Confidence Building: Diplomatic Rushes

Is confidence building just a buzz word? Source: Cicaistanbul

We have seen a lot of dialogue happening of late on many international fora.  Media houses snap up any bilateral head of state meetings without necessarily caring about the ramifications. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been on a whirlwind tour of around 19 nations in only his first year of office. Many of these visited more than once. There have been a number of foreign policy reshuffles with respect to India and many agreements have been announced. Some of them were successful but a large number failed to impress. This might work well with the laymen, but even to an amateur eye dabbling in international relations, a slightly closer observation would bring to light their fallibility. Governments think that they can dupe the nation by some handshakes and rhetorical speeches, but that in itself is self-defeatist.

Confidence building measures were first conceived in the 1970’s, as a pan-European East-West conflict management mechanism mainly, to prevent accidental attacks during the cold war based on misinformation. Now apply this in the peace time scenario we are living in. The word itself reeks of public relations experimentation. One time, sporadic meetings between heads of state being expected to inspire “bonhomie” and to instill “confidence” indicate how little the government thinks of its citizens’ intellect and capacity to opine on a matter.

Confidence building measures according to me are expected to have a degree of sincerity right from their in inception. This sincerity will stem from two possible foundations: conviction that there is an actual possibility of resolution of the conflict, and secondly, the legitimacy of the authorities at the negotiation table to have enough political will and clout to see it through to the finish. The first of these is difficult to reliably evaluate as most of the parties seem to show a hundred per cent belief in it. But the second one, as we may have all discerned, is the more difficult one to actually achieve.

The intricacies of any national political system can never be underestimated whether it is the American White House or the Afghan Shura, or the Iranian Majlis (each having different kinds of problems and approaches). I understand that there are many undercurrents and volatilities in the national bureaucratic set up and as such, there can be sweeping changes overnight when it comes to overseas bilateral negotiations. Having said so, it does not change the fact that the purpose of the negotiations is not being served and nothing but politics is to blame. That itself is the worst reason for the failure of talks determining the fate of a nation.Even as the Iran-P5+1 deal reaches a conclusion, the Republicans in the Congress keep a sword dangling over it. Similarly in Asia, while Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif meet on the side-lines of the summitry in Russia, Pakistan army troops had crossed over to the Indian side of the LoC. Not only that, speaking of lack of legitimacy, even the Pakistani National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz refused to go ahead with the terms of the talks less than a day after their conclusion.

When two heads of state meet for discussion on any topic area, we know that a lot of background bureaucratic preparation is done before the actual meeting itself. Any head of state cannot be expected to look in to the minor details of any deal and such the bureaucratic angle is much required. Why then does the media or even the informed citizen get so frenetic over announcements of “historic understandings”? (the careful wording is another gimmick in itself) If months of negotiations have not resolved an issue, how can we expect a head of state meeting usually lasting an hour or so to solve it?Sometimes I wonder if confidence building measures are meant primarily to conciliate the citizens of the country itself rather than sorting out bilateral issues.

Case study: Indo-Pak

Let us look at the case of Indo-Pak CBM’s. Following the 1971 war, a dedicated communications line was established between the Directors General of Military Operations, with a view to avoid miscommunication and resolve the issues within the military itself. Even so, during the period of heightened tension in 1987 over Pakistani seizing the Bilafond La (“Qaid Post”) heights over the Siachen Glacier, the “hotline” was never used. Nor was it used during the 1990 conflict over Kashmir. Through war times (Kargil war), when the risks of miscommunication are manifold, as well the hotline was used sporadically at best. The hotline between the Prime Ministers (first established in 1990) has been more as a PR stunt rather than based on actual emergency. For example, PM I.K. Gujral and PM Nawaz Sharif spoke on the topic of furthering foreign secretary level talks over the hotline.

The 1966 Tashkent declaration, though much needed at the time, did far from assuaging the parties involved. The agreement required that “the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan shall be based on the system of non-interference in internal matters”. This is like telling coaches on the side-lines of a heated soccer game to stay in their squares. That little chalk line isn’t going to stop them! And that is how it works in foreign affairs too, the chalk line isn’t what is prevents the countries from engaging; it is the restraint by the parties themselves in order to avoid ramifications for their side. And I think this is what is lacking in the case of Indo-Pak relations. Be it the reckless non-state actors in Pakistan or the unnecessarily flamboyant government in India (refer: Myanmar surgical strike), both seem to want their side of the bargain without considering the fallout of their acts.

