News Review Special Edition
International Developments, April 1 - May 10, 2003
Diplomatic Thaw Raises Hopes in South Asia
The period under review saw dramatic movement aimed at healing the deep, mutually-wounding rift in relations between India and Pakistan. By early May, hopes for a significant reduction of political and military tensions seemed higher than at any time since the May 1998 nuclear tests by both countries triggered an escalating series of crises, upheavals and war scares. (See next issue for coverage of the anniversary.) As the following summary suggests, however, even in the context of a general political thaw - an outcome far from guaranteed - prospects for nuclear disarmament in the region appear troublingly remote.
The first step in a new diplomatic direction was taken in mid-April by India's Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with a visit to Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir. Making the first public statement by an Indian leader in the disputed, wartorn territory for 16 years, Vajpayee made a strong appeal for reconciliation both within Kashmir and between New Delhi and Islamabad: "We want friendship and brotherhood with our neighbours. We are again extending the hand of friendship - but hands should be extended from both sides. Both sides should decide to live together. ... All issues should be settled through talks... We are ready...[to discuss] both internal and external problems. Guns will not solve the matter, but brotherhood will."
Pakistan's response was prompt and positive. On April 18, Information Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed vowed: "If they take one step, we are ready to take two steps... If India has understood that we have to resolve all these issues, including Kashmir, through talks, then...we can hold talks anywhere." On April 19, Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri commented: "We welcome wholeheartedly [the] Indian Prime Minister's...offer for negotiation... We [have] always believed that there is no other way to solve the problems than a composite dialogue for a sensible, just and fair solution..." Also on April 19, speaking to reporters at the close of his two-day visit to Srinagar, Vajpayee repeated: "It is possible to make a new beginning, but it depends on Pakistan... We will see what concrete steps Pakistan takes. I have extended the hand of friendship and want to see how Pakistan replies to it. ... Talks can be opened on all subjects, including Jammu & Kashmir. I hope that from across the border, we will get a proper response, and we will be able to move ahead. ... As long as cross-border terrorism is going on and militants are prepared to cross the border...fruitful talks cannot happen."
The key role in providing Pakistan's 'proper response' was played by Prime Minister Zafirullah Jamali. On April 19, Jamali had struck a positive but cautious tone: "I welcome this offer and appreciate it, but the basic principles on issues will remain the same". On April 28, however - following another conciliatory statement by the Indian Prime Minister, delivered to Parliament on April 22 - Jamali spoke directly to Vajpayee. In a summary provided by the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, Jamali welcomed Vajpayee's "offer of talks...and reiterated Pakistan's readiness for a dialogue with India at any level. The Prime Minister expressed the hope that such a dialogue will address all outstanding issues between the two countries, including Kashmir. The two Prime Ministers also exchanged views on exploring ways and means to initiate relations in economic, cultural and sports fields, which will be to the mutual benefit of the two peoples. The Prime Minister...extended an invitation to Mr. Vajpayee to visit Pakistan at his convenience. Mr. Jamali offered to visit India in the interest of peace and stability in South Asia. The telephone call breaks the 18-months old impasse between the two countries. The two agreed to keep in touch. The conversation was most cordial and useful."
On May 2, Vajpayee delivered a statement to parliament on the substance and outcome of the phone call: "PM Jamali conveyed his appreciation and thanks for the comments I had made in Srinagar... He also condemned terrorism. ... We discussed ways of carrying forward our bilateral relations. In this regard, I emphasized the importance of economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, people-to-people contacts and civil aviation links. These would create an environment in which difficult issues in our bilateral relations could be addressed. PM Jamali suggested resumption of sporting links between the two countries. We agreed that, as a beginning, these measures could be considered. In this context, it has been decided to appoint a High Commissioner to Pakistan and to restore the civil aviation links on a reciprocal basis." The 78-year old Prime Minister added: This round of talks will be decisive - and at least for my life, these will be the last."
