Monday, Oct 06, 2003
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By K.K. Katyal
THE STALEMATE in India-Pakistan official relations could not have been deeper. What else is the meaning of the bitter exchanges between their leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf, in the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month and the unlikelihood of an engagement in the near future? The spat at New York was both the cause and effect of the deterioration in bilateral ties and, while both the sides are responsible for it, Pakistan's share of the blame is bigger. It was the first to create hurdles for the peace process, set in motion by Mr. Vajpayee five months ago. The step-by-step effort would have progressed and the bilateral ties reverted to the pre-December 13 stage had Pakistan not taken an inflexible stand on the issue of over-flights. The peace bid was jeopardised avoidably. The process which began with the resumption of the New Delhi-Lahore bus service and with the High Commissioners back in their positions, ground to a halt. The subsequent steps like the restoration of air and rail links did not materialise.
On its part, New Delhi was inexplicably tough. It did indicate its willingness to take part in the SAARC summit, due to be held in Islamabad in the first week of January next year (though the note of equivocation was not altogether absent), but ruled out bilateral talks on the sidelines. The reason continued influx of terrorists from Pakistan across the Line of Control.
New Delhi could not be blamed for taking a serious view of the unabated infiltration and the resultant high level of terrorist violence in the Kashmir Valley. But is the "no" to engagement the best and the most effective way of forcing Pakistan to see reason? Primarily, it is for the security forces to frustrate the nefarious designs of intruders. Obviously this job has not been effectively discharged and, as such, the first priority is to address the deficiencies in the operational set-up. Simultaneously, diplomatic channels need to be fully utilised not boycotted to impress upon Pakistan the urgency and the importance of depriving the jehadi outfits of the official patronage (and all that goes with it). No amount of sophistry by the establishment in Islamabad could hide what is openly stated and recognised in Pakistan that jehadi groups help in raising the cost of "occupation" of Jammu and Kashmir by India.
Informal talks on the occasion of the SAARC summit as distinct from a formal, structured summit between Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf can be useful in conveying appropriate messages. There cannot be a guarantee for satisfactory results, but the situation cannot be worse than the outcome of a boycott or the no-talks approach. At the same time, there is an odd chance of a pause in negative trends. Even at the risk of repetition, it is in order to cite the remark of a former West-German Chancellor, Willy Brandt. Asked about the outcome of his pet policy, ostpolitik (engagement with the Eastern side), he quipped: "It is wonderful. Previously we had no relationship. Now we have bad relationship."
New Delhi's stand is untenable in another context too. It was at India's instance that a specific reference, making a case for informal consultations, was incorporated in the SAARC declarations year after year. That was New Delhi's response to Pakistan's demand to amend the association's charter to do away with the embargo on discussions of bilateral, contentious issues within the SAARC framework.
The relevant para, under the heading "enhancing political cooperation", said: "the heads of States or governments reiterated their commitment to the promotion of mutual trust and understanding and, recognising that the aims of promoting peace, stability and amity and accelerated socio-economic cooperation may best be achieved by fostering good neighbourly relations, relieving tensions and building confidence, agreed that a process of informal political consultations would prove useful in this regard." At last year's summit at Kathmandu, another sentence was added to emphasise that "this process would contribute to the appreciation of each other's problems and perceptions as well as for decisive action in agreed areas of regional cooperation". Having succeeded in providing for informal consultations outside the formal SAARC structure, it is odd for India to run away from the process.
In the past, India had to do some defensive explaining for its lack of enthusiasm for talks with Pakistan. As seen by the world community, India's stand was not in keeping with its insistence on bilateralism (as against Pakistan's plea for a third-party role) and its adherence to the Shimla agreement (committing the two sides to bilateral dealings).
Some in the foreign policy establishment as also among strategic affairs commentators have a dismissive approach towards SAARC, its declarations and specific formulations. They have no use for the "platitudes", contained in the "huge mass of words". According to others, SAARC had lost its relevance, with one member country Pakistan choosing to ignore the core item of its agenda, economic cooperation. As such, so goes this argument, there is no need to get perturbed if New Delhi pays scant attention to SAARC. Because of this mindset, India's disregard of the "informal consultation" plea does not evoke concern that it ought to do.
Come to think of it, India-Pakistan dealings (or non-dealings) are a hostage to the compulsions of their leaders. They have to play balancing games to satisfy and placate various lobbies or pressure groups. In Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf announced a package of measures against terrorist outfits (in his speech on January 12 last year) in order to ward off pressures from Washington. The purpose was served. Whether he showed seriousness in implementing his assurance and whether the jehad in Kashmir was covered by his package was a moot point. But what he said was music to American ears. Later, when religious fundamentalists protested against the sell-out of national interests and appeasement of Americans, the General went slow on his half-measures. The jehadis were pacified when either the ban on militant outfits was lifted, or was not enforced, and they were allowed to function and collect funds with impunity. The protest lost its sting, even though perceptive sections in the country saw through the General's game. There were no takers for the official view that the Government did not act under U.S. pressure.
A recent comment by a noted human rights activist, Asma Jahangir, spoke for itself. "We are supposed to believe that the recent developments in India-Pakistan relations have come about", she said, "without any external pressure, that a deep sense of anguish for the poor of the subcontinent has moved the leaders to give peace and friendship another chance. Suddenly Pakistan's custodians of nuclear weapons are willing to bury their `baby' with their own hands if India follows suit, all for the sake of `peace'. Even `ideologues' are threatening to lead a peace march to Wagah." Then followed this barb "such complete and sudden change of heart is only viewed in Indian and Pakistan films. But now it seems to have afflicted the governments and semi-official hard-liners as well. Hopefully the saga will end happily. So far the theme seems unreal and actors have overplayed their part".
In India, the case of Mr. Vajpayee was no different. Whether or not there was any pointed nudge by Washington, he did feel pressured into making a gesture for peace to Pakistan. In the post-Iraq scenario, with unilateralism on the ascendancy, it was better for those involved in regional conflicts, he said, to resolve their problems by themselves. Whatever the motive, the initiative seemed to click, with his Pakistani counterpart, Zafarullah Jamali, reciprocating the gesture promptly. The start seemed promising but then, as already mentioned, serious snags developed. Behind the slowdown that followed was the unmistakable role of domestic pressure groups the hard-liners in the Sangh Parivar, in the case of India. The process of peace with Pakistan was the last thing they wanted in the run-up to the crucial Assembly elections. The threat to internal security apart from the dangers posed by infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir for which Pakistan was regarded a villain, is to be the major item of the BJP's electoral platform. Any softening towards Islamabad clearly did not fit into these domestic factors. Hence the pressures against the peace process.
Hardliners in India and Pakistan sustain each other through their actions. How their pressures are to be de-linked from the decision-taking processes is the main task for the two Governments. They seem ill equipped to meet this challenge. The outlook, as such, is gloomy.
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