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IT TAKES JUST TWO TO TALK
- India cannot make peace with Pakistan through external brokering

We sent our army to the Pak border. We kept them there on full alert for ten months. We then pulled them back. We recalled our high commissioner from Islamabad. We are now returning him to his post. We cancelled air links to Pakistan. We have now restored them. We stopped the Samjhauta Express. We are now resuming its run. We blocked the Delhi-Amritsar bus route. We are now re-opening it.

We said we would not talk to a military dictator. We are now readying to talk to him. We deplored the mullah-military nexus, pointing darkly to Pervez Musharraf talibanizing Pakistan preparatory to Pakistan talibanizing India. We are now eating our words. We said we would talk only with a democracy. We are preparing now to talk to a puppet civil government. We said no deal is possible with the Pakistani “military mindset”. We are now engaging with that very mindset. We invited Musharraf to Agra. “He returned to Islamabad,” said our poet-prime minister, “khaali haath aur moonh latkaye hue.” The world laughed at the ludicrous spectacle of India sabotaging the summit over two-and-a-half words, “cross-border terrorism”, which we plain forgot to include in the Lahore Declaration.

9/11, we thought (and when I say “we”, I mean, of course, Jaswant Singh Lord Haw-Haw), when 9/11 happened, we thought by rushing in where no American desired to tread, we would one-up Pakistan and get the mighty United States of America on to our side. Instead, the US cozied up to Musharraf, according him the status of Busharraf — America’s most “stalwart ally”.

Then came 13/12, putting us, says the ministry of external affairs’ 2002-03 report, in the same league as the Twin Towers. (Like an ant making up its mind whether to seduce or rape the she-elephant!) The European parliament dashed those hopes when it preferred to hold parliamentary committee elections to condemning terrorism in far-off New Delhi. In any case, they refused then, as they refuse now, as indeed do the US and others, to buy our story that the Pak government through the Inter-Services Intelligence was behind the outrage.

Then in June 2002, we began mobilization into Pakistan’s backyard to shock and awe Musharraf, flexing our military biceps to show off our muscular nuclear bulge. We impressed ourselves enormously. We impressed no one else, least of all the Pakistanis. They called our bluff and, tail between our legs, we had to pull back when a thoroughly alarmed Washington began twisting that tail into obedience. All that Jaswant Singh’s “Tilt to Talbot” has achieved is legitimize the US role in the subcontinent, undermining the bilateralism of the Shimla process.

We are back exactly where we were on October 10, 1999, when Pervez “Kargil” Musharraf engineered his coup. He has been for dialogue since Day One. We are for dialogue on Day One Thousand. The Americans have pushed us into Musharraf’s corner. Richard Armitage is arriving on May 8 with America’s Iraq satrap, Jay Garner’s leaked (if heavily denied) message that if India and Pakistan do not settle on a US-directed road-map by December 2004, the Yanks are readying to do a Saddam on both of us.

Peace cannot come through external brokering. For peace to be negotiated between us, not imposed from without, India has to take six key steps towards a real and durable peace.

Step One: We in India must have the honesty to recognize that the roots of the problem lie in domestic discontent, not in cross-border terrorism. Cross-border terrorism from Pakistan is an adjunct to home-grown terrorism. As in Punjab, so in Kashmir, once the Indian government brings Indian terrorists under control, the imported Pakistani terrorist will tend to fade away. Thus, it is when India finds an answer to the internal terrorist dimension that the Pakistani dimension of terrorism will become amenable to solution, not before.

Step Two: Recognizing that the domestic dimension is the priority, we must initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with the voices of domestic discontent aimed at meaningful and sustained negotiation with the dissidents of the valley till a mutually acceptable solution is found. Tragically, the domestic intra-Jammu-and-Kashmir dialogue has been subjected to just as many fits and starts as the India-Pakistan dialogue, especially after the present National Democratic Alliance coalition took office in 1998.

There have been so many false starts, so many aborted initiatives, such frequent changes of principal government interlocutor, so naked an attempt to play militant factions off against one another, and so little sincerity in carrying forward the negotiations, that blaming Pakistan has been rendered the excuse for non-action in talking to our own people. The only really useful contribution made to the domestic peace process by the present Central government was the organization of free and fair elections last year, which threw up a replacement to Farooq Abdullah’s dynastic outfit, an NDA coalition partner at the Centre.

Thus the importance of Vajpayee’s visit to Srinagar lay far less in what the prime minister had to say there about talking to Pakistan than in the olive branch he extended to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s state government. Détente with the state government should now lead to détente, through persistent, unflagging negotiation, with the seething discontents of the valley.

Step Three: The internal dialogue should be conducted without the government of India’s negotiators wearing a constitutional straitjacket. Imaginative solutions must be explored in the confidence that settlement, once arrived at, can lead to amendments of the Constitution, if required, with the consent of Parliament, the bottom-line being that autonomy is not independence and, therefore, whatever the settlement, it must be a settlement which leaves unimpaired the sovereignty of India over Jammu and Kashmir. For the rest, “the sky is the limit”.

Step Four: The Pakistan dimension of the question of Jammu and Kashmir must be recognized, and dialogue with Pakistan, uninterrupted and uninterruptible, initiated as the essential supplement to the domestic dialogue. This, most emphatically, does not mean Pakistan at the domestic table as the third party to an internal dialogue. It means a separate dialogue. The dialogue with Pakistan should be a parallel but distinct exercise.

Step Five: India must recognize that discussions with Pakistan cannot commence if we impose pre-conditions we cannot enforce. To insist, as Vajpayee still does, on “cross-border terrorism ending and Pakistan dismantling the infrastructure” of Pak-based terrorism before we start talking is asking for the impossible because: a) we cannot force the Pakistanis to stop infiltration; b) the Pakistanis will not of their own accord stop infiltration; c) Pakistan is too much the “stalwart ally” of the US for the US and the United Kingdom to do much more than click their tongues in disapproval. Ending cross-border terrorism might be the outcome of the settlement; it cannot be the starting point of the process.

Step Six: The dialogue with Pakistan must be conducted within the framework of the Shimla agreement, which essentially means bilateralism. Any third party interference is unacceptable. Vajpayee has, of course, ruled out third-party interference in any India-Pakistan dialogue and the Pakistan foreign minister, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, in a path-breaking interview to BBCHindi.com, has assured India publicly that once a bilateral dialogue gets going, he “guarantees” there will be no resort by Pakistan to outside mediation and that no “third party” will be brought in. We should take him at his word — and hold him to it.

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