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Between the line

Kashmir awaits discussion
August 03 , 2011


I HAVE always held that relations between India and Pakistan will evolve. It will be a gradual development, steady and sure. This is what has been called a step by step approach. Pakistan adopted it at one time but gave it up because it wanted all problems to be solved at one go. Then India took up the step-by-step stand. Thus both wasted six decades in going back and forth. What was at their back of mind was that the history of thousands of years could not be wiped out in a jiffy. There was mistrust and prejudice. Sometimes this took the shape of hostilities.

Now both countries are on the same page. This was obvious after the meeting of foreign ministers at Delhi. They took the path of evolving good relations slowly, not dramatically. New Indian foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai has promised in his maiden interaction with the media that a substantive dialogue on all issues of common concern, a composite dialogue of sorts, would be on the top of agenda. His emphasise was again how to restore “trust and confidence.”

No doubt, mending fences and instilling confidence was in the minds of the two foreign ministers, S.M. Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar. They avoided rhetoric and opted for a gradual approach to step forward. Apart from increasing trade and travel between the two sides, the foreign ministers’ determination to strengthen “counter-terrorism cooperation” is the nub of the problem. Associating the concerned ministries and agencies in this endeavour is a correct step because they have their own agenda which has defeated all efforts to bring normalcy.

Yet the fact remains that what evokes trust is lacking. For example, there is very little progress in Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the 26 November attack on Mumbai. The court trying them has had three judges in the last three years. The new judge is yet to be appointed. New Delhi has been accommodative enough to begin talks even seeing hardly any progress on the 26/11 case. The step should not be viewed as unhinging of “new relationship from the 2008 attacks,” as Pakistan foreign secretary Salman Bashir gloated at Delhi, but as a reminder to Islamabad that India has resiled from its stand in the hope that the 26/11 culprits would be brought to book quickly.

Now that the much-awaited Pakistan commission to inspect the evidence on the attack is coming to India, the case may pick up speed. Yet the hearing at Brooklyn in the suburbs of New York is ominous. Relatives of Rabbi Gavrial, who was gunned down along with his pregnant wife during the Mumbai attacks, have sued Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in the Brooklyn federal court for wrongful death. The lawyer defending the accused has said the case could be ‘disastrous’ since its “negative reaction would undermine US goals in the region.”

The attorney has not mentioned India. But the verdict can delink again the talks between New Delhi and Islamabad. David Headily, a Pakistani-American national has already confessed that he did a detailed surveillance of the attack targets for LeT. The plot may get thicker. Pakistan should take India into confidence to tell that the elected government does not know what the ISI does. China, the closet friend of Pakistan, has also complained that the terrorists who attacked Xinjiang were trained in Pakistan. ISI chief Pasha has visited Beijing to assuage its fears.

Apparently, the Pakistan army, which must have cleared the talks, has felt that counter-terrorism cooperation with India must be firmed up to fight against the terrorists within Pakistan. Sharing intelligence is not enough. The two countries should jointly eliminate terrorism in the region. Islamabad must have realised by now that America has penetrated its territory with the CIA men and other agents. The CIA station chief in Islamabad, who oversaw the team that spotted Osama bin Laden, has left Pakistan for medical reasons amid “extremely tense” ties with the ISI head—the second time in less than a year that the US agency’s senior-most officer has exited the country, a media report said.

I am happy that the water issue was discussed threadbare. The erroneous impression in Pakistan is that India is to blame for lesser water in Chenab, Jhelum and the Indus, the three rivers allotted to it. Environments testify that man-made disasters have reduced the water flow. Foreign Ministers and the officials of both countries have correctly re-imposed their faith in the Indus Water Treaty which has stood the test of differences in the last 50 years. Under the treaty, India has to have the approval of Pakistan even if the run of water is touched in any way. Kashmir’s demand for water is genuine but the treaty does not give any share to the state.
For reasons not known to the public, the two foreign ministers did not discuss Kashmir. This matter remains uppermost in the minds of Punjabis, who constitute a majority in Pakistan. However, the Pakistan foreign minister’s behaviour was strange when she met the Hurriyat leaders at Delhi on the eve of her meeting with the Indian foreign minister. I wonder how the Hurriyat leaders could have flown to Delhi if the Indian government had not blessed the move. Some of the Hurriyat leaders who met her were under house arrest at Srinagar.

Maybe, the behind-the-scene channels between the two countries are nearing a solution which could have been jeopardized if the Hurriyat leaders had been annoyed. A better way out would have been to give an outline of the proposed formula. (Pakistan foreign secretary Salman Bashir told me after the last meeting of Foreign Secretaries at Delhi that they would pick up the thread on Kashmir from where it was left off during President General Musharraf’s regime. Then the formula, without changing the present border, was reportedly through).

Yet, I have not been able to understand, much less appreciate, the line followed by the Hurriyat leaders. True, it is important for them to keep Pakistan in the loop. But equally true is the need to talk to India. I have vainly argued with them that without the consent of Indian parliament no formula or settlement can be final. They have not been able to win over either Jammu or Ladakh. Some Hurriyart leaders see the point and have forced the hardliners to quit their ranks. This is not enough. They have to span the distance between them and India. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. The Hurriyat should have learnt this from experience.

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