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Between the line

Army is the key
July 08, 2009


WHEN New Delhi and Islamabad have not been able to agree upon the place of meeting for Foreign Secretaries, it does not augur well for the future. It is difficult to imagine anything tangible coming out of their talks. Both sides had to fall back on the venue of the non-aligned summit in Egypt and accept the dates of the latter’s meeting because that was the only recourse left to them.

In fact, the two opposite viewpoints were voiced even in mid-June when Pakistan High Commissioner Shahid Malik called on Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to fix the date and place for a meeting between the two foreign secretaries. The 30-minute-long arguments failed to produce anything concrete. Malik reportedly gave the impression that Pakistan would not be interested in the talks if they were to discuss terrorism alone.

India’s stand is that the meetings of foreign secretaries should be devoted only to terrorism, particularly the Mumbai carnage which the men operating from Pakistan planned and executed from beginning to end. New Delhi does not want the meeting to be taken as the resumption of composite dialogue which got snapped following the carnage. On the other hand, Pakistan would like foreign secretaries to discuss “all issues,” including the process of composite dialogue. Islamabad is said to be keen on taking up the Kashmir issue which is part of the composite dialogue.

No doubt, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Zardari must have discussed at Yekaterinburg in Russia the respective stands and many things more in the one-to-one talks. They are the ones who instructed the two foreign secretaries to meet before the summit in Egypt. Their talks would be of little use because one should have time to work on the points raised by the other. The opportunity given to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Reza Gilani at the summit meeting would go waste if they had nothing before them except the deadlock to discuss.

Unfortunately, Gilani is the person who will pick up the thread from where Zardari had left it off. He has said the core issue is Kashmir. One does not see how the point of terrorists’ attack on Mumbai can be stretched to a solution of Kashmir, however important the latter is. But then Gilani also raised the Kashmir issue on the day Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Toiba Chief, was set free by Lahore High Court. Gilani’s statement is like a BJP leader saying on the day of Babri Masjid’s destruction that Kashmir is an integral part of India.

That Kashmir issue should be resolved needs no repetition. This has beleaguered the two nations for decades and has led to two and a half wars. New Delhi realizes more than Islamabad that normalcy is not even thinkable without having Kashmir out of the way. But that requires a proper atmosphere in India and it cannot be created without bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai attack to justice.

Islamabad should also realize that it cannot win Kashmir at a conference table when it lost it at the battle field. Pakistan has to create confidence in India that it is willing to take into account the thinking at New Delhi which feels that it has been wronged again and again.

Coming to Kashmir, the main objection of India is to the division of the state on the basis of religion. This objection may not fit into the two-nation theory, the principle on which Pakistan was constituted. But then its founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself reinterpreted the theory after partition and made the Pakistanis and the Indians as two nations on the basis of territory, not religion.

Another difficulty New Delhi faces is that boundaries of Kashmir cannot be redrawn. Indian parliament, the ultimate authority, will not agree to a constitutional amendment that the alteration will entail. What can come in handy is General Parvez Musharraf’s reported formula which made the borders redundant and divided the state territorially. Retired officials from India and Pakistan, who constitute the back channel, have gone on record as saying that they had “covered 80 per cent of the journey” on way to Kashmir’s solution.

If this is true—I know that both sides were optimistic at one point of time—there is every chance of the formula to be retrieved and pursued. At some stage, the people of Jammu and Kashmir should be associated because there can be no solution without their concurrence. Yet it is a pity that some leaders in the valley are bent upon stoking parochial fires, trying to give an Islamic edge to the Kashmiriat, a pluralistic concept, that the people follow.

In fact, India is worried over the brutalization of its society. Happenings in Kashmir have contributed towards it the most. The nation is opposed to the Unlawful Activities (Preventive) Act which drastically changes procedures for trying those who are accused of terrorism. The common man has suffered from the untrammeled powers in the hands of police. The Armed Forces (Special Power) Act has given extraordinary powers to the security forces in the Northeast and Kashmir. Democracy loses its content if the laws of an authoritarian state become part of governance.

Yet when cross-border terrorism becomes a menace, fear takes over the society. It pawns its liberty to those who assure it security or a semblance of it. Kashmir has dulled the sensitivity of even the liberals. The support to Pakistan by India against the Taliban is natural. India Defence Minister A.K.Anthony has said that his country too faces the danger of Taliban.

This makes the elimination of Taliban the topmost priority. At present, the Pakistan army and America plan, control and pursue the operation. Were India to send its forces, as is the reported request by the US, it would be a development which the Pakistan army might not like. Still the Indian and Pakistani forces fighting side by side against the Taliban would create a climate where Kashmir, the water dispute and other problems would find consensus in no time.

The solution lies in both civilian and military wings in Pakistan agreeing to a détente with India. But the army has given no evidence that it wants to bury the hatchet. Its proximity to America and the military aid it is getting from it has made Islamabad stiffer than before. The Manmohan Singh-Gilani meeting in Egypt or the meeting of foreign secretaries would be successful only to the extent Gen Parvez Kayani is willing to go. Can he look at Pakistan’s relations with India without bringing in the past? Normalcy between the two countries depends on that. Washington can play an important role.

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