Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Not even if you wish upon a thousand stars

In the build up to talks between the Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries, the Pakistani foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, raised eyebrows on both sides of the border by claiming that the two countries were close to an agreement on the Siachen dispute. It quickly became evident that Mr Kasuri was bluffing; the foreign minister was hoping to paint the Indians into a corner with a combination of bluster and spin. The Indians were having none of it; even the army expressed its disapproval - a rare instance in a service firmly wedded to the principle of civilian control.

The reason for the Pakistani foreign minister's bravado? The degenerating security position in west (Afghanistan and the tribal belt) and south (Baluchistan) Pakistan are cementing India's ascendancy between the two neighbours. A quick peace is always sought by the party most likely to lose from the perpetuation of the status quo.

India, of course, knows this. Ajay Sahni, director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, told the CS Monitor, "The more difficulties (Pakistan) has internally, the more the calculus favors India. India's position will tend to become a little more inflexible. Why make concessions at a time when your enemy is weakening?"

The paper continues:

"Analysts in both countries agree that the unrest, while unlikely to change the overall tone of the discussions, is liable to weaken Pakistan's position at the negotiating table. That means Paki- stan's pushing on the large issue of Kashmir, the Himalayan territory to which both sides stake claim, will fall on deaf ears."

Indeed. Upon the conclusion of the foreign secretaries' talks today, the Times of India reports:

"On the Siachen issue on which Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri had claimed a settlement was on the cards in a few days, Khan said that talks were on and further discussions were needed."

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