Jamali followed his phone call with a letter, repeating the desire for an early resumption of high-level dialogue, received by Vajpayee on May 3. The Indian leader replied the same day. According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Shri Navtej Sarna, Vajpayee "drew Prime Minister Jamali's attention to his [April 22] affirmation in Parliament that we are committed to the improvement of relations with Pakistan and we are willing to grasp every opportunity for doing so. However, we have repeatedly expressed the need to create a conducive atmosphere for a sustained dialogue, which necessarily requires an end to cross-border terrorism and dismantling of its infrastructure."
On May 5, while describing Vajpayee's letter as "positive", Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aziz Ahmed Khan argued that the termination of cross-border terrorism could not realistically be set as a precondition of negotiations. Pakistan, Khan noted, was in favour of "a composite dialogue, which means all issues simultaneously". The spokesperson added that Islamabad would be willing to see nuclear disarmament included on the agenda of any talks: "As far as Pakistan is concerned, if India is ready to denuclearise, we would be happy to denuclearise. We can talk about that, but it will have to be mutual." On May 6, Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, noted that mutual denuclearisation had long been the country's objective: "We have been saying that, if there is no problem to our security Pakistan and India can move to mutual reduction of forces and have a no-war pact... If the Kashmir dispute is resolved and there is peace and security in the region, South Asia could be denuclearised mutually... This has been Pakistan's stand because our concern is our security." On May 8, Pakistan's nuclear weapons National Command Authority (NCA), chaired by Musharraf, issued a statement noting that, in the absence of progress towards disarmament, "retention of minimum deterrence" - coupled with disavowal of "an arms race" - "was the cornerstone of Pakistan's national security policy".
The disarmament offer, however, was quickly and abruptly dismissed by India, with Vajpayee telling Parliament (May 8): "We don't accept Pakistan's proposal... Pakistan's nuclear programme is India-specific, but we are concerned about other states as well... We don't want to use all our resources on buying arms and weapons, but we have to defend ourselves in case of a threat." New Delhi has long regarded China's nuclear weapons programme as a potential threat to its national security.
India's dedication to an ongoing programme of military nuclearisation was underscored in early April with an announcement by Defence Minister George Fernandes that a new, third variant of the nuclear-capable Agni ('Fire') surface-to-surface ballistic missile would be tested by the end of the year. Agni I - range 700 kilometres - and Agni II - range 2,000 kilometres, capable of striking targets in China - are both expected to enter service in 2003. When deployed, Fernandes noted (April 6) without providing specifics, Agni III will have a still greater range: "The test firing of Agni III is overdue, and we feel the need for that long-range missile as part of our policy of deterrence... The date [for the first tests] has not been firmed up... [The] effort [underway] is to see that it is test fired this year..." On April 9, Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Khan commented: "We have stated before that India is the proliferator in this region. India is the one which is proliferating the missile programme. It is better that the international community give attention to...[this issue] and prevent India from this relentless pursuit of more and more weapons".
Also speaking on April 6, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha described Pakistan as a "fit case" for US pre-emptive military action. Sinha explained: "We can't go to someone and ask them to attack another country...[but] we will keep pointing out the activities of Pakistan and in them the role of the army, the drug business centred in Pakistan...and how people in [Pakistan-administered Kashmir] are repressed and trampled on..." The Foreign Minister was elaborating on his claim, made in an interview with Agence France Presse (AFP) on April 2, that "India has a much better case to go for pre-emptive action against Pakistan than the US has in Iraq." On April 7, Pakistan's Information Minister, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, responded: "India is a fit case for a pre-emptive strikes. If India thinks...so, then we also have the right to go for a pre-emptive strike." Were India to launch such an attack on Pakistan, Ahmed added, it would be "eliminated from the globe". On April 8, an unnamed US State Department official - no doubt recalling India's vocal opposition to the US-led war against Iraq - took exception to Sinha's remarks: "Attempts to draw a parallel between Iraq and Kashmir are overwhelmed by differences between the two situations... We recognise the very serious nature of the situation in Kashmir...but the two situations are not comparable. ... [The] circumstances which made the coalition actions necessary in Iraq do not apply in the subcontinent and should not be considered a precedent..." On April 15, Prime Minister Jamali stated: "Tension between India and Pakistan is quite dangerous because both are nuclear powers... [But] I am not worried - we know how to defend ourselves and we will not allow any pre-emptive strike... If I have to defend myself, I would go to any extent, especially in the situation as Mr. Sinha says of a pre-emptive attack. Of course, I have to be alert and defend myself."
