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Pakistan, India Negotiate -- But Tensions Increase : South Asia: The two countries talk about the future of Kashmir, then launch into a war of words. Neither side truly wants a solution.

January 16, 1994|Jennifer Griffin | Jennifer Griffin, a contributor to the Asian Wall Street Journal and the London Observer, has written extensively on Asian affairs.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Their differences include a decade-old war atop a Himalayanglacier, accusations of cross-border terrorism and the specter of human-rights violations by the Indian army in what Pakistan has termed "occupied Kashmir." Neither side is without obstinate views on these issues. Indeed, neither side has softened its stance since partition and the end of British colonialism in 1947.

Talks earlier this month between the two countries' foreign secretaries resulted in little progress. But it was the first time in 14 months that India and Pakistan have agreed to sit down and talk about their differences--and the first time Kashmir was on the agenda. With each side adhering to its long-held stance on Kashmir, it became evident that neither has the political will or domestic strength required to end the low-intensity battle between India's armed forces and the Muslim Kashmiris, whose fight for independence intensified in 1990. An estimated 8,300 people have died in the conflict in the past three years.

"They cannot pronounce that this (territory) is part of India and still say that we want to negotiate," said Shaharyar M. Khan, the Pakistani foreign minister two days after the talks. In his office is a life-sized portrait of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who first proposed partition from India and the creation of a Muslim state. "How can you begin to negotiate if the other party says this territory is non-negotiable."

Indian officials contend that Kashmir--the northwest mountainous region given to India by the Maharajah Hari Singh in 1947--is an integral part of India. The conflict, they say, represents a domestic law-and-order problem. They accuse Pakistan of aiding the militants. In response, Pakistani leaders claim that the people of Kashmir must decide in a plebiscite whether they want to remain with India or become a part of Pakistan, as envisioned by the 1949 U.N. resolutions on the settlement of Kashmir.

With little new to say, the talks seemed doomed from the start. Public statements issued from Islamabad before the meeting came across as antagonistic. Senate resolutions virtually tied the hands of Pakistan's negotiators. "An impression was created that the obituary of the talks was being written before they were even held," said India's High Commissioner to Pakistan, S.K. Lambah. "In spite of that we decided to go ahead with the talks."

At a joint news conference, the foreign secretaries proclaimed the talks a small step forward in Indo-Pak relations. Within a week, however, a war of words erupted across the border.

Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao said, in reference to Pakistan, that India was ready to combat any external threat at any time. Pakistan's foreign minister, Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali, warned that a nuclear war might engulf South Asia if Pakistan's territorial dispute with India weren't resolved. Negotiations seemed only to inflame tensions between the two countries.

So why did India and Pakistan agree to talks on Kashmir? Both sides apparently agreed to meet to appease growing international pressure. India wants a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Instigating talks with Pakistan would show the international organization that it is serious about defusing the tension in Kashmir, where it is accused of violating human rights.

Pakistan wants to improve relations with the United States. Late last year, it agreed to withdraw a U.N. resolution criticizing India's human-rights violations in Kashmir, and to talk with India, at the behest of the United States. In October, 1990, the United States froze relations, along with aid, to Pakistan when it became apparent that Pakistan was capable of building a nuclear bomb.

The United States sees a solution to Kashmir as a first step toward solving nuclear non-proliferation in the region. Pakistan agrees the two issues are related. "We feel insecure, because we are the smaller of the two, and for 40 years we have gotten the short end of the stick. If Kashmir is settled, then this issue of non-proliferation is easy to solve," said Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Riaz Khokar. "Our insecurity results because of our fear of India. We have a major problem that is outstanding with them."

But India does not want to see the nuclear issue linked to negotiations on Kashmir. It would not view a Pakistan offer to allow inspections of its nuclear plants as a concession, according to senior Pakistani officials. India needs to maintain its nuclear threat to balance power with China to its north. If Pakistan agrees to inspections, India also might be pressured to agree to inspections with no guarantee that China will do the same.

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