Originally Published 2005-12-21 07:25:06 Published on Dec 21, 2005
As the Year 2005 draws to a close, it is worthwhile to find out where are we today on the path of reconciliation with Pakistan? Is there a process to the peace?
Hardly a process to peace
As the Year 2005 draws to a close, it is worthwhile to find out where are we today on the path of reconciliation with Pakistan? Is there a process to the peace?

The October earthquake, ironically, had provided a great opportunity for both the countries to break free from their historical animosity and work towards a meaningful and cooperative framework for bilateral relations. The historical suspicion and distrust was, perhaps, too heavy and entrenched for the political and military leadership of Pakistan to shed. 

The Indian gestures for assistance was turned down rudely, primarily because of the Pakistan Army's deeply held suspicion that India would exploit the opportunity to annex portions of Pakistan held Kashmir. Islamabad had another serious concern. At least, one of its premier nuclear establishments at Kahuta had suffered structural damage due to the earthquake and the authorities had no intention to let India know about the extent of the damage.

There is no doubt, we lost a chance to fast-forward the reconciliation process. This does not mean that both the countries have given up hope on the peace process. It is going to take the scheduled path with the next crucial meeting point in January 2006, when Foreign Secretaries of both the countries will meet to review the progress made on the Composite Dialogue front.

Let it be made clear, no big solutions are in the offing. The resolution of the Siachen dispute will have to wait for more time. Reasons are quite a few. The primary hurdle is Pakistan's refusal to identify the actual ground position they hold on the glacier. Without such a declaration, it would be next to impossible for India to contemplate a withdrawal because it will, first, by default, put India in the dock for allegedly violating the Shimla Agreement and being branded as an aggressor. The traditional Indian stand is that it has only occupied a portion of its own territory.

There could, however, be progress on the issue of Sir Creek. The most viable solution calls for drawing of a dividing line. There is also a growing realisation on the part of both the countries that haste will not help the process. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also referred to the trust deficit between the two countries. This deficit can only be met with time and nurturing of the peace process. In short, the peace process will roll on without any pre-determined schedule.

Is there an out-of-the-box solution on Jammu & Kashmir? The best of the brains on both sides of the border have been struggling with a solution for more than half-a-century. All in vain though. There cannot be a solution to the issue of Kashmir. The issues involved are too many and too complex to be addressed by a single solution. On Kashmir, the Indian policy has been marked by confusion, rhetoric and compromises. 

From an unambiguous stated position of keeping Kashmir out of the purview of India-Pakistan relations, India over the past few years has allowed Kashmir to occupy the centre-stage in the bilateral discussions. India has also failed to effectively argue for cessation of terrorism in Kashmir as a uncompromising condition for any debate on Kashmir. More sensible approach for the time being would be to attempt a multi-layered approach, which is of course easier said than done.

If anyone is looking for an early solution, the answer is status quo at present, instead of complicating it; put down terrorism, open up Kashmir for investment and trade, give people from Kashmir and outside Kashmir the freedom of travel and trade. The political barriers have to be pulled down for economic upsurge. The people of Valley should have a stake in peace and prosperity. They are as much Indians as rest of the countrymen are, and deserves to be part of the resurgent India.

Can terrorism derail this dream? The Indian policy on terrorism from Pakistan has been non-existent to a large extent. The Government's policies and reactions to acts of terrorism have been influenced greatly by domestic political compulsions and external interventions. There has never been any consistent policy to tackle terrorism. There is a clear gap between policy and response. Currently, there is an increasing proclivity to give precedence to economic and social factors over security concerns from Pakistan. Earlier, on several occasions, military compulsions over-ruled diplomatic considerations. This is a pointer to the absence of a synchronised response. 

As is clear from the Indian reactions to the recent attacks in Kashmir and Delhi, India is committed to the peace process and is not in a mood to derail the process. What cannot be discounted is the threshold. There is one in this case too. The Government of India will not be able to withstand a terrorist attack similar to the one on the Parliament in December 2001. A massacre could also unsettle the stand. Therefore, a great responsibility rests with President Pervez Musharraf to keep terrorist groups operating from his country under control. He should keep the promise he made to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on January 6, 2004, that he will not allow his country to be used for terrorist attacks against any other country.

Intrinsically linked is the question whether President Musharraf can rein in the jihadis as he promised. Yes, he can. Most of the terrorist and extremist groups in Pakistan have either been set up or funded generously by the Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence directorate. Both function under the Chief of Army Staff. President Musharraf being the COAS can, and should, order the ISI and Army to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure existing in Pakistan. Early this month, even the US 9/11 Commission categorically stated that Pakistan continued to be a sanctuary for terrorists. This must end, and President Musharraf has the key.

There are quite a few people in the country who advocate use or force to destroy the jihadi camps across the border. This is a question which needs to be addressed at some point of time. If terrorist attacks continue as unrelenting as in the mid-1990s or expand to cover a large landmass, it will become imperative for the Indian Government to opt for a military option. This is an option that has not been given up, but is not likely to taken up easily.

Why has the US been so generous to Pakistan on the issue of terrorism? The US views Pakistan as a strong ally in its war on terrorism. Pakistan has its utility for the broader strategic game which the US wants to create and play in the Asian continent, primarily to keep a tab on India and counter China's phenomenal growth as an economic and military power. In the war on terrorism, which has far higher geo-political objectives than capturing Osama bin Laden, Pakistan has provided the US a strategic base to operate from. Terrorism in India is a minor issue for the US.

How important is people-to-people contact given that Islamabad is governed by military, mullah and jihadi combine and not by democratic norms? People-to-people contact is one of the cornerstones of peace and reconciliation, especially in the context of India and Pakistan where people of both the countries share history with such intimacy. This helps in building bridges, create constituencies of peace in each other's communities and countries, not add to (if not remove) the bitterness of history and create a public opinion for peace and not war.

All said, 2006 could well prove critical for peace in South Asia.

The author is Senior Fellow and Director, Information Services, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, December 21, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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