Pakistan in the Security Council: Implications for the Region

Iftekhar Ahmed ChowdhuryChowdhury_new
Senior Research Fellow, ISAS

On Friday 21 October Pakistan was elected to the all powerful Security Council at the United Nations (UN) in New York with 129 votes. The majority of two-thirds, one just barely achieved, was sufficient to secure Pakistan its seat in the Council without any re-polling. However, what rankled Pakistani diplomats was that 55 UN member States had voted for its rival candidate Kyrgyzstan in the full knowledge that the Central Asian state did not stand any chance of getting elected. Their votes were thus a symbolic rejection of Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s recent sad state of relations with formal allies, suspicions focused on the West. It was made abundantly clear however, by the Indians that, that India was not among them. That will augur well for regional amity. India is already in the Council for two years, one of which will coincide with Pakistani membership. So are we now to see their bitter rivalry shifted to the Security Council scene in distant New York?

Unlikely. On the contrary, we may be in the cusp of a year of rare display of Indo-Pak amity in the Security Council , which has in the past been the kurukshetra of diplomatic battles between the two South Asian, now nuclear-armed, protagonists. To what is this remarkable turn of events owed? First, the unusually close personal rapport between the two envoys, Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri of India and Ambassador Abdullah Haroon of Pakistan. Puri, wisely sensing the inevitability of Pakistan’s election, followed the ‘relax and enjoy’ dictum and obtained New Delhi’s support for it early enough for Pakistan’s gratitude. Haroon has appreciated this gesture, in private and in public. Second, it is a fact that on many issues India and Pakistan have common positions, and India’s behavior-pattern in the Council this past year has not at all been reflective of a US client. True, Pakistan will perhaps tend to tow the China-line, given the critical nature of their structural bilateral linkages, but it is also a fact that if there is any forum in which the Chinese conform to Deng Tsiao Bing’s ‘hide your capabilities and bide your time line’, it is the Security Council. As yet China and India have not seriously crossed swords on its floor. Third, both India and Pakistan have a common interest in tweaking the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, the Non Proliferation Treaty, in order to accommodate their new status. This will call for close collaboration. So, we are not about to see any fireworks in the Council between these two major South Asian actors in the coming year. But does that mean the Missions of India and Pakistan will lead their respective Ministries and countries into a new golden era of warmth and cooperation?

Not likely, either. There are palpable reasons for it. First, in some ways the two Missions in New York have surged ahead, and their enthusiasm is likely to be restrained, if not curbed, by bureaucrats and politicians at home, whose mindsets may not have undergone any significant transformation. Second, on issues closer to the region, such as Afghanistan, the differences remain, and given the circumstances, may rise to the fore in future Council deliberations. Third, in Pakistan most key foreign policy issues, relating to India and Afghanistan, for instance, are controlled by its powerful armed forces. The UN is not seen by them as a priority, but only relevant to peace-keeping participation of their soldiers, and to that extent they will be willing to pander to the New York Mission, but not for much else. Also the Indian diplomats in New York are not yet in a position to deliver to their political masters in New Delhi the ultimate prize, Pakistan’s support to India for its permanent seat.

Where does that leave us? Yes, we are not about to witness any earth shaking changes in Indo-Pak relations because of their mutual chumminess at the United Nations. Still their diplomats in New York have undoubtedly set a positive tone, and in many ways an example worthy of emulation by their compatriots at home.

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The Line of Control and The Durand Line: Make Them International Borders

Ishtiaq AhmedIshtiaq
Honorary Senior Fellow, ISAS

South Asia has notoriously been afflicted by border disputes between neighbouring states. As a result, political tension has remained high and taken the form of wars, terrorism and destruction of lives and property. Two border disputes in particular represent this South Asian problem. 

The first is the unresolved border between India and Pakistan in the former Jammu and Kashmir State. The Line of Control, which currently serves as the de facto border derives from a war the Pakistani and Indian armies fought in that princely state during 1947-48. When a UN Security Council brokered, ceasefire was agreed by the governments of India and Pakistan and implemented on 1 January 1949, roughly two-thirds of Jammu and Kashmir was under Indian control and one-third under Pakistani control. The UN resolutions on Kashmir prescribed a plebiscite to ascertain whether the people of that state wanted to join India or Pakistan. For various reasons the plebiscite did not take place. Over time both sides consolidated their control over the respective portions of Kashmir. The situation did not change in any substantive manner in spite of a major war in 1965 between them and a mini-war in 1999 at Kargil. The only exciting change that took place was that in the Simla Agreement of 1972, which took place in the aftermath of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, the Ceasefire Line was renamed the Line of Control (LOC).  In between, tension and occasional skirmishes along the LOC have continued and further complications were added when both armies occupied the Siachen Glacier in the Kashmir region. That dispute has cost both countries enormous amounts of money and resources. In the case of Pakistan especially, the confrontation with India over Kashmir has been ruinous to her economic development. India can be easily persuaded to accept the current LOC as the permanent border but Pakistan resists such a suggestion if it means simply continuation of the status quo without any flexibility on the part of India.

