Originally Published 2004-05-19 11:14:43 Published on May 19, 2004
Several high-priority issues will need the new government¿s immediate attention as it assumes office. The Kashmir issue and its impact on the ongoing Indo-Pak entente should be one of them.
Stabilising Indo-Pakistan Relations
Several high-priority issues will need the new government's immediate attention as it assumes office. The Kashmir issue and its impact on the ongoing Indo-Pak entente should be one of them. Braving threats of dire consequences, boycotts, bombs, bullets and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the Kashmiri people have once again exercised their democratic right to elect their representatives to the Indian Parliament. This covenant of faith must find resonance in the new Parliament's attempts to find a just and honourable solution to the Kashmir issue, in keeping with the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

After the elections to the Lok Sabha, the government can now speak from a position of greater strength on behalf of the people of J&K. There has been further erosion in the clout enjoyed by the Hurriyat Conference. It is said that their voices carry only as far as the sound of their loudspeakers. In fact, the Hurriyat stands completely marginalised. This opportunity should be built upon to extend the dialogue process with the Hurriyat to indigenous Kashmiri militant organisations, without prior conditions but within the purview of the Indian Constitution.

From the operational point of view, the present situation in J&K can only be described as a strategic stalemate. Though the cease-fire on the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan has held up reasonably well for almost six months and infiltration remained at low ebb throughout the winter, the numbers of terrorist incidents in J&K and the consequent casualties have increased. Quite obviously, foreign mercenary terrorists, the so-called jihadis, are still present in large numbers and have adequate supplies of arms and ammunition. Their ISI "handlers" in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and in Pakistan itself are continuing to orchestrate and coordinate their operations. 

Since the remaining roots of terrorism in J&K now lie in POK and Pakistan, no further military successes can be expected. Even if Pakistan continues to desist from infiltrating additional mercenaries into J&K, an unlikely prospect, it will take years before the terrorists already present can be completely eliminated as "actionable" intelligence from the people is still a mere trickle. The induction of additional troops and vigorous counter-insurgency operations are counter-productive after a point and only serve to further alienate the people. Only when the Kashmiri people pick up courage, form active village defence committees to keep terrorists out of their villages and begin providing hard intelligence to the security forces, will a major change come about in the military situation. 

The internal security situation in Pakistan is deteriorating rapidly and its army is becoming increasingly embroiled in internal security duties, particularly in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where it is conducting coordinated operations with the United States (US) army to hunt down Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists. The Pakistan army is under US pressure to deliver quick results. It can ill-afford to remain simultaneously engaged on two fronts over a protracted period. It was for this reason rather than any change of heart on its agenda of annexing Kashmir at any cost that the Pakistan army agreed to a cease-fire on the LoC in J&K India must remain firm on the issue of dismantling terrorist training camps and other infrastructure across the LoC.

Quiet diplomacy has kept the Indo-Pak Composite Dialogue on track despite General Musharraf's belligerent rhetoric. There is little likelihood of quick results on Kashmir as India sees the present dialogue process as a means of maintaining the status quo and Pakistan perceives it as a means to change the status quo in its favour. Both the nations need to understand that disputes carried over from history need a long "cooling off" period before efforts can commence to resolve them. Even then, it is only after patient and protracted negotiations over many years that the contours of an emerging solution can be found. The strategic goal of the present dialogue process should be to generate stability in the Indo-Pak relationship rather than to provide quick-fix solutions.

It would help the dialogue process to disaggregate the agreed agenda and discuss each item separately. Progress on one should not he held hostage to progress on others. Issues such as the conflict on Siachen Glacier, the Tulbul navigation project, Wullar barrage and the disputed boundary along Sir Creek are not as intractable as the Kashmir issue and should be brought to the forefront. India's economic progress has brought about a change in the Pakistani mindset. There is mutual benefit in converting unofficial trade through third countries into official trans-border trade. Among other economic issues, the form of international guarantees for the overland natural gas pipeline from Iran should be taken up for discussion. The visa regime should be further liberalised to include new categories for instant visas.

Perhaps the most important bilateral issue to be discussed should be nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) as here the stakes are exceptionally high. The two nations should go beyond the nuclear CBMs agreed at Lahore and agree to set up monitoring centres with permanently manned hotlines between the two national command authorities for nuclear risk reduction. India and Pakistan should exchange and discuss nuclear doctrines to build confidence. India should make an offer to not cap short range ballistic missiles such as Prithvi and the Hatf series with nuclear warheads as these are inherently de-stabilising and in no way add to the quality of either India's or Pakistan's deterrence. The ultimate nuclear CBM would, of course, be to sign a mutual "no first use" treaty but that could wait at present. 

The Indo-Pak relationship is posed at a strategic crossroads. The two nations can seize the historic moment with both hands and exorcise the ghosts of over half a century of animosity and bitterness - or, they can continue to behave tactically and use the dialogue process to score new brownie points. In the latter case, neither the people nor history will forgive the present leaders for squandering the chance for peace and stability.

(The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.)
* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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