National Security Network

India and Pakistan Relations - The Need for Quiet Diplomacy

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Report 26 February 2010

Pakistan Pakistan Afghanistan india kashmir Pakistan terrorism


Yesterday, India and Pakistan reopened talks, following over a year of elevated tensions in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.  Discussions - which focused primarily on terrorism, but also on such issues as water rights and Kashmir - were a modest start to what should become more a more penetrating, comprehensive dialogue.  The resumption of talks is critical for the sake of regional stability.  India and Pakistan continue to jockey for position in Afghanistan, and terrorist activity within Pakistan's borders not only threatens both countries, but could rapidly escalate tensions between them.  The dispute over Kashmir remains an enduring challenge. 

Aware of the centrality of India-Pakistan relations to challenges it is confronting in South and Central Asia, the U.S. has encouraged talks between the two countries. Both Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates have welcomed the resumption of diplomacy.  This reflects the Obama administration's commitment to a comprehensive strategy for the region. But ultimately, as Secretary Clinton has acknowledged, the problems between the two countries must be "solved by the two countries themselves."  When it comes to India and Pakistan, U.S. interests are served best through quiet diplomacy: support for dialogue and avoidance of heavy-handed intervention.

India - Pakistan resumption of talks a positive step.  The Washington Post reports that, "India and Pakistan held their first official talks Thursday since the 2008 Mumbai siege, with both sides saying they wanted to rebuild trust shattered in that attack but acknowledging that the meeting was just a first step toward a renewed peace process.  The four-hour meeting between the nuclear-armed rivals ranged from shared water resources to the status of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. But terrorism was the focus of the discussions - an emphasis Pakistan quickly made clear would only slow further talks."   The New York Times reports that, "The resumption of diplomatic talks between India and Pakistan on Thursday comes at a critical moment, with the United States hoping that even a modest improvement in relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors could help the broader American military effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan."  The Post also says that although the meeting was largely symbolic, "just meeting after 15 months was a significant diplomatic achievement."  And the Indian Foreign Minister, S.M. Krishna said the talks "represent an encouraging step towards restoring dialogue" between the two governments.  [Washington Post, 2/25/10. NY Times, 2/24/10. S.M. Krishna, via Business Week, 2/26/10]

Improvement in India - Pakistan relationship is critical for building regional stability.  Key U.S. regional priorities stand to benefit from reduced tensions in the volatile relationship between India and Pakistan:

Afghanistan:  The Washington Post notes that "India and Pakistan are struggling for influence in Afghanistan and, some experts say, jeopardizing regional security." While on a visit to India earlier this year, Secretary Gates discussed India and Pakistan's fraught relationship in the context of Afghanistan: "There are real suspicions in both India and Pakistan about what the other is doing in Afghanistan. And so I think that focusing each country, focusing its efforts on development, on humanitarian assistance, perhaps in some limited areas of training, but with full transparency toward each other in what they're doing, would help allay these suspicions." [Washington Post, 2/26/10. Secretary Gates, via the NY Times, 1/20/10]

Terrorism: The deaths of at least 9 Indians in today's attacks in Kabul are a reminder of the concerns India faces. Council on Foreign Relations expert Daniel Markey explained how elevated tensions between India and Pakistan could touch off instability in the case of a terrorist attack in India by groups based in Pakistan: "India faces the real prospect of another major terrorist attack by Pakistan-based terrorist organizations in the near future. Unlike the aftermath of the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, in which 166 people died, Indian military restraint cannot be taken for granted if terrorists strike again. An Indian retaliatory strike against terrorist targets on Pakistani soil would raise Indo-Pakistani tensions and could even set off a spiral of violent escalation between the nuclear-armed rivals." [NY Times, 2/26/10. Daniel Markey, January, 2010]

Kashmir: "The divided region of Kashmir has been another recurring sore spot for the two countries," reported Al-Jazeera English.  "Both sides claim the predominantly Muslim region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it in the past. On the eve of renewed dialogue, the issue has again flared up, with Indian border guards in Kashmir saying they have been fired at from the Pakistani side." [Al-Jazeera English, 2/25/10]

The U.S. should continue to encourage dialogue between the two countries. The United States plays an important but limited role in the resolution of the India-Pakistan conflict.  The Post describes the  negotiations as being in the "the wake of months of pressure from Washington, which is eager to see Pakistan shift resources away from the Indian border and toward supporting the U.S. in its fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida."  Indeed, as Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations says, "The United States has a clear interest in preventing an Indo-Pakistani crisis." 

However, America's role should be limited. Only India and Pakistan can resolve their dispute. 

Markey explains: "Washington should not impose itself in Indo-Pakistani negotiations, but should quietly advise both sides to try to insulate their diplomacy from the political backlash sought by terrorist spoilers." And the New York Times reports that, "From the vantage point of the Obama administration, Thursday's talks are a welcome development, though United States officials, sensitive to Pakistan's suspicions of both Indian and American ambitions in the region, are taking pains not to be seen as intervening." [Washington Post, 2/25/10. NY Times, 2/24/10. Daniel Markey, CFR, 1/10]

What We're Reading

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Prominent Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq and his National Dialogue Front party have reversed their decision to boycott the Iraqi elections, easing fears of a Sunni boycott that would hurt the election's legitimacy.

Dozens of Palestinian youth clashed with Israeli forces for a fourth day at various locations in Hebron over the inclusion of a hotly contested religious shrine in a list of places earmarked for renovation as Jewish heritage sites.

As many as four countries-including China, Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon--might refuse to support an expected United Nations resolution imposing new sanctions against Iran.

The head of the US Marines came out in opposition to repealing the ban on gays in the military.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France admitted Thursday that his country had made "grave errors of judgment" in the 1994 Rwandan genocide but offered no formal apology.

In a speech at the Nixon Center in Washington, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called on the U.S. to do a better and more consistent job of helping other countries provide for their own defenses.

Muammar Gaddafi has appealed for jihad against Switzerland in response to a Swiss referendum in November to ban the construction of minarets on mosques.

Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the brutal kingpin head of the Gulf Cartel, was sentenced this week to 25 years in prison during a highly secretive hearing in Houston that was closed to the public to protect the lives of everyone involved.

Chinese protests over the US plan to sell fighter planes to Taiwan are growing louder.

Commentary of the Day

Former DC District Court judge Thomas Penfield Jackson writes that the US should move the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed to Washington.

Roger Cohen says the US drone program is moving the US in the wrong direction, arguing that "fear cannot be a global license for the United States of America to kill."

David Gardner examines the history of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad in the wake of the botched Dubai killing and says that, on balance, Mossad's lawlessness hurts the Israeli cause.