India, Pakistan detente: don’t trust, verify every step

April 28, 2012

It’s clear for some time now that India and Pakistan are on the cusp of the kind of open  trade relationship they had until the 1965 war when all business links were snapped, border trading posts shut and overland Indian access to Afghanistan blocked. It was never to be the same again, despite fitful progress over the years.

On Saturday, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has invested a great deal of personal credibility in a rapprochement with Pakistan, inaugurates a  $4 billion refinery in the northern state of Punjab , not far from the border with Pakistan. While   the bulk of the refinery, which is a joint venture between billionaire Lakshmi Mittal and an Indian state oil company will feed the hungry energy markets of India’s booming northern triangle, it stands to reason that some of the fuel sales will flow westwards, to Pakistan. The distance from Bhatinda where the 9 million tonne refinery is located to Pakistan’s heartland city of Lahore is about 100 miles.  If you don’t sell it to the market next door where else would you begin from ?  Pakistan’s refining capacity is half the domestic demand and last year it opened up diesel imports from India, although petrol and other petroleum products are still on a rapidly dwindling negative list.

If they begin piping fuel from the plant in Bhatinda to the Pakistani part of Punjab, and down the coast in Gujarat, if Reliance Industries’ huge refining complex in Jamnagar ships products to Karachi, you can imagine the game-changing effects of such interlocking economic stakes. Next up will be the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline which has been hobbled not just by security fears in Afghanistan, but the deep distrust between India and Pakistan, the two big markets at the far end of the pipe.   If Pakistan can buy refined fuel products from India, then perhaps New Delhi will have less fears about being held to ransom by Pakistani shutting off its natural gas supplies traversing through Pakistan soil.

Are the two over the hump then, ready to bury 65 years of hostility ? Not quite, going by an opposing series of actions.  India fired off its longest range missile this month which scientists said gives it the capability to launch inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and within days Pakistan tested its own long range nuclear capable missile. While India can argue that the 5,000 km range Agni V was  aimed at closing the deterrence gap with China, Pakistan’s Shaheen missile which defence experts say  is capable of hitting targets 2,500 km away brings virtually all of India in its range.  You could ask why does Pakistan need long range missiles when it can target Delhi which is barely 700 kms from Islamabad. Presumably the idea is to negate India’s strategic depth that Pakistan does not have. Then there is a steady Indian conventional arms buildup in line with its growing economy, and again, to find some level of parity with China. But some of that armour  including  state-of-the-art Rafale fighter planes, an aircraft carrier and nuclear-powered submarines could just as well be deployed on the west.

There is similarly little forward movement on the hot-button territorial disputes that have kept the two countries apart .  Last month’s tragic accident in Siachen in northern Kashmir where 138 Pakistani soldiers and civilians were buried   in rock and ice brought the focus back on a remote high altitude battlefield that many believe is best left untouched, given its questionable strategic value.  Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, responding to calls from anguished countrymen, said the civilian and military leaders of the two countries should hold talks to resolve the brutal standoff in the icy mountains.  But the general’s call has met with a measured response from New Delhi which wants the positions of the two armies to be authenticated before considering a withdrawal from the remote area. This along with the row over Sir Creek off the Arabian Sea was considered a low-hanging fruit which the two sides could pluck before tackling the dispute over Kashmir, really at the core of the decades of hostility.

But distrust has only deepened over the years, and as Vikram Sood former head of India’s external intelligence agency wrote recently, Pakistan’s refusal to accept the actual positions of the troops – in which India holds the advantage – only sows suspicion in the Indian mind that should there be a withdrawal from the Saltoro heights, Pakistan would “want to alter the position at first dawn.” It would be another folly on the lines of returning 90,000 prisoners and territory sezied from Pakistan after the 1971 war without permanently resolving disputes with the country, he says.

Looked at from Pakistan’s point of view, it sees a hardening of the Indian position. Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, says Delhi in the last rounds of talks called for delineation of the line of control that runs through Kashmir and stops way short of Siachen -the remote uninhabited wasteland nobody had much interest in at the time –  before disengagement and redeployment. Now that would mean demilitarisation would have to wait a long while given how complicated and difficult talks on delineating the frontier can  be.  Pakistan, basically sees the Indian insistence on marking down the positions of the two armies as the Indian military’s way to resist giving up control of the heights, she says.

