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l September '04 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 4, No 5 l


Making the Indo-Pak Peace Work
Siddharth Srivastava

India’s Army chief N C Vij has said earlier this week that the level of cross-border infiltration from Pakistan to India has doubled when compared to the figures last year. While there had been some decline in infiltration levels till May this year after the Nov 23, 2003 cease fire between the two countries, these have increased in June and July with the current figures now reaching twice the level. This does not augur well for the incipient stage of the peace talks between the two neighbors.

One of the benchmarks on which India pegs its relations with Pakistan is the level of infiltration across the border, especially along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Indian portion of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The thinking, and justifiably so, is that infiltration of heavily armed terrorists in the J&K Valley cannot take place without the active complicity of the Pakistan Army deployed along the border. Implicit is also the reasoning that such militants must have been provided shelter and training in camps organized by the Pakistan Army. For long India has held the critical aspect of infiltration as the one most important factor in determining Pakistan’s intentions in dismantling the terror networks in the country as well as furthering the peace process.

The latest revelations by the Indian Army chief comes as a body blow to the peace process which is now increasingly seen to be heading towards a stalemate. The two major bugbears of Indo-Pak relations over the years --- the issue of Kashmir raised by Pakistan and infiltration by India have re-surfaced with a vengeance and threaten to smother all else, including progress in trade, road links between the Indian and Pakistan portions of J&K, deployment of troops at the Siachin glacier, oil supply lines through Pakistan and plenty more of the positive dynamics that can be generated once the two nations are in sync. The situation has not deteriorated to levels post-Kargil in 1999 when the war posturing continued for a long time. The High Commissions are at almost full strength, air, road and rail links have been restored from other parts of India, prisoners of war, fishermen and others who accidentally stray across the border are regularly let off; talks on nuclear weapons have also progressed satisfactorily. But, it is increasingly being felt that a cul-de-sac has been reached, with the air thick with suspicions once again with blame lying on the structural factors that seem to prevent both the sides from making any quantum progress.

From the Pakistan point of view, it is clear that the Army with a vested interest in keeping the Kashmir issue on the boil has prevailed over the sense of bonhomie that prevails at the people-to-people level, most visible in the India-Pakistan cricket series played earlier this year. The Pakistan Army sees simmering discontent over Kashmir as important to its maintaining a pre-dominant position in the country.  Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has been making increasingly belligerent remarks on Kashmir after a period of verbal restraint following the peace agreement with then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, in January 2004. Linking Kashmir to the peace process Musharraf has repeatedly said that a time frame has to be set to solve the Kashmir issue or else the peace talks will fail. . In a recent lashing, Musharraf said that the terror camps in Pakistan will not be dismantled until the Kashmir issue is solved. 

Musharraf’s recent bellicose postures is seen as an attempt to steer away from the ``Busharraf’’ tag that has stuck in Pakistan due to his perceived kowtowing to US dictates in taking on the terror networks in the country where he does not have too much room to maneuver. Kashmir becomes a convenient bashing point to show that he has a mind of his own. The other reason is that the Bush administration, facing an uphill task in the November elections, is concentrating on Musharraf key-holing the al-qaeda elements on the western border with Afghanistan, considered to be the roosting ground for Osama Bin Laden and his ilk, rather than the eastern border and Indo-Pak relations

The blame, however, does not lie entirely on Pakistan. The new Indian government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has not helped the cause too much either. If there was a singular achievement of the Vajpayee government, it was foreign policy, which was steered by the then prime minister himself. Vajpayee won not only the trust of the people of Pakistan but also the Pakistani establishment which saw in him a statesman and a person they could communicate their domestic apprehensions. If Vajpayee understood one thing about Indo-Pak relations it was the dominant position and sensitive handling of the Pakistan Army that any leader of Pakistan would have to contend with to push the peace process through. Manmohan Singh is a good man too, but does not command the stature of Vajpayee to have things his way, hemmed in by the compulsions of coalition politics as well as the towering presence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior ministers such as foreign minister Natwar Singh, with a mind of his own, as well as a habit of shooting his mouth once in a while.  Indeed, Vajpayee too gave in to many of the demands of the right wing elements of his party, including such blunders as not sacking Narender Modi after the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, but foreign relations, especially with Pakistan, remained his baby and he had his way with the able support of his principal secretary Brajesh Mishra, who pretty much functioned as the behind-the-scene foreign minister of India.

Manmohan too has begun to assert his fine pedigree, but being a career economist, has his mind fixed more on economic management of the country, especially with a focus on the poor, an area where Vajpayee failed. An official with the foreign ministry said, ``unlike the Vajpayee dispensation, the top management of the new government, including the prime minister, foreign minister as well as top officials such as the national security advisor J N Dixit have not managed to hit it off with the Pakistanis. The cloud of suspicion between the two countries that was dissipating under the previous government is beginning to re-appear.’’

The big question is where does one head from here --- there are various options --- wait for the elections in USA to be over for the new President to have the time and inclination to look beyond domestic compulsions and steer the process, even if denying any such third party intervention to the media; another option could be to designate Vajpayee, who cuts a sorry figure now sitting quietly in a rear seat of Parliament, as the chief peace negotiator with Pakistan; the third and most feasible option is that Manmohan, with active support from Sonia whom he cannot ignore due to her political status, leads the charge to don the mantle of Vajpayee, make a few great symbolic gestures such as a bus ride or a well advertised hug, a few high-sounding words to win the trust of the people of Pakistan who want peace as well as re-establish the earlier momentum.  The idea is to isolate the fringe jehadi elements that have taken root in Pakistani society and the Army and provide some breathing space to Musharraf or any leader of Pakistan to move forward. It is up to India to wrest the initiative, only then will or can Pakistan follow suit.

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