Though India-Pakistan relations are going through a relatively calm phase, things can quickly change. We must take advantage of the present atmosphere to lock in beneficial patterns of behaviour.
One area where we believe that progress can be made is on the question of military confidence-building measures (CBMs). The idea behind CBMs is well-tested; military establishments agree to avoid actions which are threatening to the other side to help avoid unintended conflicts. Of course, CBMs are not a panacea; if people want a conflict, CBMs will not prevent it. But CBMs do provide a mechanism whereby States which want to avoid a conflict through accident or misperception can develop ways to do so.
India and Pakistan have developed extensive CBMs over the years. Often, they have been developed in response to specific problems. It is time to develop a framework of such measures which can systematically address some of the key issues the two sides face.
That is why we have been participating in a series of meetings involving senior, retired officers from both sides, reviewing existing CBMs and suggesting new ones. The process is organised by the University of Ottawa and the Atlantic Council. We have met twice so far, in Dubai and Bangkok.
Over the course of our meetings, we agreed that most existing CBMs are sound and useful but noted a tendency for them to fall into disuse over time. Moreover, some existing CBMs have become dated because of new technologies and doctrines. Thought must be given to ways in which these CBMs can be updated and we have made suggestions to the two governments. Beyond the existing CBMs, however, there is a pressing need to re-conceptualise the way the two sides approach this topic. In particular, the ad hoc manner in which CBMs have been negotiated to address particular issues must give way to a frameworks of CBMs.
The key issue is crisis stability. India and Pakistan have deployed weapons which dramatically reduce the time available for diplomacy in a crisis. Where a sobering second thought is essential, hair-trigger alerts brought about by lethal weapons placed close to the borders will become the norm. Evolving doctrines compress the time available for diplomacy while the role played by the media in South Asia could also push the two sides towards an early resort to force in a future crisis.
This is a dangerous situation. It was, therefore, agreed at our Bangkok meeting that a useful area for CBMs is the elaboration of a framework for crisis management to provide the two sides with agreed steps that can be taken to prevent a crisis from spinning out of control. There was consensus that an interlocking network of CBMs should be developed which, in the event of a crisis, would require a political commitment that diplomats and officials from both sides come together at the outset of the crisis for discussions on how to resolve it (all too often in South Asia, we respond to a crisis by suspending diplomatic contacts — we should be doing the opposite). Require that, in times of crisis, both sides should take no military actions which could be construed as preparations for an offensive and adhere to existing CBMs.
Discussions should begin on new CBMs relevant in these circumstances.
Beyond crisis management, it was agreed by consensus in Bangkok that a CBM should be agreed upon whereby both sides, including their respective military establishments, should regularly meet to discuss their respective concepts and doctrines with a view to elaborating measures to build confidence in the nuclear and conventional fields.
In Bangkok, we also discussed the disputes over the Siachen glacier and the Sir Creek boundary. We will be further discussing these in our next meeting. Finally, we discussed the question of terror and its impact on stability. Though terror is not a military issue per se, we do believe that intelligence-sharing is the key to tackling it. Some suggested developing a list of terror groups which both sides wish to see stopped, leading to the sharing of information on these groups and cooperation on investigations. Other suggestions included: The revival of an effective joint anti-terror mechanism at a higher level.
Hotlines between the interior ministries on terror issues.
An effort to revive the Saarc mandated Integrated Regional Database on terror.
Discussions among respective officials on national experiences on such matters as legal frameworks to deal with terror Greater maritime cooperation on terror at sea.
Exchanges of views between the immigration, border services and customs authorities.
All these steps will not end the difficult situation that exists between India and Pakistan. But if taken in good spirit and diligently implemented, they have the potential to transform the atmosphere between the two countries and also to prevent future crises from spinning out control. In our region, this would be a significant contribution indeed.
General Jehangir Karamat is former chief of staff of the Pakistani Army and former ambassador of Pakistan to the US.
Air Chief Marshal Shashi Tyagi is the former chief of staff of the Indian Air Force
The views expressed by the authors are personal