| Anything but serious
If the outcome of each dialogue with Pakistan is going to be judged by how India has done down Pakistan, then the peace process between the two countries cannot move forward. The road to a negotiated settlement cannot be premised on polarizing public opinion in India and Pakistan against each other or by making the other side seem weak. A zero-sum game is a sure recipe for disaster.
It is in this context that one should view the outcome of the foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan concluded on June 28. By itself, the joint statement issued by the two may not mean much — tactics have to be examined against the broad strategy being followed. The contents of the statement would make sense only if one were privy to the broad road map, if any, being followed.
For the main part, the statement maintains the formulations arrived at in Islamabad on January 6, in that it talks of the “reassurances” contained in it (on Pakistan not allowing the territory under its control for terrorist activities) and the bilateral settlement of all issues, including Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides. Although the reference to India’s concerns about terrorism seems weak, it would be incorrect to argue, as the Bharatiya Janata Party has done, that India’s overall position has been diluted.
However, New Delhi seems to have conceded the centrality of the Kashmir issue — in the joint statement, the dialogue on Kashmir has been “sustained and serious”. It is this then which would facilitate a dialogue on all bilateral issues.
That Islamabad was pushing largely for this recognition is evident. Not only did it not react positively to a whole set of eminently reasonable military-to-military confidence-building measures, but even the non-military Kashmir-related CBMs on people-to-people contacts, environment, culture, transportation links and economic cooperation were not accepted immediately.
What is most remarkable about the statement is that for the first time, India has conceded equivalence with Pakistan’s nuclear programme. It has described the nuclearization of south Asia as “constituting a factor of stability, working towards strategic stability”, and agreed to sit with Pakistan to persuade other nuclear powers “to discuss issues of common concern”.
New Delhi has, therefore, at one stroke dropped all questions about the sources, nature and motivations of Pakistan’s nuclear programme by granting it moral, political and strategic equivalence with its own. India has absolved Pakistan of its proliferation activities and, by implication, also ignored China’s and North Korea’s role in Islamabad’s nuclear programme. After this, China may well turn around and claim that by India’s own admission, Beijing’s proliferation activities have, in fact, helped create “strategic stability” in south Asia.
Another disturbing aspect of the joint statement is that it talks of a “final settlement” of the Kashmir issue. This is language from the Shimla Agreement of 1972 (“Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation...”). There is a view that India made a grievous error in agreeing to this language. While India believed that a “final settlement” of the Kashmir tangle had been worked out though not written into the agreement, Pakistan has claimed that there was no final settlement.
P.N. Dhar, in his memoirs, Indira Gandhi, the Emergency and Indian Democracy, explained what “final settlement” meant. After the breakdown of the formal Shimla talks, Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had decided to meet one last time. It was at this one-to-one meeting that the Shimla Agreement was born. In that meeting, Bhutto had apparently agreed verbally to change the nomenclature of the “cease-fire line” of 1948 into the “line of control” and promised that this would gradually acquire the “characteristics of an international border”. This was to be the “final settlement”. By 1976, Bhutto had reneged on his promise and was openly claiming that Kashmir was a dispute. In India, Emergency had been declared by then and Indira Gandhi was bogged down in domestic politics.
India’s committing itself to a “final settlement” at this juncture can be misrepresented. At a time when there should be no question of redefining frontiers in Kashmir, India has given the impression that it may be willing to do so. The nuance is also that the Kashmir issue is still juridically open — that neither the UN resolutions nor the Jammu and Kashmir constituent assembly resolution of 1957 reiterating the accession of the state to India, nor even the elections held in Kashmir (particularly the recent ones) are capable of settling the question of Jammu and Kashmir. It would seem that New Delhi has picked up the one big mistake it made in Shimla and given it prominence again.
The statement invokes “the principles and purposes of the Charter of the Untied Nations” in the statement and juxtaposes them with “determination to implement the Simla Agreement”. The BJP has argued that in terms of nuances, India seems to have conceded something. However, this is stretching the meaning of this phrase as it figured in the Lahore declaration also.
The January 6 statement from Islamabad was that of the Indian prime minister and the Pakistan president. This has now been modified by the foreign secretaries. In diplomatic terms, it is inappropriate to modify, at the level of bureaucrats, the political content of a document negotiated by heads of government.
Given these criticisms, the developments of June 27 and 28 make sense only under one framework — that India’s attempt is to give more space to General Pervez Musharraf so that the peace process with Pakistan continues. The General is under pressure domestically, the mullahs of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal are at his throat and he cannot be seen to be losing face on India — especially Kashmir.
It is significant that the foreign secretary-level interaction came nearly three weeks after a “secret” meeting between the national security advisor, J.N. Dixit, and his Pakistani counterpart, Tariq Aziz, in an Amritsar hotel on June 8. Only the two interlocutors would know what kind of understanding they reached on taking the dialogue process forward. The point, however, is that there can be no dialogue if both sides are seen as intransigent. If Pakistan is seen to be climbing down all the time, will the militant groups there agree to a cease-fire, for example, and will that move have any public support'
That is perhaps why there is a need not to overplay the sensitivities of the other side. The June 28 joint statement makes sense only in the larger strategic context of engaging Pakistan meaningfully. To do this, India should make Pakistan seem strong — a winner, not a loser. If the joint statement had forced the two foreign secretaries to retreat with their tails between their legs, could the peace process ever move forward'
Lastly, one might still wonder about the virtue of having a plethora of joint statements. When the external affairs minister, K. Natwar Singh, meets his counterpart next or when the two heads of governments meet, will there be more joint statements' Will they modify or reaffirm the previous ones to show progress' The consequence of too many such statements is that the real benchmarks in the relationship are buried under them, diluting the importance of the cardinal documents signed.