On April 17, the eve of Vajpayee's landmark visit to Kashmir, Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sabai described Pakistan as "the most irresponsible country in the world": "They continue to foment violence in India and sponsor terrorism against it. Is that being responsible? ... Pakistan is also irresponsible because of its volatile mixture of international terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and weapons of mass destruction."
Indian criticism of Pakistan's failure to stop cross-border terrorism is often echoed, albeit with less passion, by US officials. On April 19, for example, Richard Haass, the State Department's director of Policy Planning, told Indian journalists: "It's true the United States for some time has urged the Pakistani government to stop all infiltration across the Line of Control [between Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir]... I'll be honest - we have not succeeded, and we are at times, shall we say, disappointed and frustrated with that reality... I think it's simply a fact of life for the Pakistanis that our relationship with them will never be able to improve beyond a certain point unless the problem is adequately addressed..." Haass also took issue with any comparison drawn by Indian leaders between Iraq and Pakistan: "I think countries, including India, need to be quite careful in simply saying what might work on one occasion, or be appropriate for the United States, is necessarily a recipe for them. I would suggest, in the case of India using military force against Pakistan, it simply is not wise... I simply do not see any scenario under which either country, India or Pakistan, would be better off..."
For its part, Pakistan rebuffs all suggestions it is not exerting every effort to stop terrorist activity and infiltration. Responding to Haass's remarks, Foreign Minister Kasuri told AFP (April 19): "we try our best, we closed the camps and the collection of funds, but it's very difficult to stop completely... If the US could not stop the illegal immigration from Mexico, if India cannot stop infiltration on its side of the LoC [Line of Control], how could Pakistan do it when it is underequipped?"
In a speech at the American Embassy in New Delhi on April 21, US Ambassador Robert Blackwill coupled an announcement of his resignation with a ringing endorsement of India's position on the cross-border issue: "The fight against international terrorism will not be won until terrorism against India ends permanently... There can be no other legitimate stance by the United States, no American compromise whatever on this elemental geopolitical and moral truth - otherwise we sink into a swamp of moral relativism and strategic myopia."
Despite such nagging doubts over Islamabad's commitment to the anti-terrorism cause, the Bush administration expressed great satisfaction at the diplomatic breakthroughs of April and May. On May 2, Secretary of State Colin Powell described "all this" as "very, very promising at a time when people were beginning to wonder whether or not we were going back up the slope of potential conflict, a conflict we feared last year." On May 3, Powell phoned Prime Minister Jamali to congratulate him on his constructive response to Vajpayee's initiative. According to the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, the Secretary of State "assured" Jamali "that the United States would continue to make efforts to promote better understanding between India and Pakistan, enabling the resumption of dialogue leading to a peaceful resolution of problems between the two countries." Reflecting widespread international sentiment, a statement issued by the office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warmly welcomed "the series of reciprocal steps that India and Pakistan have recently taken to ease tensions and improve bilateral relations. ... The Secretary-General also hopes that the normalization of diplomatic relations and restoration of rail, road and air links, as well as other confidence-building measures being introduced by the two sides, will lead to a resumption of a sustained dialogue. He looks forward to the peaceful resolution of the differences between India and Pakistan, including over Kashmir." UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (May 2) also applauded "the announcement that India and Pakistan are to resume full diplomatic relations". Straw added: "The international community has long encouraged India and Pakistan to take action to reduce regional tensions, but I recognise that it requires political courage and vision by the leadership of both countries to make this happen. I commend both governments for their recent efforts and hope that these positive developments prove to be the first step in a process of building confidence, normalising bilateral relations and resolving their outstanding differences..."
