The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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As the snows melt in Kashmir, would a thaw also set in the India-Pakistan relationship' Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has offered to re-engage Islamabad. If Pakistan were to say that it would stop cross-border terrorism, Vajpayee has promised to restart the dialogue process the very next day.

Will Pakistan make such a statement' Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, has expressed happiness at the “positive indications from India which could be pursued to greater interactive process”. But he has stopped short of committing Islamabad to stopping cross-border terrorism.

On the face of it, Vajpayee’s offer of talks is bound to be seen in Pakistan as nothing more than playing to the gallery and as a pre-emptive move in the context of the impending visits of the United States of America’s deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, to New Delhi in May and of the deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, to Washington later this summer. However, the Vajpayee move may be all this and more. It may, therefore, be worth taking a closer and less cynical look at Vajpayee’s statement.

His formulation in Srinagar represents a slight shift in the Indian position — from a verifiable end to cross-border terrorism to one where a declaration of intent itself would be enough to trigger the dialogue process. This is a movement forward.

Vajpayee’s objectives in making the new peace offer seem to be three-fold: attempting to loosen the grid-lock in the India-Pakistan relationship, preparing the Indian public for the peace talks and taking the initiative for regional peace before being subjected to external pressure.

In saying that there are lessons to be learnt from the Iraq war, Vajpayee is telling the Indian masses that if a nation refuses to address issues that impinge on regional and global peace, then it should be prepared for external intervention. Wary of US pressure, he wants to seize the initiative while there is still time.

His statement in Parliament on Wednesday seeks to re-emphasize the seriousness of his peace initiative and attempts to mould parliamentary and public opinion for peace. This is necessary because the communal atmosphere within the country is extremely adverse. A recent opinion poll by a television channel has shown that people are not jumping with joy at the prospect of dealing with Islamabad again.

However, Vajpayee seems to believe that India has made several mistakes in relation to Kashmir in the past. Perhaps he also realizes that successfully settling the intractable Kashmir issue is the only way he can earn a place in history — otherwise in the last two decades, prime ministers in India have almost been a dime a dozen.

Several factors would determine a Pakistani decision to disavow cross-border terrorism. In fact, there are good reasons for Islamabad not to end cross-border terrorism. The machinery to do so has been put together painstakingly over the years and from Islamabad’s point of view, promoting cross-border terrorism has worked very well. Even more importantly, Pakistanis believe that by ending cross-border terrorism, they would lose the only effective lever for persuading India to negotiate.

Also, if Pakistan wants to continue to meddle in the internal affairs of Afghanistan through its proxies — the mullahs and the jihadis, it needs to keep them and their seminaries alive. After 9/11, it is only the struggle for Kashmir which provides it the excuse for keeping the Islamic terrorist factories going. Not too long ago, those fighting in Afghanistan under the taliban were turned towards Kashmir after the fall of Kabul. Those who are ostensibly being trained for “liberating” Kashmir can also be used to tighten the screws on Afghanistan when the need arises. To demobilize this “irregular army” of jihadis would mean losing this flexibility.

The Pakistan army also may not want to give up its Kashmir policy. The anti-India stance fuelled by the Kashmir issue helps it to maintain both its privileges and its primary importance in Pakistani polity. The military in Pakistan is the largest employer, the biggest contractor and the number one business corporation. Why should it give up its primacy for the sake of peace with India when to maintain it in the past it has not hesitated to muzzle democracy within'

However, the most important factor in determining the outcome of Vajpayee’s peace offer would be Washington’s attitude to it. Despite the US refusal to link the political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir with cross-border terrorism, it is nevertheless interested in bringing about an India-Pakistan settlement — as it sees Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint. But the point is that the US does not see Pakistan-sponsored terrorism lending Kashmir this potential.

As long as Washington makes a distinction between terrorism aimed at America and that which is aimed at others, Pakistan will not decide to end cross-border terrorism. It is true that the outgoing US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, has said that “the fight against international terrorism could not be over until terrorism against India ends permanently. There could be no US compromise whatsoever on this.” This, however, is more an expression of American sentiment than of the US policy.

Washington is making the same miscalculation as it did in Afghanistan — it supported the mujahedin to oust the Soviets and expected them to continue to do its bidding. The result was the birth of the most potent anti-American force in recent times — a politicized, obscurantist and militant Islam.

In Pakistan too, Washington seems to think that it can induce the military-run establishment to act on its command by keeping it afloat through various means — bailing out the Pakistani economy, legitimizing the hobbled democracy that the army has introduced and buying the argument that Islamabad is doing its best to curb cross-border terrorism. General Musharraf paints a picture of an Islamic fundamentalist deluge after him, and the US willingly gets frightened.

It would be tragic if Washington were to wake up to the dangers of its South Asia policy only when a nuclear Pakistan is ruled by avowedly fundamentalist mullahs. They are getting there — they are a significant presence in Parliament and rule two out of the four Pakistani provinces.

Pakistan has not as yet become unmanageable, General Musharraf has not become too big for his boots, and the Islamic fundamentalists can still be forced to retreat. A change towards peace which would strengthen the Pakistani democratic forces in the long run — and settling Kashmir will do just that — can still be induced. There is no logical reason to wait till the situation becomes hopelessly irretrievable.

If wise counsel prevails in Washington, then it is likely that Islamabad may be nudged to settle with India. As for its choices in India, the US can do little but to support the Vajpayee initiative and strengthen him politically — all the other significant political forces are anti-American. At a time when anti-Americanism is spreading, the US would not like India to end up leading the pack. So there could be pressure on both Pakistan and India to settle their disputes and make the region a safer place for everyone who resides here. Who knows, having failed after Lahore and at Agra, Vajpayee may yet prove to be third time lucky.

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