The second border dispute is between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is represented by the Durand Line, which was drawn by the British in 1893 to demarcate the de facto border between their British Empire in the Indian subcontinent and the Afghan government at Kabul. The Durand Line divided the Pukhtun tribes living in that tribal region. Those tribes continued to interact and the Durand Line could never become an impassable border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan has always wanted the Durand Line to be declared the international border but Afghan governments have resisted any such suggestion. Even the most pro-Pakistan Afghan government under the Taliban (1996-2001) refused to accede to Pakistan’s demands that the Durand Line be converted into an international border. Such Afghan posturing has meant that relations between these two states have not normalized.

Under the circumstances, South and Southwest Asia are regions where considerable tension is prevalent between neighbouring states. It is widely recognized that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can benefit enormously by developing trade and commerce. It would mean vast new sources extending to Southeast Asia in the east and Central Asia in the West opening to this region. A way of handling the border disputes would be to declare the Line of Control and the Durand Line as international borders but with very explicit and unequivocal guarantees by the three states to render these international borders porous, especially for the people who live along these borders. In the long run, the borders can become symbolic while trade, cultural exchanges, educational links and tourism between their peoples can become routine matters. In such a situation the three nation-states of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can continue to exercise sovereignty over their territories while being part of a regional framework based on SAARC. International diplomacy can help advance such a framework for peace and prosperity in South Asia but the key to change a breakthrough would be extended India-Pakistan-Afghanistan negotiations based on goodwill and trust. 

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Cooler Heads And Calmer Borders

Iftekhar Ahmed ChowdhuryChowdhury_new
Senior Research Fellow, ISAS

The past few weeks have been good for inter-state relations among the otherwise quibbling South Asian states. This refers to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Heads have remained cool and borders have remained calm. This is not the norm. So how has this come about? The answer is a series of events that suddenly combined as a constellation of forces that created this favourable environment. The good news is that these do not simply constitute a ‘black-swan’ phenomenon that happened by accident. On the contrary these were the results of carefully calibrated strategies. The bad news, however, is that their sustainability is not ensured.

No major problems have been resolved. However, the past month witnessed a range of these being systematically addressed. The upshot has been a lessening of tensions between and among them. Granted peace is not the absence of war, but the absence of war is a prerequisite for peace. And admittedly the signs of war, or at least of shooting across frontiers, were ebbing along the borders. This was particularly true between India and Pakistan. The Indian side behaved most maturely in the aftermath of the second Mumbai by not pointing fingers at Pakistan immediately. The reward was ‘glam-slam’ visit to Delhi by the young lady Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar, which was reminiscent of and equaled in cheer and charm Jacqueline Kennedy’s trip to a swooning India in 1962! The Khar visit was most certainly not all play either and left a sweet taste in the mouth when it was over. For over a year India and Pakistan has not had such substantive and focused discussions. Khar spoke of the changed ‘mind-set’ of a new generation on both sides of the Indo-Pakistani divide that no longer carried the baggage of past acrimony!

On the Pakistani side of the divide, however, there may be another reason altering the mind-set of all generations, young and old! It is that 69 per cent of the Pakistanis now view the US, still a technical ally, as the main threat and the West as the main enemy. These perceptions developed out of the experiences in Afghanistan, the ‘drone’ attacks in Pakistan, the attack in Abbottabad leading to Bin Laden’s death and a general sense of frustration. So to them India may have slipped from the top of the list of critical adversaries. So ironically the deterioration of the Pakistani relationship with the US may be aiding the Indo-Pak détente. Yet this is not a thesis that may yet be carried too far given the volatile history of the bilateral relations.

Between Bangladesh and India, while the nature of the animosity was not that sharp, suspicions had always persisted. In Bangladesh the non-partisan care-taker government that preceded the current Awami League led coalition perceived the ‘realpolitik’ reasons for cooperative links with India, and India responded with the intellectual acceptance of a disproportionate ‘non-reciprocal’ responsibility for improving ties. The Awami League, seen to be more understanding and certainly more tolerant of India, carried it forward. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited India in 2010, and is expecting to host her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in early September. A raft of agreements on a range of issues, including water and transit, is likely to be signed then. Meanwhile last month a parade of Indian leaders – the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and Home, and the Congress chief Mrs. Gandhi herself made trips to Dhaka, the latter to receive an award that honoured her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi for her role in the liberation of Bangladesh. However, the main Bangladeshi opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, remains unpersuaded. Nonetheless, with increasing Bangladeshi socio-economic successes and burgeoning extra-regional linkages, political ‘Indo-centrism’ is likely to have a diminished role. In other words, the ‘India-factor’ will have lesser marshalling potentials for political parties. That could have positive ramifications for Indo-Bangladesh relations.

The current US fiscal crisis and the economic dilemmas Europe confronts could mean a lesser presence of these two major powers in the global politico-economic arena in the near future. This would almost force the rest of the world to work out their own regional and global policies. This would also provide an opportunity to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to behave like a harmonious threesome that would redound to the benefit of all. It would be a challenge to Indian diplomacy to craft such a possibility into fruition. India will need to muster the capability to take the lead, clearly possible for this large nation on the rise, but the others will also need to bear their respective share of responsibility.

