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Focus on Afghanistan, not Kashmir, India and Pakistan urged

By Vikas Datta | PUBLISHED: 28, Jan 2015, 13:37 pm IST | UPDATED: 28, Jan 2015, 13:41 pm IST

Focus on Afghanistan, not Kashmir, India and Pakistan urged

Jaipur: Afghanistan, not Kashmir, can be the issue for India and Pakistan to resume a sustainable dialogue, where it will be relatively easier for them to reach agreement on issues like trade and security while ensuring peace for the "volatile" country , says a regional expert.

"Pakistan: A Hard Country" author Anatol Lieven, also stressed India and Pakistan must learn the Cold War lesson that nuclear powers have a greater responsibility. He also warned against abrogating the Indus Water Treaty or starting "water wars".

"Don't begin with Kashmir. Focus instead on Afghanistan,"he advocated, while strongly pitching for the two countries to resume talks.

"If (Afghan President) Ashraf Ghani can talk to Pakistan, Russia can talk to Pakistan, why can't India (talk to Pakistan)... it doesn't seem logical," Lieven, professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service (Doha campus), told at the recently-ended Jaipur Literature Festival 2015 , adding India will "never get anywhere" if every Pakistani statement on Kashmir or clash on the Line of Control (LoC) makes it call off talks.

Elaborating on why Afghanistan was a more feasible topic, Lieven, who notes there was a rethink on Pakistani policy towards it, said the"volatile" region impinges on security of both the countries."Indian interests in Afghanistan have been attacked, while Pakistan accuses India of using Afghanistan as a base for attacks in Balochistan".

Any agreement here will also help in success of trade talks, particularly the issue of transit of goods between India and Afghanistan and vice versa across Pakistan, he added.

Lieven however termed it "unfortunate" that domestic political considerations in both the countries become barriers to dialogue or trade.

"It is unfortunate, especially with the (new) Indian government and its assertive nationalism, though I am not sure how far it is a vote-winner apart from the BJP's traditional right-wing constituency. It is not helpful and it is a great pity that India is missing an opportunity.

"In Pakistan, there are sections of industry and agriculture against normal trade with India and the government can face a backlash if it ignores them."

Lieven, who in his book also stresses on the long-term environmental threats to Pakistan apart from the current ones of terrorism and insurgency, says a 2004 World Bank report on environmental issues makes "frightening reading" but in the 10 years since then, little has been done."

"The situation is worse now in Pakistan which is a water scarce area and now faces greater demographic pressure. There is a possibility of a dangerous situation - though its not immediate or not even inevitable. Things still can be done."

"But it is entwined with the stumbling state of its economy. Under the last three governments, from across the military and political spectrum, economic reforms have failed (unlike in India)," he said.

Given the recent criticism of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, Lieven told IANS he hoped the agreement does not collapse. "But I think India will not adopt any harsh water policy against Pakistan as regards the Indus as it is quite possible as China could do the same with the Brahmaputra which will be hard for both northeastern India and Bangladesh."

On Pakistan's statement it would treat any Indian action affecting the Indus flow as a "declaration of war", he said that Pakistan must learn after its Kargil misadventure.

"There is also the lesson of the Cold War that nuclear powers have great responsibility. The Soviet Union and the US never clashed in Europe though this would be no consolation to many Vietnamese, Angolans and others who became victims in various proxy wars," he said.

Lieven, who has long covered the region - both as a journalist and now as an academician - said terrorism is still a problem for Pakistan though the situation is relatively better than in 2008 when the Taliban seemed to be spreading alarmingly.

"The Pakistani Taliban was more dangerous six years back. Since 2009, military offensives have pushed it back and there is a situation now where the Afghani Taliban leadership is in Pakistan and that of the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan," he said.