In less than a week after Richard Armitage left India, Indian leadership is talking of a road map being worked out for Jammu and Kashmir. As is normal in New Delhi, two ministers have spoken of it and each has added to the doubts and misgivings on the subject. Yashwant Sinha first made a statement on the subject to be followed by George Fernandes. One of them alluded to Indian and Pakistani prime ministers speaking on the telephone about it. Both ministers have reiterated the need for infiltration coming down if talks have to commence between the two states. If there is a road map, the prime minister in his dramatic and emotional speech made in Parliament made no mention of it. Is it a road map being drawn up unilaterally or in consultation with Pervez Musharraf’s government' What milestones and alleyways could form part of it' Nothing has been said of it.
A road map being drawn up is indirect admission of there being none available so far. It could also mean that it has been necessitated by the insufficiency or failure of previous plans on Jammu and Kashmir. A million-strong military force of two countries stood facing each other through most of 2002, daring each other to attack and talked of nuclear weapons coming into use if the attack took place. Will there be a military content to the new map being drawn up' Is the new map unrelated to the Armitage visit or a consequence of it'
That the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is unwilling to risk a dialogue with Pakistan is widely known. It cannot be seen to be making concessions to Pakistan with elections to important states coming up and a general election due next year. A government which cannot sustain obvious economic measures like the introduction of value-added tax, and new telephone tariffs with an eye on the elections, can hardly be expected to take bold initiatives on Kashmir. Its best bet lies in taking a hard and unyielding position on Pakistan and dialogue with it. Any surprise which the prime minister’s Srinagar speech may have sprung was therefore quickly dampened by well-choreographed conditionalities and riders added to the prime minister’s statement by officials.
It seems that the Armitage visit was taken by Pakistan and India as an opportunity to be seen as cooperating with the superpower, even as neither side had any intention to resile from hard positions. In his visits to India and Pakistan during the military standoff of 2001-02, Armitage had acted as the neutral intermediary. He conveyed New Delhi’s seriousness for war if Pakistan did not stop infiltration and terrorist actions in Islamabad. He obtained promises on this from Musharraf himself, and assured New Delhi of it being implemented. India has since been holding the United States of America accountable on Musharraf’s promises being fulfilled. Vajpayee and senior ministers have gone on record to express their disappointment with the US for failing to get the promises fulfilled. This time, both governments wanted to reiterate their stand to the US, while sounding amen- able to suggestions of engaging with each other.
The US was obviously not amused by the military stand-off of 2002. It is not willing to keep rushing to the subcontinent every few months to cool things down. Crisis-building by India and Pakistan to draw in the major powers on the Kashmir issue, with the concurrent risks of a military conflict, is now proving counter-productive. The US after Iraq has enough on its hands in west Asia and east Asia and does not view the cyclic risk-taking by New Delhi and Islamabad with equanimity. It wants the two capitals to get involved in a dialogue and that is the operative phrase in US policy now.
Knowing this pressure to start a dialogue process going, the leadership on both sides of the border made dramatic statements before Armitage arrived. Vajpayee was willing to start the dialogue within a day of terrorism coming to an end. Pakistan was willing to destroy terrorist camps within a day of their being found. Pakistan was as willing as India, and more, to start a dialogue. After these announcements were made, both sides brought out their bag of conditions. Pakistan said that it will never give up on Kashmir, and India linked dialogue to terrorism being ended. Armitage had the last say and left both governments fuming. In the process, he also indicated a shift in Washington’s position vis-à-vis both India and Pakistan.
He has placed the onus of keeping peace and starting the process of engagement on both India and Pakistan. He has indicated that the US cannot be expected to judge between the claims of New Delhi and Islamabad. By asking India to be the judge of infiltration going down or otherwise, he has shown that Musharraf’s claims cannot be brushed aside. By praising Vajpayee’s statesmanship, he has indicated the need for the General to reciprocate. US policy is thus being repositioned to be equidistant between India and Pakistan. The hyphen that determines US approaches to India and Pakistan is where it always was. Whether this is a victory for India or Pakistan can be answered differently by different people. It is clear, however, that both governments will have to find ways to engage each other by means other than military brinkmanship.
What is the way forward through the maze of political fears, unwillingness to find common ground, and the temptation to take the military route to solving the impasse' The best way ahead is to start a mechanism for exchange of views on each other’s positions, prejudices and possibilities for peace. It will not be dialogue in the form of high political theatre, but a continuing and serious mechanism of engagement getting into place. This will lay the foundations for a dialogue much further in time, when each understands the limits of the other’s capacity to accommodate and concede. The dialogue, when it does occur, will not also be a single event but a process, conducted over time and through changing governments.
The need, overwhelmingly, is for a process that keeps moving, irrespective of setbacks and disturbances from time to time. The process needs to be free from the political need to respond to events like terrorist attacks and other violent acts. The process should be underwritten by a commitment from both sides to eliminate the causes of the problem. Pakistan will need to demonstrate that it is dismantling the jihadi-led terror network and its support base. India would have to demonstrate that it is willing to hear all shades of opinions in Jammu and Kashmir and not break off the talks with Pakistan. A process of engagement that is raised above the capacity of terrorist groups to disrupt it, will provide the mechanism through which India and Pakistan can work out a solution to their conflicts. That will allow a viable route for a peaceful future to emerge.