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A slow trek through the bloodied glacier

In a few days from now, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf in New York. Their meeting follow...

In a few days from now, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf in New York. Their meeting follows the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers’ summit in Delhi ten days ago, and was expected to build on agreements reached there. But the Foreign Ministers’ summit ended in a confusing mixture of agreement and disagreement that left most commentators wondering what the Indian and Pakistani leaders will now discuss in New York.

On the plus side, we have commitments to improve freedom of movement, de-link energy and trade issues from politics, and develop institutional ties. As many analysts argue, the gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan is a win-win proposition for both countries. But agreement on it was held up because both sides sought to use it as a bargaining chip to achieve other objectives — an end to terrorism for India, and talks on Kashmir for Pakistan. Now the two countries’ energy ministers will discuss the pipeline on its own merits, and can focus on minimising its costs and maximising its benefits to their citizens.

The two countries are increasing institutional contacts between their border security forces, Coast Guards and foreign offices. In other words, India and Pakistan are beginning to put mechanisms in place that will limit conflict in the short run and help sustain peace in the long run. Most important of all, there is progress on a whole slew of measures to increase freedom of movement between India and Pakistan, and especially Kashmir.

The Khokrapur-Munabao rail link between Rajasthan and Sindh had been put on the backburner; it is now up front again. One obstacle to the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus, Pakistan’s refusal to accept representatives of the Jammu and Kashmir government in the Indian team, has been removed by setting up technical talks. The other obstacle, the issue of travel documents, remains a major roadblock, but it could be solved with goodwill. Pakistan has also reaffirmed Musharraf’s January commitment to then PM Vajpayee, that his government will prevent the ‘‘use of any soil under Pakistani control’’ for acts of terrorism against India. True, this could be merely a paper promise. True again, Pakistan is not prepared to give India the kind of counter-terrorism cooperation that it gives to the US, UK, China or Russia. But then Pakistan does not have a dispute with those countries, and it does with India.

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For an example of how difficult cooperation can be when there are national and vested interests at stake, look at Afghanistan. Viewed in the light of the situation there, the steps that Pakistan has taken to discourage violence against India (a ceasefire on the LOC and reduction of government support to militant groups), might seem small, but they are a token of intent and the joint statement is a promise of more steps to come. We can safely assume that Kasuri made this point to Singh, and also to Advani — otherwise, both would surely have been acrimonious on the issue instead of discussing it calmly.

Now the question is whether Manmohan and Musharraf can add more substance to that promise. If I can see any pattern in the confusing signals from the Pakistan government it is that they will use their influence to end violence only if India agrees to a timetable for talks on Kashmir.

India’s problem with talks on Kashmir is a complex one. Since the 1965 war, India’s position has been simple: to ratify the status quo through talks with Pakistan if feasible, otherwise unilaterally, by refusing to accept that there is anything left to dispute. This position was tenable as long as Kashmir remained calm, but after the insurgency began it has become untenable. If we want the violence to end, we have to talk to Pakistan. Vajpayee’s genius lay in recognising this unpalatable fact and beginning the long process that culminated in the resumption of a composite dialogue this summer. Since then, however, many Indian analysts have questioned whether Vajpayee looked beyond the immediate goal of reducing violence and beginning talks.

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My Track II Pakistani friends tell me that there was a rough blueprint that Vajpayee and Musharraf tentatively agreed to explore. This was: act quietly to reduce violence, have a parallel dialogue with Kashmiri separatists to back a solution based on soft borders, begin talks, push the militant groups to get on board, and then ratify an agreement that gives Kashmiris de facto unification without challenging de jure sovereignties.

If there was such an agreement though, all three sides did little to move on it. The blueprint hinges on dialogue between the Indian government and Kashmiri separatists. But Pakistan continues to allow militant groups to intimidate Kashmiri separatists from entering talks with the Indian government, and the Indian government, on its part, has done little to encourage the separatists to talk. The challenge for Manmohan and Musharraf, therefore, is to agree to ground rules that will allow Kashmiris — especially Kashmiri separatists — to opt for peace, and then move fast to implement them.

Timing is the key. If we had moved faster on the security and human rights’ reforms that the Hurriyat discussed with Advani, the Hurriyat might not have fallen apart and Maulvi Mushtaq might have been spared. Now we have another chance. Musharraf is right — we do need a timetable. We need a timetable for Kashmir talks, on both the India-Pakistan and the India-Kashmiris tracks, and we need a simultaneous timetable to bring militancy to an end. If the Indian and Pakistani leaders can establish these two objectives at New York, it will be a great achievement. I wish it was in Delhi or Islamabad, but that’s a minor quibble.

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The writer is a Visiting Professor at Jamia Millia University and a Trustee of the Delhi Policy Group

First published on: 20-09-2004 at 00:00 IST
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