It’s quite remarkable then that in the face of such deep and unremitting distrust the two sides are moving resolutely ahead to build economic relations. Perhaps there is a China model here in which India and China have embarked on a booming trade relationship while making little progress on their border dispute that dates back to the 1962 war. The difference here though is that unlike ties with China which have always seemed distant beyond the Himalayan border, India’s relationship with Pakistan has long been emotional, swinging from extreme hostility to exuberance and bonhomie between two long-lost brothers.

Anything can still go wrong as they rebuild trade ties which existed after the 1947 Partition of the subcontinent and the war immediately afterwards because of the sheer interlocking nature of the two economies such as Punjab where Singh is visiting on Saturday. Indeed according to Indian intelligence, men with links to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, have been looking at the refinery in Bhatinda and the Reliance complex in Gujarat as two potential targets.,Quite interesting these are the very two refineries the two countries are considering as the launchpad of the pipelines of peace.











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Détente? What basis is there for détente? Anytime Pakistan winds up in difficulty, then suddenly it’s time for detente and “peace talks”. Then when the Pakistanis are no longer so vulnerable, they go back to war-mongering. What happened to the 1972 Shimla Accords? Did they respect them after signing them? Why does India continue to learn these harsh lessons the hard way? It’s because the ruling politicians in India are always wedded to their own personal political fortunes first and foremost. The ruling Congress Party politicians see benefit to their own political careers in the form of US support for their continued rule in perpetuity, turning India into a de facto One Party State. Egypt is throwing off its “Mubarak democracy” after having been enslaved to it for decades, but meanwhile India’s greedy rulers are making arrangements to usher in this very type of system for themselves.

Furthermore, I’ve made a number of comments under Reuters articles lately, only to see them censored and unpublished. Their moderators must be very biased to be blocking comments merely based on political views, because I certainly never used any bad language or made any disparaging remarks towards anyone. Political bias by Reuters is well known, and it doesn’t help the image of their organization.

Posted by san-man | Report as abusive

Peace will always win. Wars create more wars. Pakistan, by facing the economic brink and mushrooming sectarian violence has begun to realize that peace is one thing that has never been launched against India. Everything else has been tried and it has led to more problems for Pakistan than India. Most of us Indians would like to focus on our lives and future well being. We have no interest in looking on our backs to see if Pakistan or any other country is coming to hurt us from behind. Pakistanis can be rest assured that there is no energy or strategic planning to destroy Pakistan. We have only reacted when stones have been hurled at our windows. That does not make us a threat or an aggressor. I am sure long term peace and exchange of culture, arts, sports and trade will dissolve most of the mistrust and suspicion between the people and leaders of the two countries. Only then other issues like Kashmir, Siachien, Sir Creek etc can be addressed. They might dissolve on their own if the two countries move forward towards peaceful coexistence.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Both of us have land,human resources and opportunity for peaceful co-existence and development. Why should we waste our energy and time any further.Huge amounts spent on war games could be diverted to the welfare of the (needy)people.Whole of south Asia would be benefited in the long run.

Posted by lakshmanan_p | Report as abusive

As predicted sheer economics will compel the Pakistanis to finally make peace with India. As the relationship with the US becomes testier, and as China has failed to back up its friendship with cheques, the Pakistanis have no choice but to start addressing their economic shortcomings. And the only way to do that is to start an economic relationship with India.

For Pakistan, this is make or break. Economic failure could well result in the collapse of the state in due course. Nuclear weapons can’t really pay the bills, even if you are proliferating. And they’ll be utterly useless as the US tightens the economic noose to compel cooperation.

For India, well, it would finally stop distracting them from their competition with China.

