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Wednesday, Sep 14, 2005
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WHEN PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf meet for dinner in New York on Wednesday to review what has been achieved on the bilateral front since their first meeting in September 2004, they should begin by accepting that there are really two peace processes under way, not one, and that some way has to be found of harmonising them.
The first process is the `composite dialogue,' which has completed two rounds and will enter a third in January 2006. Without in any way belittling the amount of official labour that has gone into each of this process' eight components, the results so far have been rather meagre. Indeed, the two concrete outcomes are the draft agreement on the pre-notification of missile tests and the exchange on the very eve of this year's New York summit of some 500 Indian and Pakistani prisoners.
On the other hand, the second process the political dialogue that the two principals have been having with each other has been highly productive. On the two occasions Dr. Singh and General Musharraf have met and had substantive discussions, they have managed to introduce new and dynamic elements into the relationship. In independently speaking of `soft borders' and of making borders irrelevant, the two men have produced something resembling a common political vocabulary that people on both sides seem quite comfortable with. Thanks to their leadership, we also have the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, the very real prospect of a gas pipeline linking Iran, Pakistan, and India, and much more. Compared to what they have achieved in just two meetings, the composite dialogue, then, seems like so much nitpicking.
This time last year, the Pakistani side was still looking for reassurances that the policy of engagement set in motion by the Vajpayee Government in January 2004 had the full backing of the new coalition that had come to power in India. Not only was Dr. Singh able to provide those assurances in ample measure, he also demonstrated a welcome willingness to go beyond the artificial limits imposed by his predecessor.
The joint statement issued by the two leaders on September 24, 2004, established three important points. First, that the implementation of confidence building measures (CBMs) of all kinds would "contribute to generating an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding" between the two countries. Secondly, "that possible options for a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the [Kashmir] issue should be explored in a sincere spirit and purposeful manner." Thirdly, that a gas pipeline via Pakistan to India "could contribute to the welfare and prosperity of the people of both countries and should be considered in the larger context of expanding trade and economic relations between India and Pakistan."
The reference to the "larger context" in the formulation on gas reflected the South Block bureaucracy's reticence at the time to look at the pipeline as a stand-alone issue. By January, however, the economist and strategist in Dr. Singh had managed to prevail over the conservatism of his advisers and the Union Cabinet authorised the Energy Minister to begin exploring the project in earnest. The Prime Minister's intervention was also crucial in getting the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus on the road after months of inconclusive, pedantic wrangling over what documents the passengers would be required to carry.
When the two leaders met again in April this year, it was General Musharraf's turn to overrule his advisers, who were opposed to more people-to-people contact across the Line of Control and dragging their feet over the proposed Sindh-Rajasthan train link and the opening of consulates in Mumbai and Karachi. The joint statement issued in New Delhi on April 18 not only set a deadline for these initiatives but, more importantly, introduced three important concepts that were vital to the peace process. First, the process was declared irreversible; secondly, it was declared that neither side would allow acts of terrorism to disrupt the relationship; and thirdly, that cross-Line of Control interaction would be extended to include trade via trucks.
Prime Minister Singh, on his part, made two commitments in an effort to reassure General Musharraf and his domestic constituency in Pakistan that India saw CBMs not as an end in themselves but as a via media for the resolution of disputes. Thus the April 18 joint statement spoke of continuing the discussion on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir "in a sincere and purposeful and forward looking manner for a final settlement" and also of the need "expeditiously" to find a solution to both the Sir Creek and Siachen issues. The reference to a "final settlement" of Kashmir was not new in the bilateral context. The phrase figured in the 1972 Shimla Declaration but had subsequently fallen out of favour in New Delhi. Its revival, in the context of the reference to "possible options" and the talk of soft borders, was a clear political signal that India was willing to move away from the administrative status quo in Kashmir even as it insisted the territorial status quo could not be altered.
If the Foreign Secretary-level talks on Kashmir have not so far managed even to scratch the surface of any "options," this is mainly because the level of confidence this requires is still not adequate. Infiltration and terrorism remain a problem, and the process of people-to-people interaction across the LoC is at a very early stage. The more this interaction takes place of buses, trucks, tourists, journalists, scholars, cultural workers, and even politicians in every divided region of the former princely state including Jammu-Doda-Rajouri and Kargil-Skardu, the better the prospects of the official dialogue on Kashmir will be. At some point, a demi-official commission consisting of academics and experts from both sides could be set up to examine the necessity and feasibility of cross-LoC administrative initiatives such as water resource management.
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