Saturday, July 14, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

An opportunity at Agra?
By Hari Jaisingh

Both Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf should have a stake in the success of their summit at Agra. At least Mr Vajpayee has, because he is the author of the peace process which began with his bus journey to Lahore. He now has the national consensus behind him as Monday's all-party meeting showed. This is the strength of the Prime Minister and the beauty of Indian democracy. India is an open book and there is no hidden agenda. As for specifics, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh spelt out everything at Thursday's press conference.

As for General Musharraf, he is a prisoner of circumstances and various interest groups. Still, it must be said to his credit that he has been vocal on the need for a dialogue with India. His problem is how and where to make a beginning. For, merely harping on Kashmir and the Hurriyat will, like it happened to his predecessors, take him to a blind alley.

No one wants to go back to the UN resolution today, except some ill-informed fanatics. What is needed is a reasonable formula based on ground realities and a break from the past. A final solution will take time. But once the talks get going in right earnest, the Kashmir issue will have to be detached from other issues and put on a different stream. In the meantime, India and Pakistan need to go full steam ahead on the trade front. This is what can bind the two countries to a continuing dialogue.

Of course, there are several pressing issues which call for an immediate solution. But we believe getting the proxy war out of the way ought to be the first priority. Crossborder terrorism has led to much blood-letting. As for control over the jehadis and other militant groups, Mr Vajpayee must secure a firm assurance from President Musharraf that this will be on top of his agenda. Nothing will work unless Islamabad puts a stop to its sponsorship of terrorism.

President Musharraf says that he has two missions in his life. He wants to revive Pakistan's economy, and go down in history as the man who solved the Kashmir problem. His success will depend on how realistic and responsive he is to Indian sensitivities.

India and Pakistan nearly clinched a deal in 1972 to recognise the LoC as the international border. This is a well-documented story. But Z.A. Bhutto failed to make good his promise. A solution can still be explored, provided past rigidities give way to pragmatism and flexibility.

As for Pakistan's economic revival, it largely depends on two factors: a continuous dialogue on the Kashmir issue with a view to finding a reasonable solution, and control over the fundamentalists and the narcotics lords. These apart, Islamabad will have to take three steps: establish normal economic relations with this country; grant India the MFN status; and actively promote SAARC.

Equally crucial are two related measures: drawing up a new bilateral trade agreement with New Delhi, and the construction of the Iran-India gas pipeline.

Even the extreme rightist groups in Pakistan concede that the Kashmir dispute is not over territory. They do not expect Jammu and Ladakh to join Islamabad. Nor do they think that these two regions can be forced to embrace Pakistan. Perhaps they realise that the dispute is really over the valley. However, they believe that the Muslims in the valley are overwhelmingly in favour of Pakistan. This is a myth. It is a well-known fact that a large segment of the Muslims (Shias, Gujjars, Bakerwals and other tribal Muslims) wish to remain with India. As for the Hurriyat, Islamabad's "secret links" with them are not even a secret! They hardly enjoy much support in the valley.

The problem with Pakistan is its sole obsession with Kashmir and it has left no stone unturned to grab it by hook or by crook. The valley's Islamisation and Talibanisation have been a part of this gameplan.

President Musharraf is closely associated with the Taliban. He now wants Afghanistan to remain within the orbit of Pakistan. But the world is opposed to the Kabul regime and its barbaric ways. Unless Islamabad is able to rein in the Taliban, all other measures that President Musharraf may be ready to accept will be frustrated.

Indeed, there is growing fear about the future of Pakistan and its Talibanisation. True, there is no popular backup for the gun-toting fundamentalists. Most Sindhis, Baluchis and Pathans, and the Mohajirs also, are opposed to them. Yet the militant groups are able to make much noise because of the official patronage given to them by Islamabad.

Time is of the essence. It will help if the Pakistani leadership learns to play straight. Wars and proxy war can hardly bring it the desired results. A no-war pact will also make no sense unless Islamabad stops cross-border terrorism and the proxy war. We hope the Agra summit will at least set the pace for a new beginning. Inshallah!


Indian agenda for Agra summit
T. K. Ramasamy

In his deep throaty voice External Affairs and Defence Minister Jaswant Singh unveiled the contours of the Indian agenda for the Agra summit. Just the contours, leaving it to the nation and India-watchers in Pakistan to guess the real thing. New Delhi is ready and willing to discuss the Kashmir dispute and a possible solution to it. There is a rider, if seen from the Pakistan side. Kashmir may be the core issue for the visiting side but it is also the core issue of Indian nationhood.

It is not a piece of real estate but the corner stone of its secular polity — a Muslim majority region on the border of Pakistan which believes in religion-based nationalism, being part of this country. Sever Kashmir and India will be pushed to a Hindu theocratic state which no one but the fundamentalists want and which will injure the interests of crores of Muslim citizens.

Mr Jaswant Singh articulated this powerfully and unambiguously. He virtually ruled out a referendum in Kashmir, which is anyway a tired cliché totally irrelevant to the present reality. This is the Indian position and except for subtle shifts, will remain valid at Agra too. The other issues are peripheral even if Mr Jaswant Singh dislikes the term.

Scholarship for 100 students, easy visa for members of separated families, release of civilian prisoners and other confidence building measures are euphoria-centric and not designed to lead to a settlement of the basic problem.

A summit between India and Pakistan first evokes euphoria and then leads to popular depression. This is easy to explain. The bilateral relations have become very rusty and several thick layers of dust have settled on them. It would need dozens of powerful blowers to clear the dust and a huge supply of lubricants to get the machine cracking. That is the popular perception and hence the euphoria — the hope that this cleansing process is about to begin. At the same time the enormity of the task and the history of failures induce a sober but sad evaluation producing gloom.

The trick this time is to avoid this pitfall and prepare the people on both sides of the border to be reasonable in their expectations. And Mr Jaswant Singh has done his mighty bit in this regard. He has been helped by an unexpected source. After talking incessantly about the centrality of the Kashmir issue, as if a solution will be the only indicator of the summit success, General Pervez Musharraf has lowered his pitch to admit that a mere beginning to the process of a settlement would be alright with him.

A perceptive Pakistani journalist, Mr Najam Sethi, puts it in a clear perspective. Pakistan does not have the military might to detach Kashmir from India and so has to settle for the second best. It can only be to secure greater autonomy for the Kashmiris and that is the real test of diplomacy. India can accept this particularly under a BJP-led rule and should ideally suggest this. The thing is to make this appear like a Pakistan demand and an Indian concession. Is anyone listening? 

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