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GINGERLY HECTOR, GINGERLY

The establishments of India and Pakistan should know better than anyone else that vying for oneupmanship on the front-page of newspapers will not lead to peace. If our political leaders do not devour the peace process themselves, then it is quite likely that our 24-hour news channels and screaming newspaper headlines would most certainly finish the job for them — by first taking expectations to a new high and then breast- beating about failure. Together they damaged the dialogue in July 2001 at Agra and they can do so again.

The relationship between India and Pakistan is highly accident-prone. That is why the plethora of statements emanating from New Delhi and Islamabad are frightening. The deputy secretary of state of the United States of America, Richard Armitage, rightly sounded a cautionary note saying, “I think we have to keep our appetites under control.”

It is premature to talk of resolving the Kashmir issue. The situation in Pakistan is not such as to allow any path-breaking resolution of the Kashmir issue. Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali is yet to establish his authority and Pakistan’s national assembly is deeply divided over the constitutionality of the Legal Framework Order, which has allowed General Pervez Musharraf to retain power. Any bold move on Kashmir could become one more trigger for instability.

The posturing that is already taking place in the two capitals does not augur well for peace. Except saying that the first step should be to begin talking, Pervez Musharraf’s road map to the resolution of the Kashmir issue is no different from what he had suggested at Agra. The second step, he said in an interview, should be to accept that Kashmir is the “core” issue; the third, to rule out all solutions not acceptable to either Pakistan, India or the Kashmiris; and last, to reach a solution which is acceptable to all three. This is essentially going back to July 2000 with no significant lessons learnt from Agra.

Take Jamali’s statement and the Indian reaction to it. Jamali has offered restoration of air links without any assurance on overflight rights for India and a reduction in tariffs on 78 items — hardly an improvement on what was on offer from Islamabad in the third and fourth rounds of the south Asian preferential trade agreement. India has already termed his response “inadequate”. It has also accused him of trying to go back to the situation prevailing before December 13, 2001, without addressing cross-border terrorism.

Efforts for India-Pakistan peace would come to nought unless matched by their capabilities to pursue a settlement. For this oneupmanship would have to be given up. Even then the two countries cannot reach a settlement — the peace process has been and will have to be facilitated by the US.

What could be India’s intention behind opening the door for a dialogue with Pakistan' New Delhi clearly seeks a reduction in violence in Jammu and Kashmir — especially in an election year. In being seen to be normalizing relations with Pakistan, the Vajpayee government may also be hoping to prevent a consolidation of the Muslim vote around the Congress. Finally, it may also be desirous of increasing the pressure on Pakistan to settle the vexed Kashmir issue permanently.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee certainly thinks that he is capable of delivering a Kashmir settlement but can he create the opportunities for doing so' There are those in India who believe that this is the most dangerous phase of Indian foreign policy. A prime minister who operates solo on crucial foreign policy issues, bypasses institutional consultations or uses them to rubber stamp his decisions and is feted by the Pakistanis as someone who is doing the right thing, they claim, does not augur well for India. This may or may not be fair criticism. But the point is that the political and bureaucratic establishment in India could act as a drag on the Vajpayee initiative. This may prevent him from creating the opportunities for peace. This is exactly what happened at Agra.

As for Pakistan, its intentions may not be to end cross-border terrorism. In cross-border terrorism, Islamabad has a calibrated instrument to harass India without involving its armed forces. If it brings India to heel on Kashmir, the essential purpose of cross-border terrorism would have been served. Even if it does not, it still bogs down the Indian army in Kashmir.

Promoting cross-border terrorism also helps Pakistan domestically by attenuating the demands on the state for creating employment and keeping the Islamic fundamentalist monster under control. By following a strategy that is high on ideology and low on payment, a large proportion of its unemployed and ill-educated youth can be directed towards a “worthy cause” and the mullahs, the madrasahs and the militant outfits which train them kept happy with Inter-Services Intelligence funding. In the short run, none of them can make demands on the state or turn against it. The infrastructure of terrorism created for Kashmir, therefore, also helps Pakistan manage its internal affairs.

Only when Pakistan is convinced that a Kashmir solution is more beneficial to it than the problem, would it have any intention of making the dialogue for peace successful. Only a state which comes to this conclusion would develop the capability of pursuing peace with India.

In the developing scenario, the American intentions and capabilities in south Asia are of utmost importance. Only the US can push the essentially military establishment in Pakistan to settle its outstanding disputes with India — both because of the destablizing role Islamabad continues to play in Afghanistan and its proclivity for nuclear proliferation. Islamabad’s role in Afghanistan is evident — especially in its support for the rogue fundamentalist militia of Gulbudin Hekmatyar, currently believed to be based in Pakistan, and for the remnants of the taliban, now openly regrouping in Pakistani provinces abutting Afghanistan where Islamic fundamentalists have assumed power.

The US is certainly capable of putting pressure on Pakistan and creating the opportunities for peace in south Asia. It can refuse to bail out the Pakistani economy as it has been doing by writing off loans or getting other donors to reschedule theirs. It can refuse to accept that terrorism in Kashmir is any different from that which targets Americans and ask Pakistan to turn the screws on the Islamic fundamentalists or be prepared to come on their radar screen for promoting Islamic terrorism.

And most importantly, given the evidence of Islamabad’s role in nuclear proliferation to North Korea, the US can threaten to send nuclear weapons inspectors to Pakistan to take stock of its weapons, fissile material stock and nuclear technology. There is a real danger that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of the Islamic fundamentalists at some time in the future. That nuclear weapons inspectors be sent to Pakistan is not an Indian demand — such a suggestion has been made in US newspapers as recently as last week.

The first step towards peace, however, would be to take the relationship to normalcy by restoring full diplomatic and transportation links. This can be hastened by Pakistan bringing down the level of violence in Kashmir and signalling its intent to move forward on less intractable fronts. Meanwhile, public expectations must not be raised as the Kashmir issue itself can be addressed only much later.

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