Originally Published 2004-08-02 06:01:21 Published on Aug 02, 2004
Pakistan's military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf has seemingly upset the Indians by insisting on a specific time frame within which a solution to the Kashmir issue acceptable to India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris is worked out within the framework of the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan.
Time Frame  for Kashmir Solution
Pakistan's military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf has seemingly upset the Indians by insisting on a specific time frame within which a solution to the Kashmir issue acceptable to India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris is worked out within the framework of the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan. Over the last few weeks, Musharraf has repeatedly announced that the dialogue on Kashmir with India cannot be open ended and must reach a satisfactory conclusion. The Indian foreign office has expressed its 'disappointment' with the insistence of Gen. Musharraf for a time frame for solving the Kashmir issue. While the Indian foreign minister, Kunwar Natwar Singh, expressed satisfaction over his meetings in Islamabad with his Pakistani counterpart and the Pakistani military dictator, he nevertheless diplomatically rebuked the General by saying that seeking an acceptable solution to Kashmir was not a 100 metres race. Despite this the Pakistani foreign office has taken a cue from the military ruler of the country and has repeatedly insisted on a specified time frame within which discussions on Kashmir should reach a satisfactory conclusion. <br /> <br /> Just when it appeared that Pakistan was probably getting off its Kashmir hobby horse, Gen. Musharraf's insistence on a time frame has put a spoke in the slowly turning wheel of India-Pakistan reconciliation. Once again Kashmir is emerging as the big stumbling block in an effort towards normalising relations between the two countries. This is hardly surprising because frankly Kashmir is the big sticking point between India and Pakistan and sooner or later notwithstanding the bonhomie generated by the cricket series in Pakistan, Kashmir was going to emerge as the most challenging part of the composite dialogue. Unlike other components of the composite dialogue, the positions of India and Pakistan on Kashmir are so divergent and seemingly irreconcilable that the entire dialogue process would ultimately depend on how India and Pakistan handled this one issue.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> While many Indian observers would find the Pakistani insistence on a specified time frame a ploy to spoil the atmosphere of talks and ultimately derail them, it is important to try and understand the Pakistani ruler's compulsions. Many Pakistanis have pointed out that while the Pakistani establishment, including Gen. Musharraf, have displayed a lot of flexibility, the Indians have adopted a very rigid attitude on Kashmir. They point out that Gen. Musharraf has gone to the extent of discarding the UN resolutions on Kashmir which formed the basis of Pakistan's case on Kashmir. Yet, the Indian government's position has not shifted a millimetre from its traditional stand that Kashmir is an inalienable part of India and therefore non-negotiable. So much so that around the time the two foreign secretaries were talking on Kashmir, the Minister of State for External Affairs was making a statement in parliament about how much area of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is under illegal occupation of China and Pakistan. No doubt, India's 'rigidity' and Pakistan's 'flexibility' can be explained on the grounds that Pakistan is being flexible about something it doesn't possess, while India is being rigid about something it is in possession of. <br /> <br /> Nevertheless, the Pakistanis do have a point when they point to the politics of the Kashmir issue and its repercussions on their domestic politics. Beyond a point, Indian refusal to show any flexibility (no matter how symbolic it might be) makes life difficult for the Pakistani regime. Ultimately, it all gets reduced to a question of survival for the any government in Pakistan, even if such government happens to be of a military strongman. What the Pakistanis are saying is that the India leadership must be considerate and sympathetic to the political concerns of the Pakistani counterparts. Unless the Pakistani side has something to show to its people on Kashmir, its survival in office will become untenable. The Pakistanis complain that the Indian side is stone-walling on Kashmir even while it continues to make bold proposals on other issues, especially on confidence building measures. They say that bilateral relations cannot be one-way street in which the Indians make proposals and the Pakistanis meekly accept them. Even if the proposals made by India to increase the level of confidence between the two countries are good and sensible and acceptable, the Pakistanis feel that they have to obstruct them simply so that the Indian side doesn't feel that everything they propose will be accepted by Pakistan. On the other hand the Pakistanis also complain that when it comes to any proposal by the Pakistani side to increase the people to people contacts, the Indian side again stone-wall. For instance, the Pakistani side is very keen to open the border at Wagah for travel of people. The Indian side, for some inexplicable reason, continues to agree to this most convenient mode of travel.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> On the issue of travel there is again a stumbling block on the Srinagar - Muzaffarabad bus service. While both India and Pakistan are keen to open this service, the big sticking point is on the travel documents that will be mutually acceptable. The Indian side insists on country passports and visas, while the Pakistanis insist of UN documents. The Pakistanis see travel on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route on Indian passports as a tacit acceptance of the line of control as an international border between the two countries, something that is at present anathema for the Pakistan. The Indians however insist that travel of an Indian passport will in no way change the nature of the LoC and they also say that many Kashmiris from both sides of the divide already travel to the other side on the same documents. Therefore, using these same documents on the Srinagar - Muzaffarabad bus will be without prejudice to the case of either country. The moot point here is whether some via media is possible so that this most important confidence building measure can be implemented. Many Pakistanis say that both sides could follow the Pakistan-Afghan agreement under which a common document was issued by the two countries to Pashtun tribesmen living on either side of the Durand line. Something similar could be worked out for the Kashmiris. <br /> <br /> The other big complaint that the Pakistanis have is about the glacial pace of the dialogue, especially on Kashmir. There is some confusion on this count in the Pakistani mind. On one hand the Pakistanis say that no quick solutions can be expected. On the other hand the Pakistanis want some quick movement. The only thing that explains this dichotomy is the fact that the Pakistanis, like many Indians, realise that the current phase of Indo-Pak relations offers a golden opportunity to normalise relations. They understand that if this opportunity is lost and the goodwill that has been generated among the peoples of the two countries is dissipated, then it could be years before another such opportunity presents itself.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This is really the issue which should occupy the Indian mind. If India is really serious about improving relations with Pakistan - and it is entirely possible that India actually seeks its interests in continued hostility with Pakistan - then while keeping its core interests in tact, India must explore all the possibilities of normalising Indo-Pak relations without necessarily trying to score political or diplomatic points over the other country. In pursuit of this objective India must try and evolve a win-win formula, which not only protects Indian interests but alos gives a face0saving to the other side. This then will necessarily involve 'give and take' - a phrase that politicians and bureaucrats pretending to be statesmen are fond of using.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> A degree of statesmanship is absolutely essential if the relations between India and Pakistan are to move out of the morass in which they are currently caught. At the same time, while statements calling for a specific time-frame might win some succour for the Pakistani military junta, they raise expectations and indeed hackles on either side, something that is not entirely conducive for the dialogue process. Pakistan's Generalissimo must understand the bitter truth of Indo-Pak relations that neither of the governments that enter into a settlement with the other side, will last to savour the benefits of peace. The fruits of peace will be enjoyed by those who oppose a settlement, no matter how honourable it is. The BJP lost its core constituency on the peace issue, even though it didn't deliver a settlement. So anyone in power in either India or Pakistan who genuinely is interested in peace must at the same time be willing to pay the price for bringing peace to the subcontinent. <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em>
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