The faltering India-Pakistan peace process in the 1990s

After the end of the 1990 Kashmir crisis, the peace talks were resumed at foreign secretary level due to international pressure, especially from the US. Pakistan started negotiations with India to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, but at the same time continued with its proxy war. On its part, India was reluctant to include Kashmir on the agenda of peace talks and used brutal military force to suppress the Kashmir uprising in the 1990s (Misra 2007). Despite continued hostility, the civilian leadership on both sides attempted to normalize their relationship through peaceful means. However, the peace process was suspended many times due to lack of political will, mistrust, skirmishes on the LoC, terrorist incidents, and political instability in Pakistan in the post-Cold War era. Four rounds of talks were held between 1990 and 1994 during which many accords were signed. There was a three-year deadlock in the peace process, which resumed in 1997 but was suspended after the Pakistani military intrusion into the Kargil area in Kashmir along the LoC in May 1999 (Gul 2007). The peace dialogues were thus thwarted by the Pakistani military using proxy war strategies which it considered necessary for maintaining national security.

In July 1990, the foreign secretaries of both countries met to discuss various bilateral issues between the two countries. It was a welcome sign that both countries agreed to resolve their outstanding issues peacefully at the end of the Kashmir crisis. Considerable progress was made in the second round of talks held at New Delhi in August 1990. There were two draft agreements relating to the non-violation of each other’s airspace within 10 km of the border, and the giving of advance warning of troop movements involving 10,000 troops in specific locations. During the third round of talks, in Islamabad, the two countries also agreed in December 1990 on not to attack each other’s nuclear facilities, as discussed in an earlier section (Gul 2007). These were significant initiatives by both countries towards confidence building and the avoidance of military confrontation.

However, the talks did not provide solutions to outstanding issues such as Kashmir. India was reluctant to discuss Kashmir and accused Pakistan of supporting separatist groups in Kashmir and sponsoring terrorism in neighbouring countries. Pakistan denied playing any role in the Kashmir uprising other than to provide moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris’ struggle for independence. Moreover, Pakistan raised the issue at global forums, which India viewed as a violation of the 1972 Shimla agreement. Moreover, the peace process was thwarted by subsequent terrorist attacks and political violence in India. In December 1992, Hindu extremists demolished the old Babri mosque in Ayodhya in India, and then in March 1993, the Mumbai terrorist attacks took place, in which more than 250 people died. These events aggravated the relationship, increasing suspicion and mistrust between the two countries. Pakistan extended its full cooperation to the investigation of the terror attacks but India suspected its involvement and subsequently tried at a global level to declare Pakistan a terrorist-sponsoring state (Javaid and Kamal 2013). In November 1993, the siege of the Hazratbal shrine in Kashmir further damaged the peace process and reversed the gains made by the peace talks between the two countries. According to the Indian army chief, General Bipin Chandra Joshi, “the ISI was responsible for the siege of Hazaratbal shrine,” while the Indian premier Narasimha Rao said that “unless Pakistan stopped [aiding] and abetting militancy against India, there was no possibility to improve relations with Pakistan” (Jain 1988,107-108). As a result, the possibility of dialogue over Kashmir and cooperation on nuclear matters ended without any breakthrough after such attacks.

In October 1993, Benazir Bhutto, in her second term as prime minister, wanted to renew the peace talks with India; they resumed in January 1994. Paradoxically, Bhutto took a very vocal stance over the issue of Kashmir due to Pakistani military pressure but at the same time sought to normalize Pakistan’s relations with India, in response to US pressure. The dialogue ended with a deadlock as India was reluctant to include Kashmir on the agenda whereas Pakistan was not ready to hold peace talks without discussing the Kashmir dispute. India continued to blame Pakistan for the Mumbai terror attack and closed its Mumbai consulate. In response, Pakistan asked India to wind up its consulate in Karachi (Gul 2007). As a result, the peace process was stalled between the two countries for around three years.

