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Between the line
 

Cash in on this opportunity
April 13 , 2011

 

I AM not surprised over the Wikileaks disclosure that Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani stood in the way of a settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. According to the US diplomatic cables, decks had been cleared for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Zardari to sign a deal but Kayani was the “remaining obstacle.”

The then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was in Pakistan one day before the 26/11 terrorists attack on Mumbai. He concluded during the trip that it was time to get a deal on Kashmir done. He apparently got the two sides talk through the back channel and had an acceptable draft prepared. Miliband had issued a statement criticising India on Kashmir, probably when New Delhi was not prepared to accommodate some of Islamabad’s points. India did not welcome him back on its shores after his statement.

General Kayani is reportedly India centric and he is said to consider it Pakistan’s No. 1 enemy. When I was travelling through Pakistan last month, one refrain of talks which I heard in all the three cities—Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore—was that the endorsement by the fauj was essential for any compromise formula reached on Kashmir between the two countries.

That the military has a final say on Kashmir is nothing new. But for a brief interlude of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s democratic government in the early 70s, the military alone has counted in the affairs of Pakistan since General Mohammad Ayub took over the reins in 1951. The judiciary too put a seal of approval on the basis of “doctrine of necessity.” And all military dictators till General Pervez Musharraf , the last one so far, had legal sanction.

The silver lining is, however, that the present atmosphere of cordiality, beginning from Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gillani’s visit to Mohali to watch the semifinal of the World Cup match to the many hours of talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would not have come about if General Kayani had put his foot down.

Maybe, the public pressure has made him resile from the position he had taken earlier. Maybe, he wants to see if the solution the two governments find on Kashmir tallies with what he has in mind. Maybe, Pakistan team captain Shahid Afridi’s comment reflects the thinking that “it would be difficult for the Pakistanis to live with Indians or to have long-term relationship with them since they are not large-hearted” echoes the sentiments of most Pakistanis.

What is in favour of General Kayani is an earlier Wikileak cable. According to it, Kayani, having learnt some lessons from predecessor General Pervez Musharraf, prefers staying behind-the-scenes, but affecting government’s decision-making. The cable said that Kayani was playing a role in issues like war against terror and stirring up a controversy over linking civil control of the military to increase American aid.

Former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri has gone on record to say that President Musharraf was particular to have the army on board when the formula on Kashmir was unveiled. Pervez, says Kasuri, would see to it that the army’s representative was present at every meeting on Kashmir to express his opinion. Only the lawyers’ movement stopped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visiting Pakistan and signing the agreement, according to Kasuri.

It is surprising that the Kashmiris were nowhere in the picture. On the one hand both India and Pakistan say that the solution would have to be acceptable to the Kashmiris as well. But when it comes to the actual discussion of settlement, they are not there. Maybe, they are consulted behind the scenes, but there is no such evidence.

Whatever doubts about the current phase of détente between India and Pakistan, it is hard to believe that the efforts of conciliation are a sham. My tour of Pakistan has convinced me more than ever before that people in Pakistan are keen on normalising relations with India. People on this side are equally keen on doing so, some Indians going to the extent of introspecting Afridi’s remark that the Indians are not large-hearted.

I can understand the BJP’s criticism on what it has referred as “cricket diplomacy” because the party’s entire foreign policy is based on anti-Pakistan thinking. But I am surprised to see the Left repeating the BJP’s arguments in denouncing the meeting between the two Prime Ministers. Maybe, the Left too is wooing the Hindu vote in the five state assemblies which have gone to the polls.

The crux of the problem, if I can repeat, is the mindset of bureaucrats in the two foreign offices. I wish it could change. Their mistrust in each other spoils everything at the last minute. The incident of two men, belonging to respective High Commissions, picked up is a recent example of that mindset.

A Pakistan High Commission driver was detained by the Indian authorities. They had found him loitering in a restricted area near Chandigarh airport. Granted that the official version is correct, the authorities could have intimated the officials of the Pakistan High Commission and ended the matter there and then, instead of detaining the driver for the whole day long.

The reaction of Islamabad was vindictive. It detained an official of the Indian High Commission and released him after a full day of custody at the request of India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao call to her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir. Unfortunately, the officials of the two countries were playing this game when the two Prime Ministers were deeply engrossed in talks on how to improve relations between India and Pakistan. Heavens would not have fallen if one side had shown patience and forbearance. This is what I interpret as mindset.

This opportunity to sit across the table to sort out differences has come after a long time in spite of Indian opinion being unhappy over the slow prosecution of the 26/11 assailants. Islamabad may too have a long list of grievances against New Delhi. This tit-for-tat attitude or what may be called a deficit in trust has not allowed the two to span the distance between them. And if they continue to do so, we may be wasting another 62 years as we have done since independence.

Whether the countries sort out things amicably today or tomorrow, or after another round of bickering followed by yet another bout of war, they must realise that there is no alternative to peace. The sooner this sinks in them, including the military in Pakistan, the better it would be for the region which has the largest number of poor in the world and a nearly 1.5 billion living in fear of a nuclear holocaust.

 
 
 
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