The rumpus over the answers of the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, to Prannoy Roy’s googlies only serves to underline the imperative of isolating the proposed India-Pakistan dialogue from the volatility and amplitude of the inevitable oscillations in Indo-Pak relations. For while much of our establishment have lathered themselves into righteous indignation over the General’s remarks, the apparent Indian expectation that Musharraf would play into Roy’s hands by executing a mea culpa (“I was wrong; forgive me”) on camera seems strangely misplaced and completely lacking in any maturity in recognizing the Pakistani president’s right to be wrong.
Yes, Musharraf underlined his perception of the centrality of Kashmir to the resolution of Indo-Pak problems. Was this the first time he said so' Could one reasonably expect him to say something else' Would the dialogue process be helped by Pakistan’s Mad Mullahs being given the opening to accuse Musharraf of selling his country down the drain even before the dialogue begins' Is it not natural that the kick-off point of the dialogue ought to be as hard a statement of position by each side of its position so that the other side knows what is the top line to be chipped away before reaching the bottom line of agreement' Would one expect an Indian interlocutor to begin the dialogue at any point other than a ringing affirmation of our Parliament’s unanimous resolution that the only outstanding issue in Jammu and Kashmir is the restoration to India of Jammu and Kashmir territory occupied by Pakistan through armed aggression' Would it be justifiable for Pakistan to break off the talks because we have begun by stating our case' In that case, why should we expect the Pakistanis to concede their case even before the dialogue has begun'
Indeed, I would urge that the most important preliminary is for each side to state its opening arguments as clearly and unambiguously as possible. After all, the vast bulk of Pakistanis knows nothing of our case, just as virtually no Indian knows the nuances or rationale (or rationalization) of the Pakistani position. I once tested this proposition on a random sample of my colleagues in the Indian Foreign Service and found — unsurprisingly — that while most had a fair idea of the grounds of our claim to Jammu and Kashmir, few had more than a vague notion of the Pakistani arguments. I am in the same company, for I would frankly admit to knowing our case much better than I have ever cared to inform myself of the Pakistani point-of-view.
To illustrate, let me throw out a point likely to come up early in any dialogue: why did the Indian White Paper of 1948 on Jammu and Kashmir fail to reproduce a signed copy of Maharaja Hari Singh’s Instrument of Accession' Does the signed copy exist' If so, can it be produced' And, if so, when — and where — was it signed' Read Prem Shankar Jha’s Kashmir 1947 for a guide through the baffling contradictory evidence as to whether the document was signed in Srinagar on October 26, 1947 before the Indian army was rushed to the aid of the state forces battling the invaders of Indian territory, or only a day later in Jammu as ex-post facto proof of the Indian army having been airlifted to the Srinagar air-field in defence of Indian territory. Of course, we have our cast-iron answer to that one (bowled initially by the Oxford academic, Alistair Lamb, and since made much of by Pakistani diplomats and media), but there are many more substantive questions of historical and contemporary relevance that would need airing. Surely mutual accommodation can only come through mutual understanding (the formula being used to resolve the India-China border dispute), not by Indians and Pakistanis continuing to live in hermetically sealed chambers where they hear only their own voices and not what the other side has to say.
Therefore, the sincerity and commitment to the path of dialogue are not to be measured by the temperature shooting upwards at every offensive thing the other side has to say but by whether the dialogue proceeds without disruption however much offence is given by any one statement or remark.
In his responses to Prannoy Roy, Pervez Musharraf hemmed and hawed disgracefully over Kargil. His dissembling over his own role in provoking the gravest border conflict between two nuclear-weapon-armed powers since the Soviet Union’s incursion over the Amuri river border with China in 1969 was, indeed, shameful. But could one reasonably expect him to say, “Sorry” to an Indian TV interviewer' The viewer should be left to draw his own conclusions as to whether Musharraf qualifies as a 21st century Yudhishtira. The dialogue, if it is to succeed, must go on. Walking out every time a Pakistani lies about Kargil is hardly the art of dialogue.
Pervez Musharraf has also given many Indians great offence by refusing, in his answers to Roy, to categorically rule out another Kargil. Again, it seems to me unrealistic to expect him to do so. What his circumlocutions brought out though was not a declaration of war so much as a (botched) attempt to say that unless enduring peace, resting on a resolution of Kashmir, were established between India and Pakistan, a Kargil-like military conflict could not be definitively and forever ruled out.
Of course, it would have been much more helpful to the peace process had Musharraf said that under no circumstances, whatever the provocation, would Pakistan resort to force. But then it would also be helpful to the peace process if we were to say that under no circumstances, whatever the provocation, would India resort to force. Would we spare an Indian leader who said that' Then why should one expect Pervez Musharraf to say any such thing and get away with it in Pakistan' Prannoy Roy’s skills as an interviewer match Pervez Musharraf’s skills as a gunner. Equally, Musharraf’s skills as an interviewee match Roy’s skills as a gunner. It was an unequal fight. And Musharraf lost on points to Roy. But is that reason enough to seal the path to dialogue'