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January 16, 2001
Talk of the town
About marriage, it is said that while loving is easy, it is the living together that sucks. And what is true of man's best invention is more true of his worst as well: neighbours.
Will the fate of Indo-Pak relations be any better if they were not geographically contiguous? I daresay that while their tango would not set whatever river afire, certainly the mutual acrimony that is so characteristic of their relations would be of a lesser degree.
Alas, while one can choose one's life-partner, there is no such luck with one's neighbours. The only choice one has is to make the best of a bad deal.
Which is the wisdom that seems to have dawned on both sides of the Line of Control, judging by the tentative steps being taken towards a preliminary dialogue. The marriage counsellor's advice to a disputing couple -- to keep the channels of communication open -- is equally valid here. Whatever history may tell the two sides, the fact is that the geography between them is not about to be altered, so maybe they should work on the chemistry a bit. It is all right to talk of the two Koreas and the two Germanys uniting, but the chances of the South Asian nations doing likewise are non-existent. So the question that keeps coming back is, how do they make the best of a bad deal?
Theoretically, it is all fine for the peaceniks on both sides to talk of an ideal situation where the two nations sink their differences blah-blah, but that is not going to happen regardless of how many rounds of talks Pervez Musharraf and A B Vajpayee hold. The best deal that one can expect is for cessation of hostilities on both sides, and non-interference in each other's internal affairs. Even that, is easier said.
Superficially, such a deal appears to be loaded in India's favour. After all, India is the one that has been screaming from the rooftops, and with valid reason, about the damage Pakistan has caused in Kashmir and elsewhere by its export of terrorism. But that should not blind us to India's own systematic role in reducing Pakistan to a sorry state from where it is equally keen to talk to New Delhi. After all, if it was winning the war, as the Mullah brigade believes, there's no way their chief executive, a man in khaki no less, would agree to a bit of dialogue.
If Pakistan is on the verge being declared a pariah state, where it has to queue up before the international community with a begging bowl, it is also thanks to India's sustained campaign against it in forums that matter. Pakistan cannot come out of the hole it has dug itself into, without talking to India.
What exactly the two sides will talk about, what they will concede, falls into areas of conjecture, and wishful thinking. The two nations have come a long way since I saw Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif stalk off in different directions from their first encounter after the two nations went nuclear; that was in Colombo, and was because Pakistan wanted to include Kashmir among the working groups, which demand India resisted.
Today, the two neighbours have agreed to talk about Kashmir and, I presume, any and other issue that may come up. After all, when two chief executives meet, their deliberations cannot be confined or dictated by a hide-bound agenda.
In the public's perception, however, talking itself is tantamount to a breakthrough on Kashmir. Hype, which kills sports superstars as much as it does policy initiatives, could undo all the good that gentle international nudging and prodding has done so far, and the cold draught that Vijay Nambiar has passed on to Musharraf may be part of a gameplan to bring the level of expectation down to realistic levels.
Whatever the two leaders discuss and agree upon, whether in New Delhi or in Islamabad, the bottomline is that it won't be worth the paper it will be written on if there's no domestic political consensus.
India is relatively better placed in this regard. As with all contentious issues in this country, a negotiated settlement arrived at by the Bharatiya Janata Party has a greater chance of being accepted than one driven by any other political party -- whether it is Ayodhya or Kashmir.
Gen Musharraf, alas, has no such leeway. He may represent the men in khaki who, we are constantly reminded, are the ones who always call the shots in that country regardless of who is in power, but a settlement over Kashmir, any settlement, that doesn't appeal to the mullahs, has little chance of succeeding.
As the man in the hot seat, he may be more than aware of the compulsions that force him to walk the peace walk and talk the peace talk, but what he needs more than anything is the ability to hardsell a 'solution' that falls woefully short of what his country has been expecting in all the years that it has been funding the jihad in Kashmir.
Obviously, he is not going to alter the map of Kashmir in any perceptible way. Obviously, India is not going to insist on the unification of the two Kashmirs -- the Parliament resolution to this effect be damned. For a nation that has lived without a half of Kashmir blotting its consciousness, it is not such a major sacrifice. For Pakistan, which has spent decades with nothing on its mind but the Kashmir that lies with India, it is going to be a very bitter pill to swallow.
How exactly will the Pakistani establishment reconcile what it needs with what it will get from a dialogue, will etch the outlines for that country's future. While it is good that Musharraf is keen on talking to India, he must first ensure that he carries his people with him in ratifying whatever agreement, whenever it is inked. The question for India is more fundamental: what is the point in talking to him if he cannot?
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