Friday, Oct 24, 2003
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THE CABINET COMMITTEE on Security has displayed boldness and creativity in crafting a new package of proposals for Pakistan to consider. This is very much part of the Vajpayee Government's policy of engaging actively with Pakistan and promoting bilateral contacts and interactions in several areas notwithstanding the bitter differences that exist between the two countries. If implemented, the twelve-proposal package will enhance the contacts between the people of the two countries and reduce mutual suspicion and hostility. India has consistently argued that improving and expanding bilateral relations need not wait for a resolution of the major or `core' issues in dispute. With these concrete proposals, New Delhi has given an incentive to the people of Pakistan to challenge their leadership's view that the core issues need to be resolved first, as a precondition for full normalisation. An intent to break the impasse between India and Pakistan is also reflected in the Prime Minister's decision to travel to Islamabad for the SAARC summit in January next year. This effort to de-link discussions on the wider issues affecting South Asia from the issues that bedevil India-Pakistan relations must be persisted with. Given the outcome of two previous attempts, the Vajpayee Government has prudently decided to refrain from any summit-level diplomacy. It would prefer to wait for concrete evidence that Pakistan has ended its support for cross border terrorism before venturing on political summitry again. If Islamabad has been taken by surprise by New Delhi's offer, it has responded positively enough. The hope is that the engagement exercise this time will be both wide and sustained.
The offer to start a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad is the most politically loaded of the proposals. India has not abandoned its claim to that part of Jammu and Kashmir occupied by Pakistan since 1947. However, the offer to treat the Line of Control as an effective border with a crossing-point near Uri represents a tantalising hint at a possible solution to the main issue in dispute. While Pakistan has resisted the idea of converting the LoC into the international border, it might now come under pressure from its own rhetoric, which has harped on the point that all Kashmiris should be able freely to interact with each other. Pakistan might need to reappraise its views on the LoC now that India has proposed a practical way of popular interaction.
The proposal to deal sympathetically with fishermen who stray across the maritime boundary has not come a day too soon. Both Governments have treated this class of people in a shoddy manner. The offer of medical treatment to 20 more Pakistani children is an effort to build on the tremendous goodwill generated by the Baby Noor experience. Those who were forced across the border at Partition will welcome the chance to retrace their steps by walking through the Wagah checkpoint. In proposing a number of ways of travel between the two countries, New Delhi has come up with a practical approach without appearing to compromise on principle. It has been judged unnecessary for India to give any guarantees about overflight facilities as the precondition for restoring air links. It has offered alternative modes of travel that are more affordable and accessible to a greater number of people. The proposals include a ferry service between Karachi and Mumbai; the restoration of a road or rail link between Sindh and Rajasthan; an increase in the capacity of the Delhi-Lahore bus service; and the restoration of the Samjhauta Express. The best hope for an upturn and eventually a breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations is for ordinary people to realise that constructive engagement is the only sensible path and that a climate of trust and cordiality is needed to tackle and resolve hard issues.
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