Posted by True.North. | Report as abusive

Watch the visit of USA foreign minister to China? The treasury man accompanied the visit; China has served the notice, either the USA reduce its spending in line with its earning or China is going to unload its dollar reserves and USA teasury bonds in the open market and let the market deal with the worthless paper dollars! Nor very roasy days for the remaining period of the current USA admin. The voters are not going to reward the incumbet President for causing the death of an old man in Abbotabad! So stop praising your heroic act?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

The only way the Kashmir dispute can be resolved is for India to have a powerful Muslim prime minister. This will fatally hurt the two-nation theory and ideological basis with which Pakistan seems to approach every bilateral issue. India has more muslims than Pakistan. They are empowered. They are free. They love their country. The Kashmiris have as many, perhaps more, brethren in India as they have in Pakistan. Why then, the Pakistani brothers think that their Indian counterparts cannot look after their Kashmiri brothers? The 1947 partition was unnecessary. It hasn’t divided the subcontinent on religious basis contrary to popular perception. Islam still is one of the mainstream Indian religions. Even though the general populations don’t seem to understand it, and possibly this will never happen, an undivided south asia that makes Kashmir, Punjab and Bengal whole again and provides defensible borders on all sides for the whole subcontinent, and brings back the lost brothers together is the ultimate resolution for all disputes. Wishful thinking, may be. But I don’t believe anyone can argue against the benefits such an integration will bring for all the people of subcontinent as well the world as a whole by taking away a nuclear flashpoint that concerns every human being on the planet.

Posted by JustAnotherMan | Report as abusive

“The difference here though is that unlike ties with China which have always seemed distant beyond the Himalayan border, India’s relationship with Pakistan has long been emotional, swinging from extreme hostility to exuberance and bonhomie between two long-lost brothers.”

No. The difference is that the Chinese value trade and economic stability over irredentism. Pakistanis have no such qualms.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive

Trade, trade and trade is the slogan of the capitalists non believers, who prefer greed in place of compassion, are selfish and not social, show no love for the next one nor care for the havenots.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Ahhh Chotu Malik.

You are truly coming unhinged. The Chinese are going to dump nearly a trillion in US treasuries? Are you serious? The moment they sell the first few, the crash will start and they’ll devalue their own assets…by tens or even hundreds of billions. The Chinese buying US Treasuries has created an economic suicide pact between the two countries.

As for this rubbish about “capitalists non believers” and their supposed preference for “greed” over “compassion”, you should ask the common man on the street whether he’d rather have a thriving economy guaranteeing roti in his plate and a roof over his head or the “compassion” of “believers”.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive


A well articulated article which is based on common sense, mutual benefits and a course for detente. Dr Manmohan Singh is man of several ideas to go for peace with its neighbours, but his hindsight is not strong enough to pull out his military from Kashmir territory. His projects are good to take the heat out, but the undrlying factors for a nuclear confrontation is more real today than yesterday. Many clever ones have left India to save their skin, incase and left the country to the COMMON MAN, who according to one smart Alec needs a roti in his plate annd a roof over his head, the main needs of non believers. The believers know how to cater for their needs, by hook or crook as long as they show compassion and solidarity with the UMMah.
Once the Taliban forces rid themselves of the gringos, they are not going to return to their bunkers, but march straight towards Kashmir and pay a visit their kin. Let India then try to hide their Nukes if they can and utilise the American experience. The Americans are already stuck with theirs in Afghanistan and without Pakistan giving them access to the escape route, the world is going to watch Vietnam 2, and this should guarantee the reelection of the incumbent President.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

@Rex Minor

Keep your Islamofascist fantasies. They’ll never come to pass. The Taliban will destabilize and destroy Pakistan itself before they do any serious damage to India.

The Indians know that. It’s exactly why they won’t budge. Pakistan’s desperation is showing. Now that they can’t afford the conflict, they want to make a sort of temporary ceasefire. Why would the Indian government ever concede to that?

As for Vietnam 2…please bookmark this thread. We can come back 3 years from now and take a look at it. I’ll bet my next paycheque, there won’t be a “Vietnam 2″. A gradual draw down with the absolute worst case scenario being a domestic civil war between the Taliban and the old Northern Alliance. I fail to see how that’s a “Vietnam 2″ rather than a return to status quo ante.

