India-Pakistan Track-II Peace-making Efforts

India-Pakistan Track-II (back channel diplomacy) conferences and round-table discussions have been taking place for many years. The Neemrana Group is perhaps the oldest and the best known. The participants in these discussions mainly comprise retired Generals, Admirals and Marshals and a few diplomats and academics. Recently, members of the other branches of civil society – civil servants, media persons and human rights activists, among others – have also been invited.

Given the levels of hostility between the official establishments on both the sides, Track-II gatherings are usually held in other countries. Kathmandu used to be the perennial favourite for these dialogues, but has fallen out of favour since the Maoist insurgency began. Now the discussions take place at exotic overseas locales like Bangkok, Colombo, Dubai and Singapore and, occasionally, in European towns like Como and the Bellagio Centre, both located on the bank of the very pretty Lake Como near Milan in Italy. Salubrious surroundings – and good wine – undoubtedly contribute immensely to the success of these verbal sparring bouts!

The sponsors, who are frowned upon by both the governments, include well-meaning overseas foundations like the Frederick Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Germany, several overseas universities that manage to raise funds from their respective governments, well-known think tanks in India and abroad and, sometimes, organisations with an advocacy agenda like the infamous Ghulam Nabi Fai’s various ISI-supported centres in Europe and the United States.

The primary aim of most of these Track-II dialogues is to enhance strategic stability in South Asia by reducing the risk of conventional conflict and, if it breaks out, preventing its escalation to nuclear exchanges. The agenda invariably revolves around confidence building measures (CBMs) in the military field, nuclear CBMs and risk reduction measures and measures to improve trade and people-to-people relations through increased contact, cultural exchanges and sports tournaments. Specific issues like the demilitarisation of the Siachen Conflict Zone and the settlement of the international boundary in Sir Creek have been taken up several times.

The Indian participants assume that their Pakistani counterparts were briefed in GHQ Rawalpindi and by the ISI before their departure and that they will be debriefed on return. The Pakistani participants know that military people do not count for much in India and wonder why they are talking to them at all. However, they are wary of those of us who have a presence in the media. I have noticed that in the last couple of years, members of the civil society from Pakistan like academics and media people have become increasingly strident in their criticism of both the government of Pakistan and the handling of the security situation by the army. And, the Pakistani Generals are now far more conciliatory in their approach to conflict resolution.

The first session, if not the entire first day, is usually spent in telling the other side how obnoxious its policies are and how destabilising its actions are, particularly covert intelligence operations. While the Pakistani participants harp on the fact that they provide only ‘political, diplomatic and moral support’ to so-called Kashmiri freedom fighters, the Indians insist on placing on the record their condemnation of the ISI’s continuing sponsorship of terrorism in India. Though the seasoned veterans of Track-II diplomacy are fairly reserved in their outpourings, the first timers are invariably garrulous and use the occasion to let off pent up steam against their former military adversaries, whom they are meeting for the first time.

The first evening’s dinner serves to calm frayed nerves and, as they talk about dozens of commonalities including cricket, Hindi movies and music, the participants discover that their counterparts from across the international boundary do not have horns – though some of them do have long hair or beards! On the second evening, a dinner on a river cruise or a visit to a famous landmark is thrown in for good measure and adds to the bonhomie.

The second day is spent more fruitfully in getting to grips with the precarious security situation in the Indian Sub-continent, especially the fighting along the Af-Pak border and the impact of creeping Talibanisation in Pakistan. The participants usually agree on the need to institute comprehensive military and nuclear CBMs and promise to take up all the serious issues plaguing the India-Pakistan relationship with their governments and write about them in the media. They concede that conflict is not desirable and that wisdom lies in preventing it rather than in fanning the flames of hatred.

The dialogue thus ends on a happy note and the sponsors are pleased with their efforts. They are relieved that they can report back positively about the usefulness of the dialogue – and hope to raise more funds for the next round.

Family Immigration Backlogs Persist

In recent years, much attention has been paid to the long waits for green cards for employer-sponsored immigrants. Many believe such waits harm the competitiveness of U.S. companies, since it makes it more difficult to retain top talent in the United States.

Much less attention has focused on the waits in the family-sponsored immigration categories. The wait times for sponsoring a close family member are long and, in some cases, extremely long. In a November 2010 report, the State Department tabulated more than 4.5 million close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents on the immigration waiting list who have registered for processing at a U.S. post overseas. That does not include individuals waiting inside the United States, such as in a temporary visa status, who would gain a green card via adjustment of status at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. Counting such individuals as well would likely increase the waiting list to over 5 million.

An “immediate relative” of a U.S. citizen can immigrate to America without being subjected to an annual quota. This is important, since it is the relatively low quotas in the family and employer-sponsored preference categories that lead to waits of often many years for would-be immigrants. While there is no numerical limit in the immediate relative category, processing would still normally takes several months. The three primary immediate relatives included in the category are: spouses of U.S. citizens; unmarried children of a U.S. citizen (under 21years old, or under 16 if adopted); and parents of U.S. citizens, if the petitioning citizen is at least 21 years old.

