More than a month after India-Pakistan border commanders agreed to strictly observe all agreements between the two countries, the absence of official acceptance of a backchannel seems far outweighed by indicators that there is, in fact, such a channel in place, approved by the Prime Ministers of both countries.
GS-II: International Relations (India and its neighbourhood, Foreign Policies and conferences affecting India’s interests)
What are the issues that mar the India-Pakistan relations? To what extent has the use of Backchannel communication helped in resolving disputes? (10 Marks)
Dimensions of the Article:
- Recent trends in India-Pakistan relations
- Two major Sources of conflict between India and Pakistan
- Territorial Disputes between India and Pakistan
- Way Forward
Recent trends in India-Pakistan relations
- The joint statement issued by both India and Pakistan employed terms like the resolution of “core issues”, which indicated both coordination at a diplomatic level and high-level political approval.
- This joint statement was followed by the scheduling of the much-delayed Indus Water Treaty talks, the granting of sports visas, and the salutary messages between the Prime Ministers of the two countries.
- These events are in contrast to a particularly recriminatory period in India-Pakistan ties that followed the 2019 Pulwama attack, the Balakot strikes and capture of an Indian pilot thereafter, and the government’s decision on Jammu and Kashmir.
The use of Backchannel
A look at the history of backchannels shows that they have operated in the worst of times, including wars, terror strikes and military action, and their existence were brought to light only years later.
For example, it was only when former ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan) chief reviled for his role in building the Taliban and arming Kashmiri militants, died that former RAW (Research and Analysis Wing of India) Chief wrote about their channel for peace talks that began in 1988.
Later, during the Kargil War, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee chose an unorthodox back-channel interlocutor, R.K. Mishra, journalist and founder of the Observer Research Foundation.
Two major Sources of conflict between India and Pakistan
- Identity: The partition of 1947 arose from the contrasting conception of national identity to which both the nations continue to cling. In terms of Kashmir (the most sensitive issue between the two) both the states laid their claims based on their identities. Pakistan claimed Kashmir on the basis of being an Islamic state and that majority population in Kashmir is Muslim. While India justified its claim based on its secular identity.
- Political Systems: The security issue surrounding Kashmir is closely related to the larger problem of 2 political systems. The internal weaknesses of both the countries made them prone to consolidate their identities with regards to other states. While India sought to protect itself from west (especially US), Pakistan did the same for India. Neither was internally stable.
Territorial Disputes between India and Pakistan
- Due to political differences between the two countries, the territorial claim of Kashmir has been the subject of wars in 1947, 1965 and a limited conflict in 1999 and frequent ceasefire violations and promotion of rebellion within the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir.
- The then princely state remains an area of contention and is divided between the two countries by the Line of Control (LoC), which demarcates the ceasefire line agreed post-1947 conflict
- Siachen Glacier is located in Northern Ladakh in the Karakoram Range.
- It is the 5th largest glacier in Karakoram Range and the 2nd largest glacier in the world.
- Most of the Siachen Glacier is disputed between India and Pakistan.
- Before 1984, neither of the two countries had any permanent presence on the glacier.
- Under the Shimla Agreement of 1972, the Siachen was called a barren and useless.
- This Agreement also did not specify the boundary between India and Pakistan.
- When India got intelligence that Pakistan was going occupy Siachen Glacier, it launched Operation Meghdoot to reach the glacier first.
- Following the success of Operation Meghdoot, the Indian Army obtained the area at a higher altitude and Pakistan army getting a much lower altitude.
- Thus, India has a strategic advantage in this region.
- Following the 2003 armistice treaty between the two countries, firing and bombardment have ceased in this area, though both the sides have stationed their armies in the region.
- Sir Creek is a 96 km tidal estuary on the border of India and Pakistan. The creek, which opens up into the Arabian Sea, divides the Gujarat state of India from the Sindh province of Pakistan.
- Sir Creek Dispute: The basic cause of the Sir Creek dispute lies in the interpretation of the maritime boundary line between Kutch and Sindh. While the disputed area of Sir Creek involves only a few square miles of land, the land border demarcation has a direct impact on the maritime boundaries of both countries, involving a few hundred square miles of the ocean territory.
- Pakistan’s Position: Pakistan claims the entire Sir Creek, with its eastern bank defined by a “green line” and represented on a 1914 map belongs to it. Accepting Pakistan’s premise on the “green line” would mean loss of about 250 square miles of EEZ for India.
- India’s Position: India says that the green line is an indicative line and felt the boundary should be defined by the “mid-channel” of the Creek as shown on a map dated 1925. India supports its stance by citing the Thalweg doctrine in international law. It states that river boundaries between two states may be, if the two states agree, divided by the mid- channel. Pakistan maintains that the doctrine is not applicable in this case as it most commonly applies to non-tidal rivers, and Sir Creek is a tidal estuary.
Significance of Sir Creek:
- Security importance: Sir Creek has been primarily viewed as a maritime, or a strategic issue. Over the year this region has become main route to smuggle drugs, arms and petroleum product to India.
- Maritime boundary: The resolution of sir creek will help in determining the limits of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and continental shelves.
- Economic value: Much of the region is rich in oil and gas below the sea bed, and control over the creek would have a huge bearing on the energy potential of each nation.
- The Sir Creek area is also a great fishing destination for hundreds of fishermen from both India and Pakistan.
- Ecological value: The ecological significance of this region, and the growing concerns of climate threats, necessitate reconfiguring this dispute as a unique opportunity for transboundary cooperation.
- Pakistan declared the western side of Sir Creek a Ramsar site back in 2002, but India has not yet done the same on its side of the disputed border.
- Being a declared Ramsar site in its entirety, the Sir Creek area could grant residents on both sides better economic opportunities. It could help create joint eco-tourism opportunities.
- In order to strengthen the bilateral engagements between India and Pakistan need of the hour is to employ perfect balance of soft and hard power diplomacy coupled with International diplomacy.
- International Organizations can be used for building pressure over Pakistan for carrying out anti-terrorist activities like Pakistan’s inclusion on the FATF Grey list makes it harder for its government to access international markets at a time when its economy is weakening.
- Initiation of bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan based on the “UFA” agreement aimed at combating terrorism, freeing fishermen, meeting of military personnel, encouraging religious tourism will bring new dimensions to the diplomatic engagements.
- India’s diplomatic engagement with other South Asian countries and Western powers like USA will help India in creating pressure over Pakistan, for curbing its funding to terrorist activities and bringing an end to the influence of non-state actors in its politics, as both countries being nuclear powers cannot afford to take route of militarised attack and war like situation.
-Source: The Hindu