Also, it must really grate you that the Americans actually accomplished their mission and killed Bin Laden. You never, ever seem to admit to that little tidbit in your constant effort to cast this mission as “Vietnam 2″. In the end, the US and NATO has absolutely achieved its objective in the region (smashing Al Qaeda). This business with the Taliban comes as a result of pointless mission creep. Giving it up is scarcely “Vietnam 2″. The only way this mission is a strategic failure is if Al Qaeda magically resurrects itself to the same threat level as it held pre-9/11. Not happening.

As for the supply routes, nobody needs the Pakistani routes anyway. NATO’s been running fine without them for months. The only value of the Pakistani routes is price. The Northern route and airlifting supplies is more expensive. Absolutely speaking. They are not required. The last few months have proved that. Arguably, though, the Pakistanis need those fees more than NATO needs those routes. So they try to play hard to get with their negotiations….all the while forgetting that those on the other side are losing interest day by day.

Posted by True.North. | Report as abusive

True North

If you cannot abide by the rules of Reuters, then choose for your kind a hole to unload your trash. You are a non-believer, an infidel in English, and therefore a skeptic by nature. The Talibans are in Pakistan and ISI nd Pakistan military is coming to terms with them. One usualy compromises with the crockodile when one lives in a River! It is upto India how their famous military stops them, once they have sorted out the mess and destabilisation within their ownterritory. They arecertainly going to take a lesser period than the Vietnamese.

And who are we, the Indian non believer whois now American, like Freed zakari, the Indian who is now regularly using the word ‘We’. These We’s went back to vietnam as well as traders and tourists.
The Vietnam 2 has already begun, all along the Pakistan highway the American equipment is lying scattered all over and the Americans have not got the mettle to rescue it nor the money to pay for it. Infact they are pursuading Paistan military to buy the scrap for their own use. They must make their apology as well as further deals with Pakistan Govt. transparent so that nincompup people of your sort can learn about how deep the yanks are now in after their despecable behaviour wih their Ally?
What Pakistan current political leaders are doing on the diplomatic front, it matters a little. Let Indians try to hide their lolypops and let the Yanks take their troops safely out of the valleys of death.

Let us await the wikileak whistle blower, before one makes a final judgement on the death of the person in Abbotabad. I am no a skeptic but not a blind believer either. he man who supposedly helped the CIA has been sent to prison for association with a terrorist organisation and this we should believe it?

Rex Minor

PS The reality is that the yanks have never in their history won a war on their own and the Pashtuns, now called Taliban Pashtuns have never been defeated in their history by a foreign force. Both of hem are keeping to their record.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Calling you out for the Islamofascist that you are is not in violation of Reuters policy. No more so than you constantly referring to me as an “infidel” and “non-believer”. This despite not knowing my race (hint: I’m not white.), my ethnicity or my religious background. Being as ignorant as you are, you automatically draw conclusions simply because of where I’m from.

At the very minimum, you certainly are racist and a Pashtun supremacist who for some reason supports murder and mayhem. And maybe even genocide (given your comments about Indians).

The rest of what you say is utter tosh. You have zero evidence to back it up other than what the voices in your head tell you. Show us a single link with actual pictures of 100 000 stranded marines (there aren’t that many combat troops in the USMC to begin with…).

Posted by True.North. | Report as abusive

@True Nort
In the west your remarks amount to racism! The Reuters Blog prohibit it and in Germany you will have to sit in Prison for this remark! Infidel is not an abuse nor contain any malice, but simply the english translation for a non believer. Knowledge is a virtue and if you have not the knowledge of the real time, then stop critising the events which are perceived by others and just ignore them and move on. Ask Joe klein or your fellow countryman Zakari, they somehow get the clue and even write a column or two in Times and could answer your interrogatory rhetoric. Just improve your hindsight! But if you cannot, do not worry about it, the leader of the USA did not have it either, otherwise he would not have fired 4 star General Macchrystal and instead sent home General Patros, and avoided the debacle. Watch the report of CNN, the self proclaimed news leader, which show you the Amerian merchandise rotting on pakistan highways. A tip for you as well, I am a caucasian and an anti-war. And regard those who wage war against civiliians fellow humans as lunatics.

Rex minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Calling somebody an Islamofascist is racist? Really? Point me to the part of German law that specifically labels that as racism.

I don’t buy that you’re caucasian at all. Nobody here does.

Posted by True.North. | Report as abusive