weeks before this brouhaha the very same set of Separatists, Gilani, Shah, Malik, Mirwaiz et al had sauntered in to Pak embassy at Delhi for Iftar. Surely Modi knew just as Basit that they did not discuss the nutritional value of Medjoul Dates & camel’s milk.There was no need for Basit to have yet another meeting within such a short span except to crudely thumb his nose at India, nor was it prudent on the part of an otherwise shrewd Modi to have made mini martyrs out of a bunch of dinosaurs..Their stock was low till then.. Novice Modi will one day learn on the job but his tutorials are costing India dear.


  • Professor
    Aug 30, 2014 - 5:22PM

    We are just going through the motions with these peace talks. Nothing can ever come of it. This will keep going until the time that one of the sides cannot take it anymore. Who it will be, only time will tell.

    @Rakib: I am not sure who it is costing more. But I can tell you this: Given the present climate, India can afford to sit on its haunches for a very long time. Don’t underestimate ‘novice’ Modi and his team of advisors. They are shrewder than you give them credit for.


  • Rakib
    Aug 30, 2014 - 6:20PM

    @VINOD: You say: (If separatists, mongers of violence and those who continuously oppose democratic processes like elections are invited on the table than what do the people who take part in elections in spite of open threat to their life and property should do. What the elected government of Kashmir should do?)

    Your principled point is well made. So, whose is real voice of Kashmir? Per you, obviously not of Hurriyat. Of elected representatives? Obviously so, isn’t it. And what is their view, view of J&K Assembly, of NC & PDP included, on the subject of talks with Pak & did Modi ask their opinion or even pay any heed to that if he did? They certainly want Indo-Pak talks to go on. As Guj-CM Modi had spoken nine to a dozen against MM Singh, warning him not to take any initiative on Sir Creek issue without taking ‘Gujarat’ (read ‘Modi’) into confidence. What is he doing now with CM & Assembly of J&K? Listening to J&K legislators is important since as RSS-man Modi is not the best interpreter of non-Hindu voices of J&K, especially of the Valley.


  • Aug 30, 2014 - 7:29PM

    @Gp65: Thanks. You have aptly expressed my views too. I agree. Hope @Strategic Asset: understands. Regards.


  • Raj - USA
    Aug 30, 2014 - 10:23PM

    “All that may now happen is Modi will have to use “gentle persuasion” from Japan, and USA later in September…………”

    I don’t think so. Someone should be very innocent to believe that US will forget that Osama, the architect of 9/11 was found so close to an army installation in Pakistan. As I said in one of my comments earlier, even after 13 years, I still see some bumper stickers on cars here that say “Never Forget 9/11”. You see more of them if you drive closer to military camps. US is pulling away from that region and does not care that much. Even China will not try to persuade India to hold talks with Pakistan. Do we see any reaction or comments from China? Pakistan gaining any territory in Kashmir will aggravate problems for China in its muslim region. The Uyghur terrorists are trained in Pakistan.

    What are the options for Kashmir. India take back Kashmir from Pakistan, India give Kashmir to Pakistan, or make Kashmir an independent country.

    India giving away Kashmir to Pakistan of making Kashmir an independent country will only cause more killings of shias in that region. India taking back Kashmir from Pakistan will invite more problems for India. US has learnt the hard way that freeing muslim countries from dictators and giving them their country to govern it themselves only causes more bloodshed ……. killing of muslims by muslims. We saw it in Libya and Iraq. If Kashmir becomes an independent country, the first demand will be to impose sharia laws on all others. However, the section that is in control will not want sharia laws to be applied on to themselves.

    We do not know if Nawaz Sharif’s government will survive even for one week. This time around, even the army is not strong enough to hold the country and are facing problems fighting the talibans they themselves brought in the country from all across the world and also to tackle the problem of millions of displaced persons. These IDP’s will also create serious problems throughout the country. Interesting to note that Punjab and Sindh do not want these IDP’s in their provinces. Are they going to care for the Kashmiris? Modi did the right thing by cancelling the talks.


