Thursday, October 20, 2005

Natural disaster politics III - helicopters, but not pilots

yikes! I've been asked to give a talk on natural disaster politics in the wake of the Kashmir earthquake, so that is going to be the focus of blogging for the next few days. Please leave comments, links or anything else that might be helpful, particularly from the Pakistan press, which I havn't been following closely enough.

Yesterday's Hindu carried a story about Musharraf having promised to throw open the LoC: 'We will allow any number of people coming across the Line of Control to meet their relatives and assist with reconstruction', he said, and then appealed to India to accept the proposal. Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesman Navtej Sarna replied: 'We have seen news reports. If indeed this is what has been said, India welcomes the remarks. It is in line with India's advocacy of greater movement across the LoC.'

So far so good, but 'India's advocacy of greater movement' is part of its larger project of seeking to diversify ties with Pakistan (trade, electricity, ONG pipelines, etc.) and enhance the porosity of the LoC (or 'normalise' it - make it the international border, even) obviously in a careful and selective way, to make such activities possible across the line, in advance of dealing with the Kashmir dispute. The logic of this appears to be that the resolution of easier issues builds confidence and helps deal with more difficult ones. (This may in fact be borne out by the experience of other countries. Post WW2, France and Germany put aside the most difficult security-related questions - or more accurately, had these taken care of by the US - and commenced cooperation on trade and other economic 'low politics' issues, returning to the difficult security questions only several decades later.) Pakistan, on the other hand, insists on the centrality of Kashmir to relations between the two countries. It worries (I think) that diversified (even if improved) links with India will lead to a situation of asymmetric inter-dependence, in which having become dependent on India for various things (markets most especially), it will be placed in a weaker bargaining position vis-a-vis Kashmir.

Given this background, if India sees (and talks about) the opening of the LoC as part of its broader agenda, Pakistan is going to regret having made this proposal in the first place, and may even back down. That in turn would almost certainly impede earthquake relief. So in the interests of effective relief, both sides should confine their discussions very narrowly to the question of how best to provide relief immediately, making clear that nothing they say or do should be taken as setting a precedent, creating an expectation or otherwise changing the situation on the ground in a way that could affect future negotiations. Without this assurance, both states will hold back from doing what is in the immediate interests of survivors.

Of course all this is easier said than done, and the devil will be in the practicalities. Mobile phone companies from both sides are already being allowed to operate in the earthquake-affected areas. But on the question of military involvement, Musharraf has made clear that he will accept helicopters but not pilots. (It's a good thing that when that little girl (name?) needed a heart operation, he didnt say 'your ECG machine but not your Devi Shetty' - but of course that was a different situation.)

(But already I am having second thoughts about the 'no precedents' line of argument. Today's paper reports that BSNL has just set up toll-free ISD booths in Jammu, Srinagar, Tangdhar and Uri, thereby facilitating the first calls from IoK (lol, no one on this side calls it that!) to PoK in 15 years. This has enabled divided families to check on each other. They say this will be in place for only a fortnight, and even the Union Home Secretary isn't sure this will continue. But it would be a pity if facilities such as these were dismantled after the relief phase of operations. In some ways, earthquake diplomacy can - and should - be used to improve relations permanently, no?)

Your domestic ustaad (NOT guru) will be happy to read and translate relevant urdu newspaper editorials for you :)
shukriya! jaldi aao, mein apke liye intezaar kar rahan hoon.
if you want references or more detail on the greek/turkish case (or abortive talk about us-iran earthquake diplomacy post-bam, which was fruitless) then let me know.
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