India and Pakistan start a third round of peace negotiations in the Indian capital, New Delhi, today as part of efforts begun three years ago to improve relations between the South Asian neighbors.
Riaz Mohammad Khan, Pakistan’s secretary at the Foreign Ministry, is leading a team to meet his Indian counterpart Shyam Saran for two days of talks.
“A number of developments since the last round of talks have complicated the peace process,” said Ishtiaq Ahmed, associate professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. These include Pakistan accusing India of interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs in Baluchistan and the impasse over control of the Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
Nuclear-capable India and Pakistan have been rebuilding ties since 2003, restoring diplomatic, transport and sporting links, after they came close to fighting a fourth war in 2002. The two countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, including two over Kashmir, which is divided between them and claimed in full by both.
The differences between the two countries have sharpened of late because “Pakistan’s proposals on Kashmir and its insistence on resolving the dispute” haven’t been acknowledged by its neighbor, Ahmed said.
Help provided by India following the Oct. 8 earthquake in Kashmir may have eased some of those differences.
“The atmosphere between the two sides is good as Indian help after the earthquake was appreciated,” said Dipankar Banerjee, director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, a policy research group based in New Delhi.
Sporting ties have also been maintained with an Indian cricket team arriving in Pakistan earlier this month to play three Tests and five one-day internationals. This is the second visit by an Indian cricket team to Pakistan since 2004, while the Pakistani cricket team played in India in 2005.
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to watch a cricket match during the series. Musharraf watched a match in New Delhi in 2005 and later held a meeting with Singh when the cricket teams of the two countries met for a one-day international. The Indian Foreign Ministry said last week that Singh had no plans to travel to Pakistan to watch cricket.
India’s government has said Pakistan needs to resolve unrest in the south-western territory of Balochistan, where gunmen have been attacking energy installations while demanding royalties for natural resources extracted from the province. Pakistan rejected India’s statement, saying it was tantamount to interference in internal matters.
India and Pakistan “resolved to carry forward the peace process and to maintain its momentum,” the countries said in a joint statement after the second round of peace talks held last October. They reaffirmed they won’t allow terrorism to disrupt the peace process.
The neighbors also signed agreements to inform each other before testing ballistic missiles and to establish communication links between the Indian coast guard and Pakistan’s maritime security agency.
“This is an open-ended sort of dialogue, looking at peace and security issues in general,” said Banerjee. Today’s talks ``will set an agenda for substantial progress on a whole range of confidence-building measures. Kashmir will definitely feature in the dialogue. Realistically one cannot pin high hopes on this.”
Jammu & Kashmir
The foreign secretaries will discuss peace and security and Jammu & Kashmir, the Indian foreign ministry said in New Delhi yesterday. This will include a timetable for meetings on more bus and truck links and allowing pilgrims across the so-called line of control that separates Kashmir.
The secretaries will also draw up a schedule of meetings on the range of subjects being discussed by the two sides, known as the composite dialogue. These include the Siachen glacier, the Sir creek, the Tulbul navigation project, terrorism and drug trafficking, economic and commercial cooperation and the promotion of friendly exchanges.
The India-Pakistan conflict has eroded efforts to spur economic growth in a region that is home to a third of the world’s 1.2 billion poor. Trade between the South Asian neighbors is less than 1 percent of their combined total exports. India’s per-capita income is $470, while Pakistan’s is $420, less than half that of China’s, according to the World Bank.
Improved relations between India and Pakistan will enable the two nations to cut defense expenses and increase spending on health and education to improve the lives of the 400 million people in the region who live on less than $1 a day. The Indian government last year spent $19 billion on defense, or 14 percent of its budget, while Pakistan has set aside $3.7 billion on defense, a quarter of its budget.
Last year, India and Pakistan opened five border points in Kashmir to allow people of the divided territory to cross the so-called line of control in a bid to help survivors of the Oct. 8 earthquake. The quake killed more than 73,000 people in the Pakistan part of Kashmir and North West Frontier province, and about 1,200 people in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
A 16-year insurgency in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state has killed at least 50,000 people. India has accused Pakistan of backing separatists fighting Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. Pakistan denies the accusation, saying it provides moral support for a freedom struggle.
Access report at bloomberg.com