Zia MianIt has been a grim start to the New Year and the new decade in South Asia. Vested interests, hardened obsessions, and old habits continue to push India and Pakistan in the direction of ruinous conflict. While military planners in both countries plan and prepare for the next war, politicians and diplomats remain determined not to talk except on their own terms.

On this stony ground, civil society in Pakistan and India has been struggling for years to build peace. There are signs the people of the two countries are ready to make peace and seek the benefits of a peace dividend if their governments would only permit.

War Plans

General Deepak Kapoor, India’s army chief and chairman of its chiefs of staff, revealed at the end of December 2009 that the military has been working on a new doctrine and seeks major new capabilities. India’s armed forces, he said, want to be able to mobilize and deploy for war very quickly, and to be able to fight a two-front war (against Pakistan and China). India also wants to be able to project military power from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Strait (which connects the Indian Ocean to the Pacific) and seeks, among other things, to have ballistic missile defenses and space-based capabilities.

The doctrine isn’t all wishful thinking. The Indian military has been developing and wargaming for the past five years a strategy it calls “Cold Start.” This massive conventional attack on Pakistan would be so sudden and decisive that international intervention could not come soon enough to stop the conflict. India’s armed forces would even be prepared to keep fighting if an adversary uses nuclear weapons on the battlefield. According to an Indian commander, the goal was to be able to “dismember a not-so-friendly nation effectively and at the shortest possible time.”

This kind of war-making capability is expensive, but India has started to put real money behind it. In January, India’s Defense Ministry announced that it plans to spend over $10 billion this coming year on acquiring new weapons. This was made possible by a staggering 34 percent increase in India’s military budget for 2009-2010.

General Kapoor’s remarks made Pakistan’s generals bristle. Speaking to senior military officers at Pakistan’s General Headquarters, the Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani said that “proponents of conventional application of military forces, in a nuclear overhang, are chartering an adventurous and dangerous path, the consequences of which could be both unintended and uncontrollable.” In other words, Pakistan was threatening to use nuclear weapons if India tried to carry out the kind of conventional attack it has been rehearsing.

Pakistan has been building new facilities that will allow it to significantly increase the size of its nuclear arsenal. It has been working on two new nuclear reactors to make plutonium for weapons, one of which may begin operating in 2010. It has also been constructing facilities to make fuel for these reactors and to separate the plutonium that will be produced in the new reactors. The cost of these facilities, along with rest of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, is unknown.

Pakistan also has been building up its own conventional forces. At the end of December, Pakistan received the first of four Swedish-made airborne early warning aircraft. Media reports say the planes, bought at a cost of almost $900 million, are intended to let the Pakistan Air Force “detect all aircraft taking off from and landing at all forward Indian airbases adjacent to Pakistan and also to identify the type of aircraft, their weapons systems, vector and altitude.” Pakistan also has a deal with China for four early warning planes at a cost of over $250 million. To extend the operating range of its aircraft, the Air Force has been buying mid-air refueling tankers from Ukraine, with three tankers expected to be delivered this year, to add to the one that arrived last month.

Prospects for peace

While they continue to pour billions of dollars into their arms race, and prepare and plan for war, the governments of Pakistan and India are expending little effort to try to peacefully resolve their disputes.

They have promised to make peace many times. In the wake of the first war, in 1948, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan committed that future disputes “shall always be solved through recognized peaceful methods.” Following the 1965 war, the Tashkent Agreement declared that the two countries would “restore normal and peaceful relations…and promote understanding and friendly relations.” After the 1971 war, as part of the Simla Agreement, leaders of the two countries said they would seek “an end to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their relations and work for the promotion of a friendly and harmonious relationship and the establishment of durable peace.” The promises didn’t last.

