For more than mutual assurance

Indo-Pak lessons from the Argentine-Brazilian model of cooperation

Financial Express, India, January 12, 2007

Mutual trust achieved, additional measures would include a commitment to keep talking: it’s never over until it’s over

By Pradeep S Mehta & Abid Suleri

Pakistan and India have just exchanged lists of their nuclear installations, as part of a mutual assurance that these shall not be attacked by either party in the event of any conflict. However, exchanging lists is not sufficient cover for an unwarranted action by either country. Can we think of a strategy to ensure that there is no threat of any nuclear or conventional attack ever?

A successful model exists in the Argentine-Brazilian nuclear rapprochement. In the era of colonialism, the two European powers, Spain and Portugal had expanded their own rivalry through territorial conquests in South America: the former in Argentina and the latter in Brazil. Even after their administrative independence (Argentina’s in 1816 and Brazil’s in 1822), the burden of colonised mindsets found continued expression in a South American rivalry between the two. They vied with each other for leadership of South America, with all the usual antagonism and mistrust.

Although the South American experience could be valuable, one important difference must be mentioned: while Argentina and Brazil were rivals, they were not enemies. The only war between them took place in 1825, more than a century-and-a-half ago, giving birth to a new (buffer) state, Uruguay, through the peace treaty of 1828. Their relations since have alternated between cooperation and competition, but no single shot was ever fired. A bitter border dispute was resolved by arbitration, not war. In 1985, they both grasped a moment of economic logic to put an end once and for all to the mistrust that had bedevilled bilateral relations for so long. Thus did social and economic relations come into focus. The subsequent period can be divided into two stages. In the first (1985-1988), the approach taken was bilateral. In the second (1989—), the process had a dual objective: first, to bind the signed agreements legally, and second, to integrate the agreements with international nonproliferation regimes.

It was as a part of this endeavour that these two countries, alongwith Paraguay and Uruguay, formed the South American Common Market (Mercosur) in 1991, which was later joined by Chile in 1996 and Bolivia in 1997. The aim of this common market was to enhance trade and investment opportunities, as these countries realised that closer economic relations facilitated by free trade would consolidate mutual understanding, confidence and cooperation.

There are several other examples in history of neighbourhood peace and prosperity taking the place of hostility and heartburn. Europe put aside the bitter Nazi experience for the formation of the European Union. Even in Asia, it is hard to believe that Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia were ever at war.

There are several lessons that can be derived from all this. First and foremost, to be successful, an exercise of this kind must be motivated by sincerity of purpose. No such moves can have the slightest chance of success if they are taken with the ulterior motive of destabilising the other party. As a first step, a country should open itself to the other party, on the understanding that this policy will be reciprocated. Information should flow fully and freely from one country to the other. Of course, the sense of mutual trust thus attained will not last if flanking and additional measures do notfollow to give it permanence. Additional measures would include a commitment to keep talking: it’s never over until it’s over. Second, constructive engagement works better than pressure: renewed reinforcement of the will to support bilateral confidence-building measures would lead to more progress than diplomacy-based political criticism involving cross-accusations on issues like terror (which, it hardly takes a couple of minutes to reiterate, requires dedicated action on both sides).

Third, regional cooperation infrastructure projects could be proposed. The East-West Economic Corridor, a 1,500 km long highway project crossing six Greater Mekong Sub-region countries in the Southeast Asia, and the Middle East regional cooperation projects are some good examples. Likewise, mega-economic projects like the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan and the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline projects would help promote regional economic cooperation between India and Pakistan.

Lastly, it may be beneficial to look for opportunities where the US (and EU) foreign policies can support bilateral initiatives. River diplomacy in Argentina, for example, accelerated bilateral cooperation in the nuclear arena. The initiative to expand Indo-Pak ‘bus diplomacy’ should receive US and EU support. The US could offer incentives by offering the benefits of its Qualifying Industrial Zones scheme (by which exports from Jordan and Egypt containing inputs from Israel enter the US duty free), under its Generalized System of Preferences.

Sceptics would argue that in the Indo-Pak case, the Kashmir dispute is sui generis, and thus any improvement of relations is dependent on its resolution. Even if this is so, one can draw lessons from North Ireland. After 30 years of conflict, the Irish Republican Army has agreed to lay down arms. Frankly, neither India nor Pakistan would like an independent Kashmir. Yet, fortunately, there is a window of opportunity at the moment. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh have both suggested ways to craft a lasting peace between the two nuclear countries. The yearning for peace is evident among people on both sides, as also in Kashmir. Is it not time to grab it and move ahead?

Pradeep S Mehta is Secretary General of CUTS International, a research, advocacy and networking group board in Jaipur, India and Abid Suleri is Assistant Executive Director of the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute.

This article can also be viewed at: