As the Pakistan and India negotiators met in New Delhi for the latest round of Nuclear and Conventional Expert Level Talks on 27 December 2012 in New Delhi I wondered if the agenda had changed from my time. The process represents the political recognition by both countries reached in Lahore in 1999 a year after both became nuclear powers that the military dimension - the fine line separating stability and peace from instability and potential conflict requires regular institutionalized interaction and monitoring rather than the ad hoc approach hitherto. In the best of all possible worlds one would expect or at least hope for substantive, far reaching and broad based arms control initiatives and progress to reduce mistrust, tension and any arm build-up.

But in reality despite two solid agreements so far and a few ambitious proposals the pace and progress of these talks reflect the overall bilateral state of play rather than being a catalyst for change. Both want improved relations but have differing priorities, approaches and expectations on achieving this. Pakistan faced with the continuing Afghan conflict on its eastern border has modulated its stance towards India to make space. India’s priorities of trade and people-to-people contacts have received positive response from Pakistan.

India economically resilient, strategically singled out by America and allies, fixated on a regional and international role, has not moved on issues of major importance to Pakistan – Kashmir dispute, water issues, Siachin and Sir Creek. This percolates down to its approach in these talks. Since 2007, India after a positive start has moved away from an openness to more substantive CBMs, insisting that the Lahore MoU of 1999 needs to be exhausted before consideration of any measure beyond.

Pakistan’s Additional Secretary (UN) headed both its teams as it had found this more efficient for a cohesive approach which also reflected its conviction that the nuclear and conventional are linked.

In the conventional CBMs talks in reviewing existing CBMs both sides pointed to violations of the 2003 ceasefire along the LoC. However while recognizing that existing mechanisms of local commanders flag meetings and periodic hotline contacts between the two DG MOs were working well, both sides agreed on the need to uphold the 2003 ceasefire along the LoC. This augers well for better observance of the ceasefire which is a major CBM.

There were a number of near agreements and proposals already on the table which were discussed inconclusively. Quarterly flag meetings of sector commanders in four sectors had been almost finalized but India had proposed another in the Northern areas. The Framework Agreement on Speedy Return of Inadvertent Line Crossers continued to be held up as India wanted it to be extended to the international border. Pakistan wants the Border Ground Rules of 1961, which while no longer recognized by India, continued de facto and were of utility, to be made de jure and extended all along the international border, with both sides proposing how this should be done. Given increasing cooperation on counter narcotics and other smuggling along the border some progress should be possible and a separate speedy return of inadvertent line crossers clause can be inserted for the international border as well.

The agreement on No Development of New Posts and Defence Works along the LoC could not be finalized because the scope of maintenance specified by India was far beyond its letter and spirit. However the understanding in the 2006 draft that no new defence works should be constructed within 500 metres of the LoC seems to hold.

The 1991 Agreements on Advance Notice of Military Exercises, Manoeuvres and Troops Movements is a flagship CBM. To factor in current military realities and dynamics Pakistan in the last round in December 2011 had suggested amendments to update. India has yet to agree, or to propose its own amendments. The state of affairs precipitated by India’s Brasstacks exercise in 1986-7 underscored the importance of adequate advance notification for preventing misunderstandings and crisis buildups.

Pakistan had proposed in 2007 an Agreement on Prevention of Incidents at Sea. In principle, India is in favour of such an agreement but differences remain.

India reiterated its proposals for exchange of visits between the commandants of national defence institutions and seminars between governmental think-tanks.

In the nuclear CBMs talks Pakistan reiterated six proposals which were rejected by India on various grounds which are shown in brackets. Exchange of information on peaceful uses of nuclear energy (requires improvement of trust). Exchange of information and experience on nuclear safety (IAEA framework sufficient). Early notification of nuclear related emergencies (existing international arrangements sufficed). Bilateral declaration on non-deployment of anti ballistic missiles (India’s programme purely defensive). Bilateral agreement on non-militarization of outer space(cannot be in advance of international developments). Pakistan again proposed its Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) with its interlocking elements of nuclear restraint, conventional balance and dispute settlement. While Pakistan outlined the logic and connectivity of all three elements, India disputed any connection between the conventional and nuclear dimensions stating that all three elements needed to be dealt with separately.

India reverted to its proposal to discuss strategies doctrines as called for in the Lahore MoU. The Pakistani side would have explained as I did in the first round in 2004 that the essential elements of its strategic doctrine centring around the maintenance of credible minimum deterrence. India brought up as in the last round the need for measures for nuclear restraint on possible use of nuclear weapons, its shorthand for “No First Use,” and its dislike of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear Weapons capability. Pakistan has always transparently maintained that it does not subscribe to a “No First Use” doctrine as in the asymmetrical situation that obtains in South Asia this could lead to a first use conventional aggression. It has likewise consistently explained that all its nuclear weapons are not for war fighting but for the purpose of deterring and preventing war and conflict.

The Indian proposal that both countries should hold bilateral consultations in multilateral disarmament fora was met by the Pakistani response that just as both sides held informal contacts on such issues with other countries, this was also being done between the two on the margins of multilateral meetings.

Some conclusions can be drawn. Progress in both talks was limited as was expected but it appears the atmospherics, level of cordiality and the continuing mutual respect of the leaders of both delegations for their counterparts’ expertise is a positive element that can be built on given political direction. Pakistan continues to be forward looking and open with a number of proposals on the table. Some of these would find favour at least with India’s civic society and Track-II practitioners which may in turn generate some traction eventually. Pakistan is keen to move beyond the Lahore MoU and feels that it has ticked off most of what is required on its part. On matters of substance, to move ahead the ball is now in India’s court.

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat. Email: ambassador.tariqosmanhyder@gmail.com