The bright new political atmosphere in the region was not noticeably dimmed by another Indian missile test, this time of the nuclear-capable Prithvi ('Earth') short range (90 miles) system. An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Reuters: "It has already been inducted into the army. This was a user trial. There is nothing big about it..." A Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson agreed: "This was simply a reconfirmation that missiles are now a reality in South Asia..."
Any further underground nuclear tests by India would be unlikely to meet the same calm reception, either in Pakistan or internationally. According to the April 14 edition of NuclearFuel, the US received intelligence last year suggesting that India's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) - together with the Bhabra Atomic Research Center (BARC) and the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) - had requested permission from the Prime Minister to conduct three more tests. There was no sign, according to the report, that the experiments had been approved, or that any such tests were being planned.
Reports: India to test long-range nuclear-capable missile, Agence France Presse, April 6; India keen to test new nuclear missile - report, Reuters, April 6; India, Pakistan label each other 'fit case' for pre-emptive strike, Global Security Newswire, April 7; United States rejects India's argument for pre-emptive action, Global Security Newswire, April 8; Pakistan slams Indian plans to test another nuclear-capable missile, Agence France Presse, April 8; Islamabad charges India with proliferation, Global Security Newswire, April 9; US confirms it has intelligence pointing to DAE planning arms tests, NuclearFuel, April 14; Pakistan will defend itself with any means - PM, Agence France Presse, April 15; India renews attacks on Pakistan, 'world's most irresponsible country', Agence France Presse, April 17; Indian PM speaks at Kashmir public rally, Associated Press, April 18; Mixed reaction to Indian prime minister's speech, Agence France Presse, April 18; Indian PM visits Kashmir, seeks Pakistan ties, Reuters, April 18; Pakistan PM welcomes Vajpayee's offer for talks on Kashmir, Agence France Presse, April 19; US 'disappointed' at Pakistan's failure to stop Kashmir incursions, Agence France Presse, April 19; Pakistan has done its best to control cross LoC movement in Kashmir - FM, Agence France Presse, April 19; Indian PM winds up Kashmir tour with peace gestures to Pakistan, Agence France Presse, April 20; US envoy supports India in fight against terror, Agence France Presse, April 21; US envoy to India resigns, urges US support, Reuters, April 21; PM's statement on his two day visit to Jammu & Kashmir, New Delhi, April 22, 2003, Indian Ministry of External Affairs (http://meadev.nic.in); Pakistan can 'open doors for talks' on Kashmir - Indian PM, Agence France Press, April 23; India, Pakistan PMs talk on phone in sign of thaw, Reuters, April 28; Pakistan Foreign Ministry (www.forisb.org) Press Release (untitled), April 28; Phone call to India breaks deadlock - Pakistan, Agence France Presse, April 29; India tests nuclear-capable Prithvi missile, Reuters, April 29; Prime Minister's statement in parliament, Indian Ministry of External Affairs, May 2; Straw welcomes resumption of Indo-Pakistani contacts, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (http://www.fco.gov.uk), May 2; India, Pakistan say they will hold talks, Associated Press, May 2; India offers full diplomatic links with nuclear rival Pakistan, Agence France Presse, May 2; Press briefing by the official spokesperson, Indian Ministry of External Affairs, May 3; Powell welcomes India peace initiative, Associated Press, May 3; Pakistan - we'll respond positively to Indian moves, Reuters, May 5; Pakistan offers to dump nuclear arms if India does, Reuters, May 5; Pakistan - will disarm nukes if India does, Associated Press, May 5; Musharraf wants no nukes, no-war pact with India, Agence France Presse, May 6; Secretary-General 'warmly welcomes' steps by India, Pakistan to ease tensions, improve relations, UN Press Release, May 6; Indian PM rejects Pakistan denuclearisation proposal, Agence France Presse, May 8; Indian PM rejects proposal to abandon nuclear arms, Reuters, May 8; India says it won't get rid of nukes, Associated Press, May 8; Pakistan opposes arms race - military, Agence France Presse, May 8.
© 2003 The Acronym Institute.