After a gap of four years, India and Pakistan will once again start talks on confidence-building measures (CBMs). The two-day talks, to be held in Islamabad on Monday and Tuesday, come against the background of a trust deficit between the two countries.
The meetings will discuss both conventional and nuclear CBMs. Both countries exchange lists of their nuclear facilities and also inform each other about military exercises. In a milieu marked by a continuous background of distrust, these measures have served a useful, if somewhat limited, purpose.
In theory, CBMs can go some distance in reducing the lack of trust between countries. The process works through a series of small steps to arrive at a baseline situation from where heads of government can pick up the threads and then seal big-ticket agreements. In the India-Pakistan case, however, this process remains ineffective. The gulf between the two countries is simply too big to be bridged by CBMs. Some illustrations are in order.
Some months ago, reports in the Western press indicated that Pakistan army’s Strategic Plans Division—the keeper of the nuclear arsenal—was extremely worried about the safety of these weapons. The fear was not about a Taliban or Al Qaeda snatch of these weapons, but a US or Indian grab. This is a remarkable illustration of warped thinking and behaviour that mistrust can produce. India and the US are unlikely to indulge in such a plan for obvious reasons; an extremist group attempting a grab is much more likely.
Another instance is Pakistan’s reluctance to shuffle troops from its eastern border with India to its western border with Afghanistan. In the circumstances that prevail, a much greater concentration of soldiers is necessary in regions such as Waziristan that border Afghanistan. This is necessary not only to fight militants trying to cross over both sides of the border, but also to confront the vicious insurgency prevailing there. Yet, Pakistan feels the larger threat is on the eastern border and has constantly shied away from tackling militancy on its western border. If anything, the latter is not even considered a problem.
Under these conditions, it is not clear if CBMs can be building blocks to something as ambitious as peaceful and friendly relations between the two countries. The icy state of affairs will continue until Islamabad remains wedded to an irredentist worldview of South Asia.
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