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|June 14, 2001||
Amberish K Diwanji
What validity does a Vajpayee-Musharraf deal hold?
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has invited Pakistan's Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf for talks on all issues, including Kashmir. Some people see the talks as a sign of capitulation, especially since New Delhi has agreed to talk on the only issue that has besotted Pakistan: Kashmir. The fear is that by agreeing to talks, Pakistan has gained a foot in the door and will soon be in a position to force India's hand on Kashmir.
Rather than a sign of capitulation, the invitation for talks can and should be seen as a show of strength and self-confidence in our ability to talk to our neighbours on any and all issues without fear. Moreover, the situation in Kashmir today is at a stalemate.
The army and security forces (including the Jammu & Kashmir police), as they have always done in the past whenever called upon by a beleaguered India, have done their duty by pushing the militants on the defensive. To establish command and control over a huge valley and adjoining mountains with a hostile population and militants strongly supported by the neighbour is no mean task, and the nation should be grateful for it.
But even if the terrorists and militants are today unable to strike at will, the fact is that as long as they receive support either from the local populace or from across the border, they remain alive.
Thus, the militants are down, but not out. And in classic terrorist tactics, they will lie low till such time as they can revive and strike back. If today the terrorists are forced to retreat, it is because the local population is totally fed up with the violence and gun culture that has pervaded the valley. The people want peace at virtually any cost and therefore this is a wonderful opportunity to grab.
Thus, the job now belongs to the politicians. And herein lies a tragic reality: to effectively reach a workable solution that might actually resolve the Kashmir dispute, we need to engage Pakistan. Many Indians might find the thought unpalatable, but the fact is that New Delhi is not popular with the people of Kashmir (it is, of course, popular with the people of Jammu and Ladakh, and this difference must never be forgotten). Also, for reasons of history and geography, Pakistan is involved in the dispute. To ignore it is to ignore reality.
Whether Vajpayee and Musharraf reach any workable solution, time alone will tell. But surely few Indians, if any, expect anything as spectacular as what was witnessed when Vajpayee went by bus to Lahore.
Perhaps that itself is a positive beginning; fewer expectations and slow but steady progress might actually help in the long run. It is just that progress must not be so slow as to let the people get frustrated and thus allow terrorism to be reborn in the Valley.
There is, however, one major worry. What validity does a Vajpayee-Musharraf deal hold? Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto has already warned that she or any subsequent civilian government in Pakistan will not necessarily be bound by Musharraf's signature.
Tragically, all India-Pakistani talks and agreements thus far have ended up on the rocks, destroyed by the very next ruler. The 1966 Tashkent Agreement died in the turmoil of the 1971 war. General Zia-ul-Haq nibbled away at the Simla Agreement inked by Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Bhutto; while General Musharraf shelled to smithereens in Kargil the Vajpayee-Nawaz Sharief Lahore Declaration.
So what guarantee does India have that any deal reached between the present leaders will be acceptable to the next set of Pakistani rulers?
The argument that at least this time New Delhi is dealing with the Pakistani Army, the actual leaders in that country as opposed to the politicians, is flawed. There is no surety that what Musharraf agrees to will be accepted by the army or the next general or politician who succeeds him. And what about the jihadi groups, many of who have anyway declared that they are opposed to the talks.
The fact is that Musharraf has no legitimacy today, not even among the Pakistani people. It will not be too difficult for any succeeding ruler of Pakistan to declare one fine morning that since his predecessor had no authority to make any deals, the Vajpayee-Musharraf deal is not worth the paper it is written on!
Does this mean that New Delhi is to keep negotiating with every leader who rules Pakistan, howsoever briefly?
In that sense, Pakistan already has an edge. If they gain an advantage from the talks, they will readily accept it. And if they lose the advantage, the next chief executive/prime minister/whatever can simply junk it. Thus India has to ensure that this agreement, if there is one, will be honoured despite a history of deals torn to shreds.
India must also guard against its own history of doubtful charity. New Delhi tends to lose in diplomacy what it has won in war. In 1947-48, India approached the United Nations instead of letting the army throw out the Pakistanis from Jammu & Kashmir; in 1965-66, India returned the tactically important Pir Panjal range at Tashkent, mountains that overlook Indian positions and villages; and of course in 1971-72, in some ridiculously misplaced fit of charity, we let Bhutto win in Simla what his generals had lost in war. Worse, we let the Kashmir issue hang fire.
One desperately hopes that India has learnt its lessons and negotiates hard. The fear is that New Delhi, seeking international prestige in areas such as getting a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (of questionable value today) or in seeking to buttress the growing Indo-US friendship, might try to play a dovish big brother and agree to a deal that could seriously impair India's interests in the long run.
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