Underwhelming CBMs

Only two concrete Confidence Building Measures on Kashmir after the foreign ministers meeting

A few Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) on Kashmir were expectedly announced after the meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan. The outcome was underwhelming and far lesser than the expectations. It has been speculated for a few months now that these CBMs could include starting a Kargil-Skardu bus, increasing the frequency of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus, a banking mechanism to replace the existing barter system, enhancing the list of items allowed to be traded, and increasing the number of trading days from two to four every week.

While the list of CBMs, as laid out in Paragraph 11 of the Joint Statement, does sound rather long, most of it is full of promises. There are, in fact, only two concrete measures among the list.

iii) The number of trading days stand enhanced from 2 to 4 days per week. Truck movements shall take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, both on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes.

v) Both sides will expedite the processing time for applications, which shall not be more than 45 days.[link]

Rather than the 3-4 months it currently takes to process applications for travel across the LoC, bringing the time down to 45 days or less is indeed a positive step. Those in the know suggest that the increase in days for cross-LoC trading was done for security purposes as the authorities found it difficult to search the vehicles during two days of trade earlier.

If the cross-LoC trade has to flourish, the most important step is to find a banking mechanism to replace the existing barter system. No modern trade can work on barter system of 21 items undertaken by two parties who are not even in direct communication with each other. It is disappointing that the two countries could not find a way to get this essential prerequisite for trading in place.

No one expected a major breakthrough at the meeting of the foreign ministers but this announcement of CBMs — after the deliberations of a Joint Working Group on the subject —  is seriously underwhelming. Perhaps, it is time we tempered our expectations on minimal incremental positive steps from such interactions even further.

Meanwhile, the Indian MEA continues to finely parse its foreign secretary’s comment over a sentence in the Joint Statement. The sentence in question was indeed diplomatic drafting of a high calibre: “The ministers reviewed the status of bilateral relations and expressed satisfaction on the holding of meetings on the issues of Counter-Terrorism (including progress on Mumbai trial) and Narcotics Control….”

So the government of India is satisfied with holding of meetings to discuss progress on Mumbai trial but not satisfied — actually silent — about the progress of trials per se. Sounds bizarre. Maybe because it is bizarre.

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