Originally Published 2004-10-06 09:51:53 Published on Oct 06, 2004
By all accounts, the meeting between Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in New York appears to have gone off quite well.
Running Faster to Maintain Status Quo?
By all accounts, the meeting between Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in New York appears to have gone off quite well. Both sides avoided acrimony and even managed to issue a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to the dialogue process that is currently underway. It would however be cynical to dismiss the joint statement issued after the meeting as a classic example of high diplomacy with issues of concern to either side being touched upon to give both sides something to go back home with. Many would view the outcome of the meeting with relief simply because the dialogue process, which appeared to be on somewhat shaky ground before the summit meeting, has not broken down. But something more than all this happened at New York. By asking the Pakistani military ruler to lay out the various solutions that he has in mind to solve the Kashmir dispute, prime minister Manmohan Singh has given a fillip to the peace process. What is more, by making this request he has put the dialogue process into a higher gear but without necessarily changing anything. In fact, as far as Kashmir is concerned the peace process will now follow the Alice-in-Wonderland trajectory of moving faster simply to maintain the status quo,. 

By inviting proposals from Gen. Musharraf, the prime minister has moved the dialogue to the third stage of Gen. Musharraf's four-stage formula to solve the Kashmir dispute. The four stages of this formula were: Stage one, start a dialogue; Stage two, acknowledge Kashmir is a dispute or an issue that needs to be solved; Stage three discussing possible solutions to the Kashmir problem, and eliminating those solutions that are not acceptable to either of the two sides and the Kashmiris; Stage four, reaching a solution that is acceptable to all the involved parties. Until now, India was unwilling to admit explicitly that Kashmir was a dispute between the two countries. But by asking Gen. Musharraf to spell out the various possible solutions - Musharraf has claimed that there are 12 possible solutions to the Kashmir issue - Manmohan Singh has taken the peace process to the third stage of Musharraf's four stage roadmap. As a result, India has signalled a serious intention to examine possible solutions to the Kashmir issue. 

This move on part of the Indian prime minister will cut a lot of slack for Musharraf who can now flaunt the Indian willingness to discuss possible solutions as a major movement forward. His critics and detractors within and outside the Pakistani military and political establishment will be disarmed and if the General actually wishes to wind down the jihad factory then he will now have an opportunity to do so. Most importantly, it buys a lot of more time for the peace process than would otherwise have been possible. The threat that zero movement on Kashmir could easily derail the peace process has now been removed. 

But taking the dialogue process to Stage three doesn't in any way compromise India's position on Kashmir. If anything, by quickening the pace on the Kashmir track, there is a greater possibility of forward movement on the other tracks, namely trade and commerce, people-to-people exchanges and nuclear risk reduction. There may also be some breakthrough on other items on the agenda of the composite dialogue - Siachen, Tulbul navigation project and Sir Creek. The difference between faster pace on Kashmir and forward movement on the other tracks will be that in case of Kashmir the two sides will be running faster but only to maintain status quo while on other tracks they will actually be moving forward. In fact as far as Kashmir is concerned both sides will now be seen to be working towards a mutually acceptable solution, even though on the ground nothing will change.

By putting the ball in Pakistan's court Manmohan Singh has forced the Pakistani side to come out with concrete proposals and alternatives for solving the Kashmir issue. Since it is Pakistan and not India that wishes to change the status quo in Jammu and Kashmir, the onus with coming with alternative solutions rests on Pakistan. But obviously, any solution that Pakistan now presents to the Indian side will exclude their traditionally stated policy of asking for implementation of UN resolutions calling for a plebiscite on Kashmir. Since this proposal is not acceptable to India, little purpose will be gained by bringing it up as a possible solution. Similarly, just as plebiscite will not form part of the Pakistani proposals, converting the LoC into an international border will also not be a solution that Pakistan will propose. Therefore any proposals that the Pakistanis come out with will have to be fresh and accommodative enough to merit India's serious attention. 

As and when the Pakistanis come with their proposals, the two countries will perhaps for the first time ever start discussing actual alternatives on Kashmir that move beyond their traditionally stated positions. But formulating fresh alternative solutions to the Kashmir issue is easier said than done. Until now Pakistanis have spoken in very general terms about the various possible solutions to the Kashmir issue. They will now have to spell out each of the options in great detail. Every such option will first be discussed threadbare within Pakistan before it is proposed to India. Only after the Pakistanis are confident that they will be able to sell their proposed solution back home that they will present it to the Indians. The Indian side will then examine the proposal very closely at the governmental level. Chances are that almost all of the proposals presented by Pakistan will be rejected at this level. But there is the possibility of the Pakistanis making some proposal that the government of India could consider acceptable. Even if this happens, any government in India will have to forge a political consensus in the country around such a proposal before it accepts the proposal. For the foreseeable future at least, it would be impossible to forge a national consensus in India around any proposal that either seeks to shift the LoC in any major way or seeks to dilute Indian sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir. 

Therefore what is likely to happen is that Pakistan will propose and India will dispose. While this may appear to be Indian rigidity, it is also a necessary part of the process of elimination of unacceptable solutions. This process of elimination will however be a very time consuming task because every proposal will go through a process that will take a few months before it is finally rejected. During this period, negotiations on other tracks will be continuing and hopefully progressing. The Indian side appears to be placing its money on progress on the other tracks which it believes will transform the political, religious and territorial nature of the dispute and make it more amenable to a solution. And in the event a solution is not possible, making the problem in Kashmir more manageable. If the peace process ultimately ends up making the Kashmir problem manageable to the satisfaction of the involved parties, it will have adequately served its purpose.

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