  • Rakib
    Aug 31, 2014 - 7:44AM

    @Raj – USA:
    Modi merely proved that it’s the spent force like Separatists that can still yank India’s chain. Obama has lost his plot but it’s unthinkable that his foreign policy is driven in part by bumper-stickers! I wonder whether a John Doe can actually locate Punjab in atlas & know it’s in which country. Any way, you are the USA-Raj here & I yield to you in matters esoterically American. You say Modi did right by calling off talks. Of course. Even you/I could have done that given the authority; one doesn’t need Modi for that. Instead of exchanging sarees with Nawaz he could have done something more useful for his fellow-countrymen of J&K. If Modi had cancelled talks because of ceasefire violations there could have been some empathy for him globally. But, to call it off because the non-militant separatist Kashmiris met Pakistanis, not clandestinely, not surreptitiously, but openly in media glare, is something that White House or Whitehall would not really comprehend. But then they are functioning Democracies, not one-man-shows..


  • Aug 31, 2014 - 10:23AM

    Dear Moderator as @Rakib has directly asked a question to me please permit my reply.

    @Rakib: You have not answered my question “If separatists, mongers of violence and those who continuously oppose democratic processes like elections are invited on the table than what do the people who take part in elections in spite of open threat to their life and property should do. What the elected government of Kashmir should do?”

    Instead you have have questioned me about J&K Assembly resolution of the elected representatives. Please read the resolution carefully. It is totally in line with the latest statement of Mr Modi. As you have rightly said that “They certainly want Indo-Pak talks to go on.” Mr Modi also wants the same but he clearly states that for this the violence and bloodshed has to stop. Please again read, No where the resolution says that the separatists and Hurriyat should be the part of discussion. In fact this is an insult to the Assembly, the Chief Minister and people of Kashmir if these separatists, mongers of violence and saboteurs of democracy are made part of discussions.
    Today your entire operation of Pakistan Army…”Zarbe Azb” and operations in Baluchistan are also based on this principal that terrorists and separatist can not be dealt otherwise. So why different yard stick in this case. Please answer.


  • Sunil
    Aug 31, 2014 - 11:25AM

    @Rakib: Does it really matter what you or anyone else thinks of Modi? We in India feel he is a good and strong leader. The fact is that I am a Kashmiri and a Hindu and I am Indian always have been. Just because you Muslims feel that Kashmir belongs to you does not mean we will hand it over to you. What claims do you have on Kashmir? Even the name of the state is a Hindu Saints name who lived thousands of years ago. If you want Kashmir let Pakistan start a war and see what happens. Your policy of a thousand cuts is inflecting more harm on Pakistan then us. We will prevail and one day liberate those lands Muslims occupy, just wait and see.


  • wonderer
    Aug 31, 2014 - 12:24PM


    Your question is as valid as it is clearly articulated. Very well done, but let me assure you it is futile to aspect a straight and cogent answer. I wonder if you will get any.

    I shall watch this space as eagerly as you.


  • Rakib
    Aug 31, 2014 - 2:18PM

    @VINOD: (ET: Please permit this response)

    Was your question “What the elected government of Kashmir should do?” Well,it should declare it will directly make efforts to broker peace if Centre is unwilling to do so out of hubris. IMO, It must also talk to Separatists. No, Modi did not say anything new about violence & bloodshed. All are saying that for last 70 years. He cancelled the talk because Pak Ambassador met Kashmiri Separatists. No other reason, not even ceasefire violations for which flag-meetings go on. You seem to be against talking to Separatists & give Pak attitude towards Balochis & others as example. That’s not my business really, but I am against that attitude too, on principle. Pl Consider:-One could talk to Khalistanis-India’s greatest terrorists & militant separtists who held the world record (till 9/11)for aviation terrorism by bombing out AI Flt182 with 329 souls aboard & again at Narita Airport. One could hold parleys with Phizo the Naga leader who dictated terms that he will meet Indian interlocutors only in London or Bangkok. One could manage talks with Lal Denga of Mizos sans preconditions. Indians are willing to accept insult from those that give stapled visas. (Right, got it, Modi was still a teenager back then, & now he will set the world right!). Only when it comes to Mirwaiz, Gilani, Malik, Shah who are vitriolic but not violent that all this drama comes forth!

    @Sunil:Show me where have I said Kashmir should be handed over to me, he or anybody else? One should talk NOT for the sake of Pakistan. Talk for the sake of actual residents of J&K, their future, their peace. You are slow on the uptake otherwise you would have known what my thinking on Kashmir is the moment I used the word “Separatists” again & again & not “freedom fighters”. I am not concerned with who & what gave name to which province under which mythology. All I am concerned with is India that is Bharat & Pakistan-both after 14-15Aug47 & Bangladesh after 1971. And finally, war-talk/tall-talk from internet-warriors doesn’t interest me.


  • Sep 4, 2014 - 10:09AM

    @Rakib: I am sad that my reply did not find a space.


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