Originally Published 2004-01-27 09:31:37 Published on Jan 27, 2004
In one of the most recent analytical pieces on this website it was very wisely quoted ¿Don't hear, listen. Listen to what is not being said¿ (sic) as regards the Indo ¿ Pakistan peace talks and their decision to hold a composite dialogue. Thus ironically while most peaceniks, in Pakistan and India are hailing this recent thaw in relations it remains advisable to be cautiously optimistic for the time being.
Talks with Pakistan: Feel good factor of a different kind?
In one of the most recent analytical pieces on this website it was very wisely quoted "Don't hear, listen. Listen to what is not being said" (sic) as regards the Indo - Pakistan peace talks and their decision to hold a composite dialogue. Thus ironically while most peaceniks, in Pakistan and India are hailing this recent thaw in relations it remains advisable to be cautiously optimistic for the time being. This opinion is not being proffered for the mere reason of being conservative as regards Indo - Pak initiatives towards peace in Kashmir. Rather this opinion is based upon media reports emerging from India and Pakistan which convey the compulsions and significance for both countries on this road to peace. When delineated they fall into three broad categories; the economics of peace, domestic compulsions and international pressures.

Up until September and the UN General Assembly any mention of bilateral talks were denied vehemently by both sides. Regularly stated arguments were resorted to at frequent intervals clearly belying any interest in the resolution of the Kashmir conundrum. However while all the parleys at the political level were discontinuing at the economic level the same were clearly intensifying. In September 2003 an India-Pakistan CEO's Business Forum was launched by India's Foreign Affairs minister Mr. Yashwant Sinha. He voiced an opinion in favour of expanding bilateral trade between the two nations. And why shouldn't bilateral trade increase? Unauthorized illegal trade between the two nations is estimated at $2 billion whereas the legal trade is estimated to be a mere $200 - $250 million. Pakistan follows a very restrictive trading regime versus India primarily as it links the issue of Kashmir with the normalization of any bilateral economic ties. Thus actual volumes of trade have always remained limited. Now however there appears to be a distinct change in the way issues are approached vis-à-vis Pakistan. It should be noted that this author had in a previous article mentioned the veritable fork in the road as far as bilateral relations with Pakistan is concerned. There is a willingness to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan, a composite dialogue as it were, with Kashmir being only one of the issues for discussions. At the same time the political plane between New Delhi and Srinagar is being leveled to a certain extent with the decision to hold high level talks with separatist amalgamations. That Kashmir, the issue, has been relegated as a secondary cause in the bureaucratic lexicon of both India and Pakistan would be too early to declare. But one can definitely assert that it no longer remains the only issue for consideration for bettering bilateral ties. Thus would it be so difficult to imagine that the imperatives for peace with Pakistan, over Kashmir and any other outstanding issues may actually be determined via economic prospects and the accruable advantages of the same? That the economics of peace would play a major role in the times to come has also been ascertained by reports that suggest that trade and economic issues would be a priority for India and Pakistan in their composite dialogue rather than Kashmir. Then again the improved economic ties should not pose a problem in the long run. One can always cite the example of China and Taiwan. For all practical purposes and for all the razor edge tensions between the two nations, China and Taiwan still maintain healthy economic relations. In fact statistics reveal that bilateral trade for these two nations rose by 25% thereby exceeding US$50 billion this year. Thus despite increasing tensions trade volumes for Taiwan have been steadily increasing. The enormity of these statistics does not reflect the fact that up until a decade ago no formal economic relations existed between these two neighbours. The signing of the free trade agreement or SAFTA at Islamabad is an indication that both India and Pakistan are ready to trade with each other. Thus it would not be wrong to speculate that the current peace efforts were being dictated by the accruable economic advantages for India and Pakistan rather than by a desire to settle Kashmir. Were it so then it would truly mark a departure from previous efforts of this administration.

But the economic imperatives may not be the only factor leading up to the talks. For each of the leaders in India and Pakistan there are various factors at stake in initiating bilateral dialogue at this stage. For one there is this inherently logical reasoning which calls into question the need for a dialogue at this particular hour. After two almost fatal attacks on his life why would President Musharraf agree to talks with India, an act which may further anger the very people being suspected of being the masterminds behind the attacks? It could be theorized that for President Musharraf the only way to defy the militants and simultaneously assert his authority maybe to change tack on India and thereby Kashmir. As radical as it does sound this may well be one of the reasons that have resulted in the coming together of Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf at Islamabad. Then again there may have been little maneuverability for President Musharraf especially when Mr. Vajpayee declared that this may be his last attempt at forging peace between the two warring neighbours. Alternatively, skepticism would be paramount as to the timing of the sudden change of heart. Facing increasing criticism on the charges that Pakistan has been proliferating nuclear technology to countries like Iran, Libya and North Korea; this may well be an opportune time to show a change of heart on an issue as contentious as Kashmir and thereby Pakistan and General Musharraf's sincerity in resolving other outstanding issues.

Similarly in India talks on Kashmir could well serve the electoral and policy compulsions of the NDA government. Speculations are awash in the media about the now almost certain postponement of general elections, initially slated for September 2004. Thus the peace talks with Pakistan on the one hand and the Hurriyat on the other would be shining examples of a 'feel good' factor of a different kind. Both when taken together will serve as an invaluable electoral manifesto that can promote the secularity of the BJP led NDA government. Fringe voters may thus be influenced on the apparent perception that peace with Pakistan and within Kashmir was possible after reelection.

When one insulates all the implications on a probable peace dialogue with Pakistan the recent peace forays tend to be understood better. The last such compelling factor for the peace initiatives may well have come from the American pressure on both nations to resolve the Kashmir issue or at least appear that they were close to resolving the same. Though not out rightly, American presence and involvement in Kashmir has steadily and gradually been increasing. Statements from Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Secretary of State Colin Powell himself, have asserted that the United States has played an important role in facilitating the discussions between India and Pakistan. But to understand the extent of their involvement one just has to glance through the itinerary of diplomats visiting Kashmir in the past six odd months. The US deputy chief of missions and its current Charge d' Affairs Robert-O-Blake was the first foreign dignitary to meet with the Chairman of the moderate Hurriyat faction in Srinagar. Besides a number of American delegates, from the State Department and otherwise had met and held consultations with relevant groups, on Kashmir, in Delhi and Srinagar.

So this is what we have…the current peace initiatives when seen as a result of pressurizing economic, political and domestic compulsions. This author is of the fervent opinion that the Kashmir issue per se is not going to be resolved at least until after the general elections in which case a change of heart may well be expected on either sides. Thus for all those wanting to see more in these peace efforts than there is, a word of caution; be prepared for the worst.

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