The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Trying to connect

A month ago there was not a single rock along the banks of the river Lidder in Pahalgam which did not have a tourist sitting on it. Visitors were pouring into Kashmir. The houseboats on the Dal Lake had nearly 90 per cent occupancy. Shops in Srinagar were open till late at night. Various parliamentary subcommittees were vying with each other to hold their meetings in Srinagar.

Even the inter-state council, in a significant move, decided to hold its deliberations in Srinagar. With much fanfare, mobile phone services were launched in Jammu and Kashmir virtually on the eve of the gathering of the chief ministers of all Indian states. The refrain was that the people of Jammu and Kashmir should not be denied the facilities that rest of Indian citizens get. A semblance of normalcy was taken for normalcy itself.

Those who knew Kashmir were saying even then that this was a deceptive calm; that it was the direct result of Pakistan pulling its hand back on terrorism in the state to see where prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s April 18 Srinagar peace initiative leads.

It is clear now that in the last one week a decision seems to have been taken by the militants and their mentors across the border that their patience could not be tested any longer.

The renewed violence in Jammu and Kashmir and the terrorist acts in the rest of India have come in the wake of a growing perception in Pakistan that the peace initiative was going nowhere. Pakistan has even written to the United Nations security council blaming India for not moving the peace process forward. It is another matter that Islamabad itself has done little to do that. In fact, barely days before the prime minister’s visit to Srinagar, serious threats were issued to the leaders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference — perhaps to prevent them from opening a direct line to New Delhi. And now militants have been given the signal to go on the rampage again.

New Delhi’s perception is that Pakistan has not reached a decision to stop using Kashmiri militants for terrorist acts against India. Suggestions have been made to influential Pakistanis at unofficial interactions in the past that it would be sufficient for India to be convinced of Islamabad’s intention to improve ties if a secret order were to be issued by General Pervez Musharraf to his armed forces to stop training and arming Kashmiri militants. No public statements would be necessary, they were told. Aghast Pakistanis have replied, “Do you want him to be toppled'” Under these circumstances, the feeling in Delhi is that any substantive dialogue with Pakistan would be seen by Islamabad as the victory of its stubbornness.

The question, however, is: Was the Indian assessment any different from this in April this year' If it was not, then what explains the continuing bonhomie being encouraged at the level of delegations of parliamentarians, schoolchildren, journalists and the facilitation of Pakistani children needing heart operations coming to Indian hospitals'

A possible explanation could be that the statements of Prime Minister Vajpayee — both on April 18 and on August 29 — were plain posturing. Encouraging people-to-people contact was not a signal for an imminent improvement in ties. The April 18 gesture at Srinagar did not precede or follow any serious consultations within the government. Neither the Union cabinet nor the national security council met either before or after April 18 to discuss the prime minister’s initiative. Even at the level of the intelligence chiefs or the joint chiefs of staff committee, there was no consultation on the possible road-map ahead.

Similarly, before the prime minister poured cold water over Indo-Pak talks, no consultations were held to reason why India should not engage with Pakistan on substantive issues. In short, there was no homework done preceding or following the statements. This is the most important indicator of the prime minister’s statements being nothing more than plain posturing.

During the last four and half months a variety of statements have come out of Pakistan — from the leaders of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, from the media and from Islamabad itself — on various solutions possible to the Kashmir issue. But India refused to take cognizance of this debate in Pakistan.

India did not ask itself that if the line of control is the problem and not the solution in the Pakistani mind and if Islamabad wants India to give up its conventional position on Kashmir, then what could be their bottom line' Its studied silence indicated that addressing such issues would be a waste of time at this juncture. This also suggests that the prime minister was just posturing on Pakistan.

Why was such posturing required' Could it be that India was acquiring the image of nay-sayer on every issue related to Pakistan' India’s attitude on international help to resolve the Kashmir dispute, stabilizing and monitoring the LoC, third party mediation or a plebiscite has been negative. At the same time it does not have a positive solution to offer.

Therefore, an attempt was made to change the atmospherics. It would seem that people-to-people contact on a relatively large scale were encouraged to project a positive, liberal and large-hearted image of India.

This was not undesirable either. Wax cannot be moulded at 80 degrees Celsius — the temperature has to be brought down to the mid-thirties before doing so. Creating a conducive atmosphere is equally essential between India and Pakistan — but it has to be used to take the peace process forward . This is not happening.

Several factors are likely to have contributed to this. The international situation has changed — the United States of America is bogged down in Iraq and is finding it difficult to extricate itself from the morass it finds itself in. The world is no longer focussed on the India-Pakistan conflict. The internal situation in both Pakistan and India has also changed. General Pervez Musharraf does not know how to deal with Parliament and its opposition to the Legal Framework Order. There is an uncertainty about how long he would continue to wear the uniform and be the sole repository of real power in that country.

In India, there are differences between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Pakistan. Within these organizations too there are individuals who differ with each other on how to deal with Pakistan, who should engage with it and at what level. In the government also they may have to be some rethinking on whether the prime minister should go to Islamabad next January for the south Asian association for regional cooperation summit if terrorist attacks in India continue. Five states are due to go to elections in November and the general elections is not very far-off even if there is no mid-term poll. Under such fluid circumstances, no political party — least of all the BJP, can afford to go out on a limb on Pakistan before the general election.

The overall political environment — both internationally and domestically — needs to settle down before any major India-Pakistan initiatives can be taken. There may be no option but to wait till that happens. Meanwhile, perhaps it is not useful to read too much into the posturing on either side.

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