| Rolling gently
If, to say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy, then the external affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha, perhaps needs to go back to school. He seems to have let the cat out of the bag while speaking to the foreign affairs cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party last weekend by revealing that India’s latest peace proposals to Pakistan were nothing more than “a tactical move”.
“If the Pakistan president turns them down, he will be cornered by the international community. If he accepts them, it will be a feather in India’s cap”, Sinha reportedly told his BJP comrades.
As if this were not enough, he then expounded on why the deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, had been asked by the cabinet committee on security to head the dialogue with the All Party Hurriyat Conference. “It is a clever move designed to split the Hurriyat,” Sinha smugly announced.
Now we know what the Indian proposals were all about — they were not a Diwali gift and they were not something to ruminate over during the holy month of Ramadan. They were just another example of oneupmanship. The Pakistani response, a week later, has only confirmed this.
What Sinha is supposed to have told his partymen makes sense. The Indian offer, coming as it did quickly on the heals of the shouting match at the United Nations general assembly in September, surprised the Pakistanis. Pakistan knew that rejecting the proposals could mean kissing goodbye to hosting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit at Islamabad in January as India may not have participated.
As expected then, Islamabad was forced to pick and choose measures on which it was willing to move forward. Pakistan was also forced to announce some positive-sounding but rather meaningless proposals of its own — for example, a bus link between Lahore and Amritsar instead of increasing the capacity of the Delhi-Lahore bus, offering free medical treatment to Indian children and scholarships (in terrorism') to Kashmiri youth.
The only interesting proposal from Islamabad was on the Muzaffarabad-to-Srinagar bus service. In responding to the Indian suggestion two caveats were introduced: that the checkpoint should be manned by UN staff; and that only UN travel documents should be used. Pakistan knows that a UN role in any form is not acceptable to India. However, in suggesting that the people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Indian Kashmir should travel on UN documents, Islamabad overplayed its hand. Will it now, for example, be willing to withdraw Pakistani citizenship from the people of PoK and ask them to get UN documents' Will it stop allowing Hurriyat leaders from visiting Pakistan on Indian documents as they have done in the past' Unless Pakistan says that henceforth all international travel by the residents of the two sides of Kashmir should be on UN documents, its proposal does not make sense.
What lies behind this gamesmanship' After his UN general assembly speech, Pervez Musharraf was seen to have gained the upper hand — offering a ceasefire along the line of control and reduction in cross-border violence if India agreed to talk. Meanwhile, Vajpayee’s April 18 peace overture had run out of steam. With the launch of Phase-II of the Vajpayee peace overture, India could hope to be on top once again and stretch this process till the next general election.
However, the implications of the Indian move go beyond this. The singular policy emphasis now seems to be on making a distinction between the Pakistani state and the Pakistani people — ignoring the state but engaging the people.
In a complete volte face from Agra, now the understanding seems to be that as long as the Pakistani state is controlled by the army, the prospects for peace remain dim. As a result a more evolutionary approach to improving relations seems to be crystallizing — win the hearts of the Pakistani people, let them visit India in large numbers and see for themselves how different it is from the propaganda images fed to them. The improvement of state-level ties can then be left for the day when democracy returns to Pakistan and the influence of the army diminishes.
India wants Pakistan to realize that it cannot leverage terrorism for a dialogue on the issue. India’s loss-taking capability due to terrorist violence in Kashmir remains high. If Pakistan continues with the recruitment, training and arming of terrorists, the long-term consequences for its internal polity are bound to be adverse. India cannot also afford to set a bad political example by giving in to terrorist blackmail. India can therefore live with not talking to Pakistan as long as it persists with cross-border terrorism.
There is no indication though that India’s Pakistan policy is charting a clear course ahead — beyond short-term fancy footwork. This is also evident in the offer of a dialogue with the All Party Hurriyat Conference.
The timing of the offer of political-level talks with the Hurriyat was determined by a combination of several factors: the Hurriyat faction led by Maulvi Abbas Ansari was demanding talks at the highest level, the influence of the pro-Pakistan Syed Ali Shah Geelani faction was waning, and the chief minister of the state was advocating an unconditional dialogue with all Kashmiri groups. And for once, the security forces were giving the terrorists a hard time with nearly 180 terrorists being shot down in the last two months including the Lashkar-e-Toiba commander, Ghazi Baba, and Hizbul Mujahedin military commander, Saif-ur-Rahman Bajwa.
Yashwant Sinha is wrong if he said that the dialogue with the Hurriyat is meant to divide it. The division is already there. It is more likely that the aim of the proposed dialogue is not to divide the Hurriyat further but to strengthen that Abbas Ansari faction. Ansari and others with him may advocate a position that suits India but they are certainly not under Pakistani control.
However, in this case too, unnecessary display of cleverness took its toll. Advani was indiscreet enough to set the framework and conditions for the dialogue unilaterally. At a public event, Advani declared that he would discuss only the decentralization of powers in Jammu and Kashmir with the Hurriyat. What should have been a possible point of arrival at the end of a dialogue was suddenly made the point of departure — marriage arrangements were sought to be discussed even before the wooing had begun.
Advani either believes that nothing would come out of the talks with the Hurriyat, or he thinks that his image as lauh purush (iron-man) would be eroded if he is seen to be soft on Kashmir. It is the Hurriyat leaders who have shown tremendous sagacity in their reaction — they have not rejected the dialogue per se. Instead they have said that the dialogue should be about resolving the Kashmir issue and not about power-sharing with the states. There is, therefore, still hope if good sense prevails and the Indian political leadership does not get entangled in one-upmanship.