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July 18, 2001

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G Parthasarathy

Kashmir at breakfast, lunch and dinner

Every visit by a Pakistani ruler to India has its interesting and ironic moments. The visit of the author of Kargil, General Pervez Musharraf was no exception. The lunch hosted by Prime Minister Vajpayee on July 14 had its interesting facets. A grim faced Abdul Sattar was sandwiched between a sombre Jaswant Singh and a rather relaxed looking L K Advani. Musharraf was seated on the head table with former prime ministers V P Singh to his left and I K Gujral to his right. What an irony, I thought, to have a Pakistani military ruler sandwiched between two former Indian prime ministers.

Military rulers in Pakistan have after all ensured that former prime ministers overthrown by them are either hanged, or exiled to Saudi Arabia! It must also have been a new experience for Musharraf to receive the leader of the Opposition in a meeting arranged by his hosts. Observance of civilised democratic norms does, after all, demonstrate the strength and resilience of a mature democratic system.

Incidents like those reflecting the strengths of our democracy and the virtual servility of some leading lights of our fourth estate when they received a public dressing down from the visiting military ruler of Pakistan for allegedly being influenced by the government on their reporting of developments in Kashmir were noteworthy. What, however, remains etched in one's mind is the tenacity with which Musharraf pursued his single point agenda of raising the 'centrality' of the Kashmir issue on every conceivable occasion.

The general spoke like a man possessed whenever he got a chance to speak of Kashmir, whether at breakfast, lunch or dinner. This was not entirely unexpected, given his utterances prior to his visit. But by the time he left, this continuous invocation of what is now called the 'K Word,' left his hosts tired and unimpressed. Repetition may be useful to drive home a point to the cadets of the Kakul military academy in Pakistan. It is not necessary in a mature and civilised diplomatic discourse.

It was evident even before he arrived that Musharraf was determined to pursue a highly focused single point agenda in India, revolving around putting in place a new framework for conducting bilateral relations. He was determined to rubbish and discard two landmark agreements that India has entered into with democratically elected governments in Pakistan -- the Simla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1999. The reasons for this are self-evident.

The Simla Agreement is a virtual no war pact that commits Pakistan to resolve issues peacefully and bilaterally with India. It also requires Pakistan to respect the sanctity of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Further, the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration require both countries to enhance mutual trust and cooperation even as they seek to address differences on all issues including Jammu and Kashmir. These are provisions that Musharraf finds irksome and embarrassing -- provisions he would like to discard.

Seventy-six people lost their lives in terrorist violence in the three days that Musharraf was in India. These included 49 militants, 20 civilians and seven members of the security forces. Most of the terrorists involved were not Kashmiris, but Pakistani nationals. Yet, Musharraf brazenly claimed that the violence in Kashmir was the result of an 'indigenous' movement. It is obvious that Musharraf has neither the will nor the inclination to deal with the perpetrators of terrorist violence.

The question that logically arises is that what is India to gain by giving in to the general's demands for an entirely new framework for dialogue, if there is reciprocally going to be no guarantee that the generals in Rawalpindi are going to end their support for terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India? It has always been our view that it is necessary to build a climate of trust, confidence and cooperation if complex issues are to be addressed and resolved. This approach lies at the very heart of the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration. Why should we dilute or undermine this approach, merely to please a Pakistani general who publicly avers at Agra that the Kargil intrusion was justified because of what transpired during the Bangladesh conflict in 1971 and has proclaimed in the past that low intensity conflict with India will continue even if the Kashmir issue is resolved to his satisfaction?

Prime Minister Vajpayee clearly spelt out India's approach to relations with Pakistan in his comments to the visiting general in Agra. He spoke of the need for a "comprehensive view" of Indo-Pakistan relations involving a "broad based" approach to our relations. He candidly referred to problems posed by Pakistani support for terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere. He also dwelt at length on issues of concern in India like the continued detention of Indian PoWs, the haven and support provided by Pakistan to people involved in the Bombay bomb blasts and in organized crime like Dawood Ibrahim, the hijackers of IC 814 and to residual terrorist elements who have been engaged in terrorist activities in Punjab.

Vajpayee spoke of the need to facilitate and expand people to people interaction and referred to the need to expand mutually beneficial trade and economic ties. While noting that there were differences in approach to the Kashmir issue, Vajpayee made it clear that India was quite prepared to enter into a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan on all outstanding issues including Jammu and Kashmir.

Negotiations on finalizing the text of a "Agra Declaration" remained the focal point of attention in Agra. It is quite obvious that these negotiations did not succeed primarily because of the basic difference in approach between the two sides. While India favored an inclusive approach in which the provisions of the Lahore Declaration and Simla Agreement were not eroded, the Pakistani side had a different approach. But, there is reason to believe that in an anxiety to reach an agreement, we were not quite as firm and forthright as we could have been during the actual negotiations.

Despite this, one could not help noting that behind his rhetoric on Kashmir aimed primarily at his domestic constituency Musharraf was showing a degree of realism and flexibility in his approach. We will now have to wait and see whether this trend continues. Pakistan has made substantial details of the negotiations in Agra public. Jaswant Singh has claimed he will not speak about the contents of the negotiations on grounds of confidentiality. This is not desirable in the present day in a democracy. The public and Parliament will have to be provided far greater details than the government has provided so far.

It would be incorrect to label the Agra summit a failure merely because there was no joint declaration issued. We need to remember that seven rounds of summit talks preceded the Lahore Declaration. Vital national interests should not be compromised by over-anxiety to get the dialogue process restarted. There will be occasion for Vajpayee and Musharraf to meet on the sidelines of the next UN General Assembly session. With the SAARC process set to recommence there are going to be occasions for official and ministerial level meetings between India and Pakistan.

In the meantime it is imperative that New Delhi unilaterally implements the measures that have been announced for promoting people to people contacts, including the opening of new entry check posts along the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad road and elsewhere. It would then be for Pakistan to decide whether it will permit its nationals to visit India across these checkpoints.

New Delhi's approach in dealing with Musharraf has been both mature and restrained. It is, however, important to ensure that restraint is not mistaken for weakness across the border. Further, the diplomatic pressure on Pakistan needs to be maintained as long as jehadi outfits operating from its territory or from Taleban-controlled Afghanistan continue to act with impunity whether in Kashmir, the Ferghana valley or Chechnya. There can also be no cause for any relaxation on issues of national security. It would be na´ve to believe that the optimism voiced after the summit by Jaswant Singh in Agra or by Abdul Sattar in Islamabad is in any way going to weaken the nexus between the ISI and the jehadi outfits they support.

G Parthasarathy

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