At the heart of the conflict is the disputed territory of Kashmir, which has been divided between the two countries for over 60 years. Pakistan claims all of Kashmir, India insists on holding on to what it has, and the people of Kashmir are trapped in between. The last round of the struggle was the 1999 Kargil war, in which a newly nuclear-armed Pakistan sent Islamist militants and soldiers into Indian-held Kashmir, in an effort to force international intervention and make India negotiate a final settlement. Nothing came of it.

The futility of the Kargil war, the very real danger of it escalating into the use of nuclear weapons, and the rise of an Islamist militancy that threatens both Pakistan and India led the two countries in 2003 to try to find a settlement. Steve Coll reported on the back-channel talks that were set up between the two countries and how close they came to success: By early 2007, officials were “negotiating the details for a visit to Pakistan by the Indian Prime Minister during which, they hoped, the principles underlying the Kashmir agreement would be announced and talks aimed at implementation would be inaugurated.”

The process stalled as the Musharraf government began to collapse for domestic political reasons. And then came the November 2008 attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, where Islamist militants affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group based in Pakistan with long-standing ties to the army and its intelligence service, went on a rampage and killed almost 200 people and injured many more. The Indian government demanded that Pakistan shut down the militant group and punish those responsible for planning the attacks — or else no further talks would take place.

Hopes for a way forward rose in July 2009, when the prime ministers of the two countries met during a gathering of the Non-Aligned Movement at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt and issued an agreed statement. Since then, nothing. Pakistan has not acted decisively against the Lashkar-e-Taiba; even though Islamist militant groups imperil Pakistan, some there still see a role for them in fighting the 60-year war against India over Kashmir. India will not talk about settling Kashmir, even though it would take away the very justification Pakistan uses for supporting the militants groups.

There is a failure of imagination on the part of the governments in India and Pakistan. Neither seems able to realize how much would change if the two countries formalized and committed publicly to the agreement on Kashmir that was within reach in 2007as part of the back-channel talks. The future is held back by the past.

Leading the Way

While the governments have spent decades arming, fighting, posturing, and promising peace, civil society networks in the two countries have been struggling to build a cross-border dialogue. Over the years, these efforts have evolved into a people-to-people movement that brings together thousands of activists, scholars, businesspeople, and retired government officials on issues ranging from national security and cross-border conflict, to poverty and development, education, ecology, the rights of women and minorities, arts and culture, and economy and trade. A key player in this process has been the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, which started in 1994 as a group of 25 people from the two countries meeting in the Pakistani city of Lahore. Its annual joint convention, held alternately in Pakistan and India, is now the largest regular gathering of citizens of the two countries.

One measure of success for this citizens’ diplomacy effort is that, despite the wars, hostility, and decades of being taught that the other was a mortal enemy, the people of India and Pakistan are ready for peace. A recent poll of people in six major cities in India, and in eight cities and 36 villages in Pakistan, found that two-thirds of respondents in India and over 70% in Pakistan said they wanted peace between the two countries. The poll was the initiative of a major new campaign, jointly launched by leading media conglomerates in India and Pakistan, to promote peace and good relations between the two countries through increased people-to-people interaction.

A restoration of normal relations between Pakistan and India would look a lot like the first two decades of the independent states of Pakistan and India following the end of British rule in India in 1947. There was active commerce between the two countries. Books, magazines, and newspapers from the other country were freely available. People could easily travel to the other side of the new border, with regular train and ferry services. Some people even lived in one country and worked in the other.

The choice facing Pakistan and India is stark. It was perhaps best described by the late Eqbal Ahmad, who played an important role in many India-Pakistan dialogues, when he argued that an enduring peace between India and Pakistan was an “urgent necessity” because without it:

Hostility between the two will continue to distort the political and economic environment of both countries, inflict upon their inhabitants the augmenting costs of subversion and sabotage, inhibit regional cooperation, and force more than a billion people to live perpetually under the menace of nuclear holocaust…Such distortions will continue to grow as long as our governments do not restore to this region its natural millennial flow — of rivers and mountains, ecology and production, and commerce and culture.

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