Both countries attempted to resume the peace process in 1996. Inder Kumar Gujral, the then Indian prime minister, was a visionary leader, and he thought that relations between the two countries would improve if they started talks on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir (Misra 2007). Moreover, Nawaz Sharif became prime minister of Pakistan for the second time, winning an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections. Unlike previous coalition governments, the Indian leadership thought Sharif had a clear public mandate and would take bold steps to resolve all the outstanding issues. This compelled Gujral to recommence the peace process between the two countries. At the SAARC summit in Male, Sharif met with his Indian counterpart Gujral to discuss issues of bilateral interest in May 1997. The agenda of the peace talks included: "peace and security; the Jammu and Kashmir issue; Siachen; the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; Sir Creek; terrorism and drug trafficking; economic and commercial cooperation; and the promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields” (Adnan and Fatima 2016). It was a diplomatic victory for Pakistan that Kashmir was on the agenda of these peace talks. The two countries also met at the UN General Assembly session in September 1997. However, both meetings ended without any significant progress being made on the major issues.

It is important to note that the peace process resumed due to internal and external pressure on both Pakistan and India. At the international level, Pakistan was isolated due to its proxy war in Afghanistan and Kashmir. More specifically, the US threatened to list Pakistan as a terrorist-sponsoring state if Pakistan were to continue its proxy wars (Grenier 2015). Moreover, economic growth had declined and there were major cuts hi government spending, which were even felt in Pakistan's

Military-centred approach in Kashmir 109 defence expenditure. Therefore, the domestic and international situation compelled Islamabad to engage in a peace process with India. Consequently, the Pakistani military establishment gave its approval to the civilian leadership to start negotiations with India, but warned them not to compromise over Pakistan's principal stand over Kashmir by providing moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris; it felt the conflict should be resolved under a UN resolution. On the other side, India wanted direct dialogue with Pakistan in order to remove the Pakistani factor from India-US relations. In the past, the Pakistani factor was dominant in India-US relations due to Pakistan’s alliance with the US. Above all, there was not much international pressure on India to resolve the issue of Kashmir first without discussing other bilateral issues (Shakoor 1997). Hence, the bilateral relations between the two countries formally resumed in 1997.

Three rounds of talks were held in New Delhi and Islamabad to identify issues of bilateral interest. However, each side emphasized for divergent issues on the proposed agenda. For Pakistan, it would be very difficult to move forward with other issues without discussing the question of Kashmir. Sharif clarified in his letter to his Indian counterpart that “without some progress on the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir, it will be difficult to initiate cooperation in economic and cultural fields” (Shakoor 1997, 87). India emphasized a step-by-step approach in bilateral relations to resolve all the outstanding issues, setting the Kashmir issue aside. India was more interested in economic and cultural relations and people-to-people contact. The apparent priority of India was to promote economically driven relations instead of focussing on political disputes. Thus, the two sides had divergent motives for resuming talks. However, they did meet at the UN General Assembly session, where the two leaders agreed to reopen the bus link between New Delhi and Lahore and resume dialogue between the two countries.

In March 1998, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister of India for the second time. After taking office, Vajpayee realized that some concessions were necessary to resolve all the outstanding issues with Pakistan. Unlike other Indian leaders, he took some very bold steps to avoid confrontation with Islamabad. His vision was that war was not an option for resolving differences between the two countries (Layaslalu 2017). The formal diplomatic engagement resumed when he wrote a letter to Nawaz Sharif in June 1998. The Indian premier reiterated his country’s commitment to a peaceful relationship between the two countries. Sharif accepted Vajpayee’s invitation to meet at the tenth SAARC summit in Colombo in July 1998. Their meeting concluded without any progress as Islamabad wanted to focus on Kashmir, whereas India was more interested in discussing other bilateral issues of interest (Wheeler 2018). So the first few interactions between the two civilian governments after the resumption of talks produced little progress.

In February 1999, Indian premier Vajpayee visited Lahore to begin yet again a new era of cooperation. Prime Minister Sharif invited both the Pakistani political and military leadership to attend the reception welcoming the Indian premier at the Wagah border crossing near Lahore. However, General Musharraf, the then COAS, and other senior military officials refused to attend the reception. Actually, the Pakistani military was sceptical about Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan as Kashmir was not included in the original draft of the “Lahore Summit.” However, it was added on the Pakistani army’s insistence (Cohen 2004). Thus, the military leadership undermined Sharif s diplomatic efforts to normalize relations between the two countries by using the Kashmir issue.