The national security advisor of Pakistan Sartaj Aziz, in a statement barely a day after PM level talks between the two countries, said that dialogue between the two countries would not progress without including Kashmir in the agenda. I think that shows the level of willingness or lack thereof on the part of the Pakistani delegation. On the other hand, India wishes only to bell the proverbial cat by holding discussions focussed on terrorism and border skirmishes which involves considerable concessions by both sides. Instead, India could have tried the economic angle by stressing on cooperation on the trade and commerce front.

Case study: Indo-China

The relationship between India and China has been considerably capricious. Many conflicts arise from the fact that both countries are among the fastest growing economies in the world and are both vying for a larger share in world trade. In terms of volume, though China has left India behind, the recent slowdown in its economy has reignited the issue. China has followed an irresponsible expansionist policy on all fronts with reclamation of land in the South China Sea, dispute over islands, recent rearmament in the Sea of Japan along with Russia, tussle over resources in the East China Sea EEZ, the only just announced Silk Road Project and the Sino-Pak Economic Corridor passing through the disputed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir area(without requesting permission from India.)The Asian Infrastructure Investment bank, seen by many as an alternative to the World Bank is another one of its initiatives. More precisely, it wants to grow at the cost of other nations and not with them.

The first major obstacle to Sino-Indian talks arose due to the Pokhran II nuclear tests by India in 1998 which it conveniently opposed while having done practically the same thing in 1964 that too on a greater scale.China has been persistently using passive aggressive measures like cartographic irregularities with respect to the border areas later calling them mistakes. The Tibetan Dalai Lama issue just made matters worse. All these questions remain unanswered as both countries go ahead with their Confidence-Building Measures. During the recent visit by the Indian Prime Minster, as many as 24 agreements were signed on economic issues.

The current Indian government is more of a businessman administration than a policy-making/executing government. I’m not saying that any of it is flawed, but that the tilt is more towards economic reform. While this according to me is an extremely viable policy, care should be taken of maintaining the perception the world has of India as a proud and righteous nation with a steadfast foreign policy. Business-minded pragmatism cannot be allowed to dictate foreign policy which aims at profits at any cost. This is what is being seen with the current administration with e-Visas (though a welcome break to the impasse) being granted to Chinese visitors where the latter would staple temporary bills as Visas to Indian citizens from the North-East (which is a disputed territory). When a country professes such single-minded antagonism, the other nation should at least maintain a certain dignity in its operations even while sponsoring altruistic engagements.

The farce becomes evident in the separate issues of border skirmishes or ‘accidental’ army deployments and the more recent Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi issue. The Chinese government unjustly supported the Pakistan government decision to release a convict of the Mumbai terror attacks despite repeated requests by the Indian government previously to extradite him.


Each of the countries mentioned above is at an impasse over only one issue: territorial claims. Though steeped in historical imbroglio, they should try to settle them based on the present picture which will first and foremost satisfy the peoples concerned. That is the only way. If nations are in any case inclined towards maintaining the status quo, then these temporary defrayals should at least be formalised. What the world needs as I mentioned before is a little sincerity and a lot more conviction. Gone are the days when a man’s word was as good as any bonds we sign today. Time has come for countries to propagate collective interests over their singular ones. Growth will be manifold and as economies of scale dictate, the profits will also be enormous enough for the countries to share (provided egos are discounted for!).

Shriraj Patil

Shriraj Patil

Intern at InPRA
is an economics undergraduate from the city of Mumbai. He has secured several academic awards and also been awarded by the Commonwealth for his writing skills. Certified by the National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange, he actively studies the impact of the financial sector on the economy. He has recently started analyzing economic and political policy questions and research concerns.Wanting to now engage with an IR Master’s degree and the desire to hone the skills required to do so has compelled him to join InPRA. He hopes to learn and grow with the initiative.
Shriraj Patil

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