Wednesday, 29 August 2001

INDIA-PAKISTAN SUMMIT: IMPLICATIONS FOR CENTRAL ASIA

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By Aftab Kazi (8/29/2001 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: Amid the ongoing economic, geopolitical and strategic transitions in Central and South Asia, the Musharaf-Vajpayee Summit - despite an unresolved ending - is a landmark in India-Pakistan relations. An almost agreed upon joint declaration had to postponed due to domestic political considerations. Despite differences over Kashmir and terrorism, understandings developed on other matters - regional trade, an Iran-Pakistan-India oil/gas pipeline, regional security, nuclear safety, and openness towards future dialogue.

BACKGROUND: Amid the ongoing economic, geopolitical and strategic transitions in Central and South Asia, the Musharaf-Vajpayee Summit - despite an unresolved ending - is a landmark in India-Pakistan relations. An almost agreed upon joint declaration had to postponed due to domestic political considerations. Despite differences over Kashmir and terrorism, understandings developed on other matters - regional trade, an Iran-Pakistan-India oil/gas pipeline, regional security, nuclear safety, and openness towards future dialogue. This will have a major long-term impact all over Southwest Asia, and particularly on relations with Central Asian countries. Perhaps, more than any other factor, the re-opening of post-Soviet Central Asia has necessitated a recalculation of both intra- and inter-regional relationships between South and Central Asia, thus implying the reordering of political priorities. The Agra Summit signifies the beginnings of an India-Pakistan détente reflecting a new mindset and a change in old adversarial perceptions. Unlike Vajpayee’s Lahore visit two years ago, the Agra Summit appears to have been misperceived as being prompted by foreign pressure and by Pakistan’s weakness as opposed to an Indian great power status. While U.S. pressure has rarely worked in India-Pakistan relations, a realist view of South Asian political economy suggests that Pakistan is not nearly weak enough to fall apart as often projected. Moreover, an understanding is emerging that both India and Pakistan are emerging major powers in South Asia. Such projections appear to undermine the intensity the post-Soviet geopolitical and strategic ramifications have on South Asia. Regionally, Pakistan’s geopolitical location as a communication buffer between Central and South Asia is well recognized by Indian strategists. This factor played a major role behind Vajpayee’s 1999 Lahore visit. Without Pakistani routes and cooperation, India is unable to participate directly in geo-economic developments in Central Asia.

IMPLICATIONS: The recently announced 42% increase in the Indian defense budget over the next three years, and simultaneous statements by L.K. Advani, India’s hard-line Interior Minister, hardly indicated any possibility of a summit this summer or any relative flexibility on the Kashmir issue. Observers would note that the summit invitation to President Musharraf was announced immediately after a BJP high command meeting that deliberated the party’s performance in recent state elections – indicating a wish to profile itself as a peace-seeking party. However, the initiative, reciprocity, and intensity inherent in leadership behavior demonstrated in the pre- and post-summit conversations and statements suggest that both India and Pakistan psychologically felt ready to discuss the impact of emerging geopolitical realities. The excitement over the opening of Central Asia ten years ago was great in South Asia, and especially so in Pakistan. Islamabad’s attempts to help break the landlocked nature of Central Asia have been hampered by Afghanistan’s civil war. Meanwhile, Indian desires to construct a railway line connecting South and Central Asia in 1992 did not materialize, compelling both governments to conclude that an effective South-Central Asia relationship requires the normalization of India-Pakistan relations. This does not mean that other trade is not possible without Pakistani routes, but can take place only at relatively higher costs, via Iran. Currently, in addition to cultural and diplomatic affairs, both Indian and Pakistani initiatives in Central Asia are in similar fields, related to education, pharmaceuticals, banking and hotel businesses, and limited commerce. The opening of the Almaty-Karachi road and roads connecting Quetta, Bishkek, Mirpurkhas, Osh, Faisalabad and Shikarpur are likely to reduce current cost of imports (via Iran) greatly – the difference laying in the thousands of dollars per truck shipment – potentially increasing the trade volume between all Central and South Asian states. New opportunities include: overland and land-to-sea trade, import and export of hard-core machinery and other commodities, oil and gas transportation, construction of hydroelectric stations, cross-regional electricity supplies, cooperative banking, commerce, education and training, to mention a few areas. The Tajik civil war prevented the implementation of a Pakistan-Tajikistan agreement of 1993 on the construction of hydroelectric dams and export of electricity from Tajikistan to Pakistan and India. This has been further delayed by the Afghanistan situation. Similarly, plans to import Turkmenistani gas to Pakistan (via Qandahar to Quetta) and further down to India remains on hold for political reasons. During the late 1990s, the Taliban government assured the security of a gas pipeline through Qandahar, and in early 2000 Chief Executive Musharraf ordered the construction of gas transit pipelines for India. However, pipeline politics and the enduring conflict in Afghanistan have blocked the Qandahar route. Similarly, Indian concerns over the security of the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and the politicization of the $550 million annual transit fees scheduled for Pakistan have delayed that deal. The India-Iran dialogue has showed that the most convenient land routes cannot be replaced with long distance underwater pipelines, nor can India’s need for gas supplies be wished away. The Musharraf-Vajpayee summit has thus cultivated a profound understanding of cross-regional trade and oil gas transportation.

CONCLUSIONS: The geopolitical importance of Pakistan as a South Asian gateway to Central Asia with cost-effective communication routes, among other factors, seems to be gradually changing perceptions. Other factors such as changing regional alignments in South and Central Asia, increasing trade volumes of Central Asian countries via Iran and Pakistan, and the opening up of Almaty-Karachi/Gwadar routes are set to have a major socio-economic impact across both regions. The normalization of India-Pakistan relations and growing commerce may also help toward a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The Musharraf-Vajpayee Summit recognized the fact that India and Pakistan must meet to redefine their rules of engagement and their South and Central Asian relationships. The geopolitical reality that Pakistan has inherited the role that British India played in the 19th-century Great Game, and that the Indus Basin has historically served as a commercial corridor for Central Asia along with Iran cannot be easily ignored. Effective South-Central Asian relationships clearly necessitate the normalization of India-Pakistan relations. Other factors put aside, the Central Asia factor alone seems to be shaping new perceptions in South Asia. As such, the theory that renewed opportunities in Central Asia would compel India and Pakistan themselves to ‘think of ten reasons to normalize bilateral relations’ holds true in the contemporary South and Central Asian context. The Musharraf-Vajpayee July summit, and plans for a forthcoming Islamabad summit, appear to be important steps in that direction.

AUTHOR BIO: Dr. Aftab Kazi is a research fellow with the Central Asia – Caucasus Institute of Johns Hopkins University – SAIS.

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