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Indo-Pak Trade: Positive Sum Game?

Suvi DograSuvi_5170a
Research Associate, ISAS

The cricket diplomacy that surfaced during the semi-final Cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan earlier this year may soon be replaced by a more cognitive economic diplomacy in the days to come. This was made evident by the Joint Statement released after two days of deliberation between the Commerce Secretaries of India and Pakistan in late April this year.  Given that Indo-Pak talks between foreign ministers and other officials haven’t yielded much over the last years, the positive outcomes of 5th round of India-Pakistan talks on Commercial and Economic Cooperation held on 27-28 April in Islamabad came as a surprise to many. The last round of bilateral trade talks was held in August 2007. The key achievement of the talks this time around was the efforts towards creating institutionalised mechanisms to provide a much needed structure and direction to economic engagement between the two countries. 

Despite being two of the largest economies of South Asia with an 1800 mile border, India and Pakistan have limited trade engagement marred by quasi blockades dating back from partition in 1947. Trade, however, has often been viewed as the low hanging fruit in Indo-Pak relations. The official bilateral trade between the two neighbours is around USD 2 billion. The fact that India’s annual trade is worth around USD 600 billion illustrates that bilateral trade between the two countries has miles to go. It is estimated that bilateral trade between the two countries could go up to USD 10-12 billion. Trade talks have been held hostage to finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute on the one hand and on the other with regard to Pakistan’s refrain on non-tariff barriers that restrict Pakistan’s exports to India

The key to Indo-Pak trade however lies in the most favoured nation (MFN) status issue. As per the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, a member country is granted the right to get MFN status from another member country.  While India had granted MFN status to Pakistan, the same was not reciprocated by Pakistan. According to the Joint Statement, Pakistan has agreed to ‘immediate necessary steps to ensure that the non-discriminatory trade regime (with India) is operationalized at the earliest.’ The process is to be completed by October, 2011. India’s Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar who led the Indian team during the talks, however, has made it clear that the grant of MFN status would be a pre-requisite for a Preferential trade agreement (as envisioned in the Joint Statement) to be signed between the two countries.

Another point worth noting is that preferential trade under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), which came into effect in 2006, is based on a so-called negative list of merchandise that cannot be traded among members. Pakistan, on the other hand, maintains a positive list of around 2,000 items that India can sell in that country. However, it provides all other SAFTA members preferred access to its market for more than 4,000 products. MFN status could also further the scope of trade between the neighbours as more products can be traded under the positive list of commodities.

The Joint Statement also addresses the other major irritants in Indo-Pak trade relations i.e. tariff and non-tariff barriers. The two sides have agreed to establish a Working Group (WG) to address and resolve sector-specific barriers to trade. The WG would comprise technical experts and representatives of regulatory bodies directly concerned with the defined barriers.

Another highlight of the meeting was the proposed trade of electricity between the two countries. A group of experts would examine the feasibility, scope and modalities of such trading. Both countries also decided to set up another group of experts to examine a similar proposal for trade in petroleum products including building cross-border pipelines and use of the road/rail route including the Munabao-Khokrapar route for this purpose. Further, another proposal pertains to trade in Bt. cotton seeds that would help Pakistani farmers and the textile industry raise cotton yields and ensure better cotton security.

The positive buzz around the bilateral trade talks was overshadowed by killing of Osama bin Laden. However, observers believe that the momentum for cooperation would remain untarnished. A certain degree of skepticism will remain given the limited successes in the history of Indo-Pak bilateral talks. Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, dismissed the proposals in the joint statement as “timid and tentative”. “Setting up a joint working group means postponing decisions that they could have taken soon. This is to maintain the appearance of movement that fits into the objectives of both countries,” Sibal was quoted saying to an Indian business daily.

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Editor’s Pick


Sanjaya Baru

(Published 28 March 2011, in the Business Standard,

Six years ago, in early March 2005, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf let it be known to the media in Islamabad that he wished to travel to India to watch one of the India-Pakistan cricket matches that spring. New Delhi was stumped into silence for several days. The instinctual response of many was to view this as a typical Musharraf googly.

India’s ministry of external affairs was still licking its wounds from the Agra summit fiasco. The budget session of Parliament was still in progress, and was being repeatedly disrupted by a contentious opposition. The United Progressive Alliance government was not being allowed to settle down, still being treated as a usurper by a sulking Bharatiya Janata Party.

In the prime minister’s office, a new national security advisor was just settling down into his job, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s own mind was on a major initiative he was pursuing with US President George Bush.

Clearly, Mr Musharraf was not coming just to watch a cricket match. He wanted to come for a summit meeting. Why create further complications with a Musharraf visit? The ghost of Agra haunted the minds of every Pakistan watcher and few were willing to push the PM into troubled waters. A risk averse system suggested ignoring Mr Musharraf’s remarks.

As the PM’s media advisor my worry was the headlines we would get around the world: “Musharraf wants to go to India to watch a cricket match, India says no!”

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