Against this backdrop, Vajpayee made a symbolic visit to Minar-i-Pakistan, the nation’s monument and birthplace. No Indian premier had ever visited Minar-i-Pakistan prior to Vajpayee, and this was India’s reassurance that it had accepted Pakistan’s independence and territorial integrity. Senator Mushahid Hussian accompanied Vajpayee to the Pakistan monument. He said (interview by author, Islamabad, 8 December 2017):

I told to Vajpayee that sir you are going to do a great job. Vajpayee replied that I want to give a message to the people of Pakistan that we accept the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan. Nonetheless, I know that there will be a massive criticism on me back home in India.

Despite the backlash, Vajpayee took this step for the peace and stability of the South Asian region. Moreover, he wrote in the visitor book that “India is for a united, stable, and prosperous Pakistan” (Wheeler 2018). Furthermore, the two countries signed the "Lahore Declaration” which stated that all the outstanding disputes between the two states should be settled peacefully (Appendix 7). This created a very good environment for the resolution of outstanding issues between the two countries. The political leadership on both sides showed their intent to solve their bilateral issues, including Kashmir. Like in 1988-1989, there was once again a political willingness on both sides to adopt a moderate stance over Kashmir. Both countries also emphasized people-to-people contact and agreed to explore “back channel diplomacy”1 on Kashmir (Layaslalu 2017). Thus, the visit of Vajpayee provided the basis for a new beginning to resolve all the outstanding issues, including Kashmir.

For the back-channel diplomacy, Vajpayee appointed R. K. Misra, a prominent Indian journalist and publisher, and Sharif chose Niaz Niak, a retired diplomat. A series of secret talks was started in May 1999. The two men agreed that they would go beyond the official stance of each country. However, the solution should be balanced and acceptable to both India and Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. The talks were held in Delhi. The Indian premier Vajpayee was updated about the rules of the talks, and he gave them the go-ahead, but added that “the solution must be final and not partial.” Naik and Misra utilized all the possible available options to resolve the issue of Kashmir. They pledged that the solution should be based on a clearly defined international border, but the question was where would be the border line that was acceptable to all parties. Naik proposed that “India should keep everything south and east of the Chenab River” (Jones 2002). However, Misra was not sure, and he neither accepted nor rejected the proposal. So they decided to stop the talks for the moment and report back to their prime ministers before meeting again. They had made very good progress in settling down the issue of Kashmir. Both the civilian governments were serious about finding a peaceful solution to the Kashmir question. However, these peace initiatives were soon thwarted by a Pakistani military offensive in Kargil. The military leadership under General Musharraf was not happy with the peace process and thought that the civilian leadership had attempted to change the direction of foreign policy under the national security state (Paul 2014).

In this situation, the relations between India and Pakistan were stuck between cooperation and conflict throughout the 1990s. According to Farhan Saddiqi (interview by author, Islamabad, 13 November 2017),

The relations between India and Pakistan is somewhere between enmity and friendship. It is more a mixture of cooperation and conflict which is both embedded and mixed with each other. They are not sore enemy all the time and have a will to cooperate. But this will to cooperate is always put down or hijacked by consequences which don't want peace between the two states to continue.

For example, Pakistan and India continued their peace talks during the 1990s but at the same time blamed each other for the unrest in Kashmir. Former DG ISI General Asad Duranni (interview by author, Islamabad, 22 November 2017) confirmed that “we [military generals] never believed that India would be an existential threat to Pakistan. Yes, we have old enmity and rivalry but we do understand that. India may have the same feelings as well.” Contrary to this, Shabana Feyyaz (interview by author, Islamabad, 20 November 2017) argued that “India remains a threat to Pakistan in the strategic perspectives but it is a matter of debate that whether it is high or low level threat from India.” In one issue, it might be a high-level threat but at the same time there might be a low level of threat on another issue. Thus, India and Pakistan need CBMs to work on the issues on which both have agreed to negotiate a resolution. This will help to restore mutual trust and cooperation in the resolution of major conflicts such as Kashmir.

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