Operation Climb-down-from-the-High Horse is no easy matter. The government of India has long been stuck with two orthodoxies: (a) any third-party mediation on Kashmir is out; and (b) the valley is an inalienable part of India. The facts of life have now come to cramp New Delhi’s stance on both issues. Having put all of one’s eggs into the basket of American backing for thwarting Pakistani manoeuvres, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime is left with few or no alternatives. Having already conceded the point that survival in the post-globalization world is a unique function of the United States of America patronage, New Delhi cannot blame the Americans too much if they decide to drive a hard bargain on things they feel strongly about.
The Americans are in any event sore about another point. The Vajpayee government was prepared to “deplore” the US invasion of Iraq, it did not dare to “condemn” it during the parliamentary debate. That will still not mollify George W. Bush, who, as supreme boss of the superpower, is in the habit of insisting that no insubordination takes place on the part of those whose state is subordinate. The Indian prime minister had therefore to send his national security adviser to Washington DC to do the necessary explaining, including cringing mention of domestic difficulties.
The US will demand more than a private verbal mea culpa. Which is why the reputedly formidable security adviser had to go to a public forum and assure those who wanted to be assured that India is Israel’s soulmate; Israel is coping with Arab terrorism, India too is battling heroically with the menace of cross-border incursions. The credo at work is love-me-love-my-dog; since we dearly desire to be lackeys of the Americans, we must also ingratiate ourselves with the Israelis.
There is apparently little awareness in New Delhi that the message may be read altogether wrongly — or, who knows, perhaps altogether rightly — by the entire third world. To the struggling people of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the Palestinians are fighting a war of liberation, which the Israelis are ruthlessly trying to put down. Given the security adviser’s hyperbole, the inference could well be that the Kashmiris too are fighting a liberation war against India.
To hell with the third world, New Delhi could well retort, only the US matters; as of now, dismounting from the double high horse so as to please the Americans is the primary concern. Richard Armitage has already taken charge and is actively engaged in mediating between India and Pakistan; the message has already been transmitted by both the US president, Bush, and the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, that the two country governments must henceforth be good boys and adhere to advice tendered by Armitage. Pakistan has no problem with third-party, that is, American, intervention. India has, because it has to eat its past words.
The US administration has therefore to be lobbied hard: please, it might agree to at least provide a fig leaf to hide the fact of American involvement. Armitage hence has to take his turn, first visit Pakistan, talk with politicians and officials there, then cross over to India to talk to officials and politicians over here. At the next stage, the three parties will conceivably meet in London or Geneva or Washington or Tokyo in some deserted palace or chateau; appearances will be kept up; from nine in the morning till eleven forty-five it will be a Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali-Armitage session; from noon till lunch time, Armitage and Vajpayee will reconnoitre the ground along with their underlings; after lunch, the round of sessions will be repeated.
This process is known in the jargon as “successive approximation”, third party mediation, bilateral step-by-step-parleys will state the official communique, but nobody will be fooled. Once the preliminaries are over, maybe Bush will summon both Pervez Musharraf and Vajpayee to a week-end chat at Camp David, following which the Kashmir package will be disclosed to the world. Norwegian parliamentarians will naturally get further excited; they will recommend Bush for a second Nobel peace prize.
The other part of the climb-down exercise is equally jejune. A successful negotiation of the Kashmir issue, as everyone realizes, has to be on the basis of a compromise between the two sides. Even more explicitly, India will have to move away from the pretence of its claim on the whole of Kashmir; any similar claim by Pakistan too will be rejected. One sensible via media solution will be to declare the line of control, with some adjustments here and there, as the demarcated border between the two countries.
This may not be an altogether unpalatable denouement for Pakistan. For the Indian administration, the problem is somewhat more acute. For years on end, Indian politicians have stoked cheap patriotic favour by continuously stressing the aspect of inalienability of the Kashmir connection. It will be embarrassing to at least the two major national parties to do an about-turn now. The shadow play New Delhi is at the moment engaged in has a transparent objective: to persuade the Americans that reports regarding official Indian surrender on both major issues they had previously held out — on third-party intervention and the inalienability of the valley — be broken to the world as gently as it is possible.
Even such concessions may not save the situation. The mishandling of the problem over the past two decades has given rise to groups strongly propagating the cause of a free Kashmir. The force of such sentiments cannot be wished away even if a formal India-Pakistan settlement is arranged under US surveillance. Terrorist activities could then continue on either side of the border despite the withdrawal of effective support to militants of different hues by both governments. India and Pakistan might be made to sing the same tune. But that need not still impress important sections of the Kashmiris.
It is little use crying over spilt milk. True, had it so wished, the government of India could have in the past marshalled global opinion in favour of an autonomous Kashmir which however leaned towards India. The option was never seriously pursued because of the stumbling block presented by the inalienability hypothesis. Consider another possibility: India, after the eclipse of the Soviet Union, could have striven to detach the People’s Republic of China from its proximity to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. New Delhi had however continued to fight yesterday’s border skirmishes with a zest which has kept China at arm’s length for nearly forty years. The trip by the veteran China-baiter George Fernandes to Beijing in 2003 is, for all one can surmise, both too little and too late.
There was even a third alternative available to the Indian government. Instead of unleashing Kargil, it could have followed up the Lahore declaration by opening up the borders and permitted free two-way flow of citizens at different levels between the two countries. That could have helped to rub off some of the prejudices and antagonisms accumulated in both countries. What is taking place now, in the way of exchange of goody-goody parliamentary groups, is once again too little and too late.
You reap what you sow. Early bravura is yielding place to panic. An outcry might greet a US-enforced Kashmir solution of a sort that would have been regarded as outrageous by the Indian establishment in earlier years and for which they have failed to prepare domestic opinion. Could one nonetheless make a humble suggestion' An opportunity actually knocks at the doors of the two leading political parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. They should use the forthcoming assembly elections in four states as a learning curve for the electorate. A permanent impasse over Kashmir, voters could be told, will be counter-productive for India, since aggregate expenditure for defence preparedness, which a perennial Kashmir conflict would involve, is bound to negate all prospects of development and, further aggravate the threat of interference in our domestic affairs by foreigners. If a cliché is to be used, the politicians need to raise themselves to the level of statesmen.
On the other hand, cynics and pessimists will nod their heads and say that India and Pakistan are both too-far-gone cases. Foreign ministers of the two countries should of course keep the record straight and say with a straight face they on their own have set the road map for the imminent Kashmir negotiations. Both gentlemen know in their heart of hearts that their only left-over occupation is to follow Richard Armitage’s script.