M A I N   N E W S

Ferrying peace
by H. K. Dua

LAST couple of weeks were marked surprisingly by the absence of habitual rhetoric between India and Pakistan. The spell was broken on Wednesday night with India making a move which, on the face of it, looks simple, but, if built upon, can have considerable influence on the making of peace in the subcontinent. Cynicism of diehards apart, the Indian package is bound to be welcomed by people on both sides of the divide.

The Tribune, which has watched the ups and downs of over 50 years of subcontinental tensions from a frontline position, welcomes the new initiative, hoping that this will break the logjam between the two nations, which have fought three wars and do not really know how to make peace.

India has offered to resume rail and air links and cricketing ties, launch a ferry service from Mumbai to Karachi, run a bus service from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and from Khokhrapar in Rajasthan to Munabao in Sind in Pakistan and much else that will facilitate contacts between the people of the two countries. The rationale behind the Indian initiative is that greater people-to-people contact will slowly dissolve the deep-seated distrust and hatred that over the years have caused tensions and periodic wars and much destruction.

The Indian offer made after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is not an emotional response voicing an airy hope for peace in the troubled subcontinent, but is an outcome of the realisation that peace pays greater dividends than a drift to another war. It is also an act of statesmanship borne not out of a belief in the doctrine of the other cheek, but out of a desire for peace and welfare of the people of both countries.

The practical significance of the move, which goes beyond air links and cricket, is also perhaps a feeling that where India-Pakistan summits have failed, it is the small steps that will ultimately create an atmosphere that will make it easy for the leaders of the two countries to sit down and take major decisions.

It will be a mistake on the part of President Pervez Musharraf and others in his military establishment to think that India has once again come out with a peace package because of a feeling of weakness. It will be wrong for Islamabad to presume that its abetment of terrorism has bled India enough and it is ready now to give in to its demands. Also, whatever the level of distrust he evokes in high quarters in Delhi, President Musharraf need not come to believe that India, by making a fresh bid, is trying to outsmart him on the diplomatic chessboard or that there is some hidden Indian motive to beguile him into submission.

Fundamentalists on both sides have a vested interest in the continuance of tensions and as such are bound to read what is not in the Indian initiative. There are the Singhals and the Togadias in India who will accuse Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee of again slipping into an appeasement mode; there are people in Pakistan who will warn President Musharraf of not falling into an Indian trap.

It will thus be necessary for the two leaders to ensure that domestic pressures from different lobbies do not again derail the new initiative which has a tremendous potential, tangible or otherwise. The two leaders must remember that the constituency of peace is larger in both countries than that of war. Those who light the candles at the Wagah border are a few; the sentiment for peace they represent in both countries is, however, very widespread.

New Delhi's overtures to Pakistan need not be seen in isolation. The CCS also decided that talks should be held with the Hurriyat at the level of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Lal Krishan Advani. Progress in talks with the Hurriyat will add to India's capacity to face the challenge from the militants who are losing sympathy in the Valley.

Seen from another angle, India will have to remain watchful of any attempt by Pakistan to scuttle the talks between the Deputy Prime Minister and the Hurriyat. Hopefully, Pakistan has realised by now that a new attempt to subvert the peace process in the Valley cannot sustain its claim for a dialogue at high levels to sort out all subcontinental issues.

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