IPCS Discussion

India-Pakistan Under Prime Ministers Gujral-Sharif: A Retrospective

26 May, 2016    ·   5039

Samanvya Hooda reports on the proceedings of the discussion held on 18 May 2016

On 18 May 2016, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies hosted a discussion on India-Pakistan bilateral relations during the governments of Prime Ministers Inder Kumar Gujral and Nawaz Sharif, at which Ambassador (Retd) Salman Haidar, Patron, IPCS, read from his unpublished memoirs. Amb Haidar was involved in the dialogue process as the Foreign Secretary of India. He served in this capacity during the years 1995-1997. The discussion was chaired by Ambassador (Retd) TCA Rangachari, who also served as India’s Deputy High Commissioner to Pakistan.
Opening Remarks
Amb (Retd) TCA Rangachari
Member, Governing Council, IPCS, and former Ambassador of India to Algeria, France and Germany

In comparing the relationship between the two countries in 1986 and 2016, it is noticed that not much has changed in terms of dialogue. Talks seem to proceed in a vicious circle, eventually reaching a stalemate. The relationship in 2016 has become more rigid, and positions seem to have become frozen on the Pakistani side, which does not consider the various options available through diplomacy. It is hence important to lend consideration to Ambassador Haidar’s opinion on the relationship the two countries share, as much of his tenure coincided with the first term of Nawaz Sharif, the current Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Amb (Retd) Salman Haidar
Patron, IPCS, and former Foreign Secretary of India

There seems to be no progress in relations between the two countries. Dialogue seems to be caught in a vicious circle repeatedly, and India and Pakistan are exactly where they were thirty years ago, perhaps even worse. Reminiscent of the relations today, diplomats were on the sidelines during the tense conditions that prevailed in the late 1990s. This time period can therefore be seen as an example to emulate for work on relations today.

Despite the maltreatment, roughing up and manhandling of Indian diplomats in Pakistan, the diplomatic process was restarted through the exchange of non-papers. India sent six non-papers, covering a wide range of issues, while Pakistan sent just two, focusing primarily on Kashmir. While this sort of exchange does not lead to a solution, it is useful in specifying what the issues to be discussed are, and consolidating them. This starting of dialogue combined with the better treatment of diplomats in Pakistan following an appeal to the High Commissioner brought about the level of decorum required for dialogue to start.

It must be understood that India is the driving force in the relationship between the two countries. Without the efforts undertaken by India to work on diplomatic relations, much of what the two countries have today would not have been possible. Prime Ministers Deve Gowda and IK Gujral both believed in this.

It was during the term of Deve Gowda as Prime Minister, and IK Gujral as Minister of External Affairs that diplomats in India were asked to develop dialogue with Pakistan. This was influenced by political change in Pakistan, with Nawaz Sharif being re-elected to office. He was believed to have a more positive approach to India than his predecessors. The dialogue formally began with the visit of the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Shamshad Ahmad to New Delhi. The first day was marked by an overwhelming public presence, where nothing but formal positions could be exchanged. The rest of the visit was therefore held in a more private setting, where the two teams of 4-5 individuals each were introduced to each other. This is where the discussions regarding dialogue and diplomacy on the various common issues continued. However, due to the collapse of the Deve Gowda government, this dialogue reached a brief hiatus. He was succeeded by IK Gujral as Prime Minister.

Mr Gujral’s foreign policy – it may be debatable to call it a doctrine – believed in not expecting any reciprocity in India’s dealings with its neighbours, with the exception of Pakistan. This was brought about as a reflection of the tense state of affairs between the countries in the late 1990s. Despite this, it was his efforts during the ninth SAARC summit in Malé in 1997 that prompted a personal meeting with Nawaz Sharif. It is here that SAARC, and Rajiv Gandhi, should be appreciated.

While SAARC in itself is a weak organisation, and is kept so because it suits the purposes of its two largest members, this meeting is a perfect example of SAARC working towards its mandate of regional cooperation. Because of the erstwhile Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s insistence that SAARC summits should involve all the heads of state, it provides an occasion annually that can be employed for dialogue.

Mr Gujral and Mr Sharif availed this opportunity and prompted diplomats in their countries to resume talks where they had been left off.

An important part of these proceedings is the framing of an agenda. It has to be put forward in neutral terms and annotations, and both sides have to be prepared for a certain amount of ‘give and take’. For instance, if negotiations occurred like they did earlier, choosing to talk about contentious issues like Kashmir and terror result in higher chances of the talks reaching an impasse. If the very first item on the agenda leads to disagreement, it greatly influences how the rest of the talks pan out. The concept of an agenda has to be understood not only as a list of points, but as a complete process.

This framing of agendas and the constructive mindset on both sides were responsible for the opening up of channels of communication. Diplomats were no longer on the sidelines; they were fulfilling their mandate for talks between the two countries. There were simultaneous talks occurring, dealing with different issues and agendas. A disagreement in one did not necessarily mean a disagreement in another. An idea of working groups was put forward, but met with opposition from within India. Several politicians, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee felt that an issue like Kashmir could not be discussed as part of a larger continuous engagement.

On the Pakistani side, there was the question of how the Army reacted to these talks. Though the military was not a part of the dialogue, there was a feeling of some opposition in the ‘establishment’ to the improvement of relations between the countries. This is however a constant, and despite the fact that some individuals in the Pakistan Foreign Service were close to the Army, there no active opposition felt.

These talks during IK Gujral’s tenure led to several outcomes that can be used as a standard for bilateral dialogue even today:

The formulation of the eight issues to be discussed under the composite dialogue process:

I. Peace and security including confidence-building measures (CBMs)
II. Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)
III. Siachen
IV. Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project
V. Sir Creek
VI. Economic and commercial cooperation
VII. Terrorism and drug trafficking
VIII. Promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields

The processes followed during these talks proved to be especially successful. The policy of not allowing one item to block other agendas is what allowed talks to progress despite issues like Kashmir and terror. Seeing the dialogue that is in place today, with talks being hampered by the problem of Kashmir hijacking the discussion, it would do well to follow these processes once again.

A comprehensive approach to the issues was taken, and effort was made to ensure the development of communication channels. Nothing was excluded, and neither of the two sides prejudged anything on the agenda.

Closing Remarks
Amb (Retd) TCA Rangachari
Member, Governing Council, IPCS, and former Ambassador to Algeria, France and Germany

The communication and language that existed between the diplomats of the two countries were especially praiseworthy. So much so that when there were claims in Pakistan that the Indian side while talking about Kashmir was only willing to discuss Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), it was the Pakistani Foreign Secretary who dismissed them as baseless. This is in contrast with the state of communication that exists today, which has quite an aggressive tone.

There were three meetings between the Foreign Secretaries in 1997, which culminated in a proper procedure through which communication was to occur. 1997 was the high point of that particular time period as it brought diplomacy back into the India-Pakistan relationship, but was unfortunately followed by the nuclear tests of 1998 and the Kargil War of 1999. Prime Minister IK Gujral must hence be given due credit for his role in facilitating the dialogue. The result of the talks was more than satisfactory, and it is unfortunate that they had very little time to act due to the events that followed.

Rapporteured by Samanvya Hooda, Research Intern, IPCS