The Preference Categories

Below are the descriptions of the four family-sponsored preferences as detailed in the State Department’s monthly visa bulletin, along with their annual quotas.

“First – Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400 a year.

“Second – Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents: 114,200 A. Spouses and Children: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit; B. Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older): 23% of the overall second preference limitation.

“Third – Married Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400.

“Fourth – Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens: 65,000.”

The wait times are longer for U.S. residents sponsoring relatives in Mexico and the Philippines. That is because of the per country limits, which generally limit a country to no more than 7 percent in the preference categories. For example, the wait time for a U.S. citizen petitioning for a brother or sister from the Philippines exceeds 20 years. For siblings from countries other than Mexico and the Philippines the wait times are closer to 10 years. These  estimates are based on examining the visa bulletins and other data from the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Wait Times for Sponsoring a Relative in India

The wait times for individuals sponsoring relatives who are in India are estimated to be as follows:

Unmarried Adult Children of U.S. Citizens – 7 year wait.

Spouses and Minor Children of Permanent Residents – 3 year wait.

Spouses and Minor Children of Permanent Residents – 8 year wait.

Married Adult Children of U.S. Citizens – 10 year wait.

Siblings of U.S. Citizens – 11 year wait.

More Visas Needed to Reduce Family Wait Times

To reduce family wait times more immigrant visas would need to be added to the family preference categories. H.R. 3012, which would eliminate the per country limit for employment-based immigrants, would help people from India and China in those categories. However, increasing the per country limit from 7 percent to 15 percent in the family categories, which the bill does, would help those waiting the longest for family members from Mexico and the Philippines. By doing so, it would lead to somewhat longer waits for family-sponsored immigrants from other countries, including India. Other than permanently increasing the number of family-sponsored green cards, something Congress has not done since the current quotas were set in 1990, the long wait times for relatives will likely continue.

Advancing the Strategic Partnership in 2012

Notwithstanding the “Delhi disillusionment” that now prevails in Washington, a U.S.-India strategic coalition focused on China is steadily coming together.

The state visit to New Delhi by Wen Jiabao at the end of last year focused on the potential for mutual economic cooperation. The Chinese premier arrived with a large business delegation that promptly signed some $16 billion worth of deals. The two governments also pledged to take their $60-billion trade relationship to the $100-billion level by 2015.

But the India-China narrative in 2011 was more about strategic competition than economic collaboration. Two events over the last month signify how long-standing disputes along their Himalayan frontier have increasingly come to the fore. The first is the abrupt cancellation of border talks due to Beijing’s concerns about the Dalai Lama’s activities inside India. The second is the alarm sounded in the Indian parliament by Mulayam Singh Yadav, a former defense minister, that China is on the verge of launching an attack.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dismissed the claim but apprehensions about Beijing’s strategic intentions are growing in Indian public opinion.

New Delhi’s strategic activism in East Asia and the reactions it has elicited in Beijing were also on display this year. During his state visit last year, President Barack Obama urged India not only to “look East” but also “to engage East” for the sake of enhanced security and prosperity throughout Asia. Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton echoed this message during her own trip to India this past July.

The advice was seemingly taken to heart when the Indian government, in defiance of explicit Chinese warnings, proceeded with hydrocarbon exploration in the South China Sea, an area Beijing assertively claims in almost its entirety. New Delhi also moved to solidify security relations with Vietnam, a Chinese nemesis, and to strengthen its influence in Myanmar, which China and India have long regarded as an arena for geopolitical jousting.

Central to the “Delhi disillusionment” that now prevails in Washington are questions about whether the nuclear cooperation accord has succeeded in invigorating U.S.-India geopolitical cooperation in the face of a rapidly growing and more assertive China. But events over the last month demonstrate that a strategic entente focused on Beijing is alive and well. The United States, India and Japan this week held their first trilateral meeting on security issues in East Asia. Nirupama Rao, the Indian ambassador in Washington, has stated that New Delhi will use this dialogue to bolster its engagement in the region. The initiative also represents a further step in the security ties New Delhi and Tokyo have built up in the past few years and which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s trip to India next week will add to.

A trilateral security effort (here and here) also seems to be congealing among the United States, India and Australia, even if New Delhi remains wary of a formal arrangement. And within its strategic backyard, India has started a tripartite security dialogue with Sri Lanka and Maldives that has China as a focus.

As a previous post noted, 2012 will not be a year of grand initiatives in U.S.-India relations. But officials in Washington and New Delhi should concentrate their energies in the next 12 months on two eminently accomplishable projects:

  • A revival of quadrilateral security cooperation among the U.S., India, Japan and Australia that briefly flowered in 2006-2007. This initiative grew out of the cooperative efforts by the four navies after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but lost momentum following the collapse in late 2007 of the Shinzo Abe government in Tokyo and the John Howard government in Canberra. In view of the renewed geopolitical stirrings among the four capitals, the time seems opportune for putting this “Asian Democracies” initiative back on the agenda.
  • New Delhi’s entry into the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Given India’s rising military and economic profile in East Asia, its absence from this grouping is a serious omission that ought to be rectified.