Negotiating an Indo-Pak solution

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

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Negotiating an Indo-Pak solution

Dwaipayan Bora | September 18, 2018 12:00 hrs


As an untested new leader takes the reins of our neighboring country Pakistan, the world focuses its attention on him. Everyone seems to ask - Will he be able to turn around Indo-Pak relations? Thus at this time one cannot help analyze this situation but in terms of the method called Principled negotiation or “negotiation of merits” proposed in a 1981 best-selling book “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without giving in” by Roger Fisher, William L Ury and Bruce Patton, all members of the so-called Harvard Negotiation Project - a project created at Harvard University which deals with issues of negotiations and conflict resolution. The project, at some time, identified four crucial factors for successful negotiation: people, interests, options and criteria. How is this theory of Principled Negotiation more useful and applicable vis-à-vis Positional Bargaining in such a complex historical problem?


The Indo-Pak issue is now over seventy years old. While one party dubs it as a problem of cross-border terrorism, the other terms it as a territorial dispute. But after numerous parleys and discussions at various levels of the governments, this problem is yet to see its solution. The Indian government takes the Shimla Agreement of 1972 signed between the then Heads of Indian and Pakistani governments, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as the basis of further negotiations, which the successive Pakistani governments have either accepted or rejected.


With this backdrop, a presumptive gain was thought to have been achieved when a rare summit level talks between the heads of states of these two neighbours, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Gen Pervez Musharraf, was held in Agra in July 2001. The circumstances of this summit are hereby analyzed to re-understand the reasons of its failure and set it up for posterity. In the preparation to this summit there was hard posturing within the Indian government on the question of extending invitation to the then Pakistani President because it was felt that as the incumbent was not an elected President, he might not be the right person to talk to. This is when the Indian government followed the first proposition of Principled Negotiation –“Separate the people from the problem” and the invitation was extended.


The two countries’ focus on the negotiations was very divergent. It is interesting to know that India was maintaining that points of mutual interests should be discussed, while Pakistan was hard selling the position that Kashmir or the territory was its main issue for discussion. India's maturity was truly displayed by their stand because they felt that as Kashmir is a long disputed issue, it should not be the core issue of discussion while other major issues about mutual social and economic developments remained on the side walls. Thus India “focused on interests, not positions,” unlike Pakistan and fulfilled the second proposition of Principled Negotiation.


India wanted to expand trade ties, people to people contact, cross-cultural exchanges and opening up of the border to facilitate these, through talks. These would have been mutually beneficial to both the countries and would have built confidence on each other’s ways of doing things. This illustrates India's position during the negotiation towards the third proposition of Principled Negotiation to “invent options for mutual gains,” so that at a later stage the more complicated issue of territorial dispute could be resolved.


India and Pakistan had signed the Shimla Agreement of 1972 on resolving the Kashmir dispute. It was a comprehensive blue print for good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan. Under the Shimla Agreement, both countries undertook to abjure conflict and confrontation which had marred relations in the past, and to work towards the establishment of durable peace, friendship and cooperation. It contains a set of guiding principles, mutually agreed to by India and Pakistan, which both sides would adhere to while managing relations with each other. These emphasize: respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, respect for each other’s unity, political independence, sovereign equality and abjuring hostile propaganda. Though the Shimla Agreement has gained unqualified support from the Indian government over the years, Pakistan had its fair share of problems with it, sometimes supporting, while at times rejecting it. Thus, it would have been better had both the parties made an objective approach to the problem and fulfilled the fourth basic proposition, i.e., “Insist on using on objective criteria for its negotiation.”


It is observed that as the two parties in the negotiations followed two principles of negotiation and had different views on the problem, the results came to a naught. The talks failed miserably, increasing the feelings of hostility between the two countries.


But all is not lost. If we are honest in our approach towards the whole issue, the solution is not far away or very difficult to achieve. Like Gandhiji had said, “Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.” And this may be the time of reckoning as a brand new government led by the charismatic Imran Khan takes charge in our neighbouring country, Pakistan.

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