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Between the line

Enough is enough
April 21, 2010


It was a dinner hosted in honour of Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir at the High Commissioner’s residence at Delhi. The talks between India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and him had ended without any concrete result. I asked Bashir at the dinner whether Kashmir figured in their discussions. He said, ‘Yes’. But the most significant remark he made was in reply to my query if the ground covered behind-the-scenes would have to be walked over once again. He said they would pick up the thread from where it had been let off. “We would resume from the stage already reached,” Bashir said.

I thought I would mention this important conversation once the dust over the talks between the two foreign secretaries had settled down. I did not want to bring up Bashir’s remark at the time when the tempers were frayed in the wake of their then talks which took the two countries to nowhere.

Since Kashmir is the litmus test for Pakistan to judge India’s sincerity on relations between the two countries, the channels which existed behind-the-scenes can be reactivated without any difficulty. They can resume their effort from the point they had reached before the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai. This was the time when the composite talks got snapped. Obviously, Islamabad would have to bring the perpetrators to the book quickly because New Delhi seems to have put this as a precondition to any further dialogue.

If reports on the work done on Kashmir through the back channels were to be relied upon, then 80 per cent of the job is said to have been completed. I was present at the reception at Delhi where the then Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri declared from the podium that the settlement on Kashmir had been reached and only a formal announcement remained.

Only recently did Kasuri repeat at an Indian TV channel that the solution had been found and would have been signed but for the Pakistan government’s diversion to the situation created by the lawyers’ agitation in the country. Kasuri told me more or less the same thing when I met him last after the polls in Pakistan. He did not disclose the contours of the settlement but asked me to wait till the publication of his book.

If the two countries had reached the stage of agreement, they have only to cross the T’s and dot I’s. They should do that soon so that the 62-year-long dispute which has beleaguered relations between the two is out of the way. The state-to-state relationship between the two countries at a particular time also sets the tone for talks that the back channels conduct.

My reading, however, is that Kashmir is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is the mistrust which if not removed would give birth to some other Kashmir. Even then the present imbroglio has to be laid to rest since Pakistan considers Kashmir as the main irritant. Yet, the steps to remove mistrust are equally important because the solution to Kashmir alone may not normalize relations.

Islamabad’s contacts with different groups of the Hurriyat are not to the liking of New Delhi—they are at the telephone end of Pakistan High Commission—which finds them affected by what the rulers in Pakistan feel at a particular time. This is not necessarily dependent on developments in Kashmir.

Apparently, Islamabad is not happy over Kashmir’s domestic politics which has attained some equanimity. The pace of infiltration and the number of infiltrators from the Pakistani soil into Kashmir have gone up. This may be to put pressure on New Delhi to initiate talks on Kashmir or part of the strategy to keep the pot boiling. Whatever it is, the talks between the two countries cannot be a hostage to it for a long period.

Hardly has Kashmir settled when Pakistan has brought the water issue to the front burner. Pakistanis are bound to be greatly agitated about a problem that relates to their daily life. My impression is that Islamabad is indulging more in rhetoric than reality. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said in a recent statement that India was not to blame on water.

The Indus Water Treaty has well stood many pressures and provocation, including wars, for the last 60 years. Rivers Sutlej, Beas and Ravi have been allotted to India and the Chenab, Jhelum and Sind to Pakistan. None of the two can violate the sanctity of exclusive use of the three rivers to each. Disputes if not resolved mutually have to be referred to the World Bank which negotiated the agreement signed at Karachi by Jawaharlal Nehru and General Ayub some 50 years ago.

Some disputes have arisen over the use of water in Kashmir. The Indus Treaty does not allow even a drop for Kashmir’s own use, however justified. Even the generation of power by harnessing the run of water, allowed by the treaty, is dependent on Pakistan’s approval.

The Salal project built in Kashmir had to get the nod of Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto. The Baglihar dam, which generates only power, had to be changed in design. Islamabad referred the matter to the World Bank which appointed an expert to give his pronouncement. New Delhi had to modify the project accordingly. There is uproar in Pakistan over the proposed Kishanganj project in Kashmir. The project, still at the discussion stage, cannot go through until Pakistan gives its concurrence. Therefore, the criticism of India taking unilateral steps is wrong.

However, the fact remains that water in all the rivers is lessening. Climate changes are affecting India and Pakistan as they are the rest of the world. By politicizing the issues the water problem cannot be solved. Maybe, both countries should think of jointly developing the entire Indus basin on an integrated basis. In a way all six rivers will then belong as much to India as to Pakistan. This is a distant prospect, but it may be worthwhile for the governments and the peoples of both countries to seriously consider. Unfortunately, this cannot be done until the politics of hatred is eschewed and the two countries sit down across the table to tell each other enough is enough.

America has now become a mentor for both. Each one of them gauges how much Washington has tilted in the opponent’s way. Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on their visit to Washington reportedly told President Obama to use pressure to convince the other. But the two did not feel the need to meet each other to discuss the same point. This is the state of India-Pakistan relations. We have already wasted 60 years. Let’s not waste another 60 years.

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