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June - July 2005

Political News

From Cross-Border Terrorism to Cross-Border Trade: a New Dawn in India-Pakistan Relations?

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

General Musharraf is an ardent enthusiast of cricket. And we also know that both the Indians and the Pakistanis passionately love cricket. During over half a century of rivalry, confrontation and wars between India and Pakistan, the military dictators ruling Pakistan had used the game of cricket as a peace-time substitute for war by other means, if only to keep themselves in power. Gradually, since the dawn of the 21st century, a remarkable change of mood among the people in both the countries grew, influenced by recent international events. The mood transformed itself into a sub-continental demand breaking all boundaries. Cricket should build bridges between the two nations rather than be used to accentuate animosities. It is evident that when the dam bursts, even dictatorships can not ignore the upsurge of mass movements. Musharraf mellowed and bowed to popular will.

India was ready to respond in full measure. Amidst unprecedented euphoria and media hype, Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf paid a three day visit to India from April 16 to18, 2005, ostensibly to attend the last of the 6, One Day International cricket matches in Firoze Shah Kotla grounds in Delhi but more importantly to hold an unofficial summit with the Indian President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. Among the subjects discussed were: expanding the on-going Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) like introducing more bus services across the borders and so on, finding ways of ironing out differences over Baglihar Dam, the Siachen Glacier and the Sir Creek Channel, exploring options to find a final solution to the Kashmir problem and other outstanding issues between the two countries.

There was a marked softness in Musharraf’s pronouncements on India for the first time ever, which was not unexpected in view of growing international pressures, but nevertheless pleasantly surprised many in India. Returning his favours, the Indian side welcomed him with open arms. He was wined and dined to his hearts content although on occasions they seemed extravagant, going somewhat overboard. If India has succeeded in winning over the hearts and minds of the Pakistanis, the exercise was worth every penny of the tax-payers money so spent.

There was widespread jubilation over the Musharraf visit among large sections of the people of all faiths across the borders welcoming the fresh whiff of fragrance of neighbourly love. The cry from the crowds, reverberating all over the sub-continent, was : Cricket lovers of the world unite! Cricket was no more being seen as an instrument of war between India and Pakistan by other means. It had taken the role of a bridge-builder of peace and amity between two peoples. The time had therefore come for a peace process to be set in motion with all seriousness and sincerity.

The story however does not end there. There are plenty of doubters and cynics who fear that the start of the bus service called “Karwan e Aman” or the Caravan of Peace between Srinagar and Muzaffarbad, although a welcome development for the divided families on either side of the border to come together and meet in sentimental re-union, one can not wholly rule out the possibility that Musharraf could use it as a ploy to send hordes of armed terrorists from the across the borders into India swelling their ranks in local communities and re-kindle the passions of fanaticism once again perhaps in a more virulent form. This nobody wants anymore. Kargill is still fresh in people’s minds. It is difficult to dismiss these fears, considering the numerous reminders that India has been making to General Pervez Musharraf, to implement his promise made by him to US President George W Bush, to end cross-border terrorism. While the cease-fire by Pakistan Army along the LOC is holding, murderous terrorist attacks still remain a daily phenomenon. Will these ever end ?

Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf arrived in Jaipur airport on April 16, 2005 from Islamabad and flew by helicopter straight to Ajmer and prayed at the famous Dargah of Ghareeb Nawaz. Later he told the media that he was a messenger of peace from Pakistan declaring colourfully that he had prayed for peace between India and Pakistan. He gave the impression that he was now a changed man and was picking up the threads from where he had left at the end of the aborted Agra Summit in 2002.

Only two weeks prior to his India trip, Musharraf was parroting his pet theory: “The Line of Control is the problem, it can not be the solution”. Within a week, he changed the mantra to : I am prepared to consider “soft borders”. He refined the soft borders concept further by saying that the borders will soon become irrelevant.

India on its part has been suggesting officially as well as through the good offices of think tanks and political commentators that converting the LOC into international borders, may be the only practical option available for a final solution. However, Pakistan’s “Soft Border” and India’s “International Border” have one word in common and that happens to be: Border. It makes no difference if the border is soft or hard as long as the border is peaceful. This is what matters to the people.

Pakistan Foreign Office was quick to place a novel interpretation on the word “Border”, which according to India can not be re-drawn or re-worked. Mr Jilani, the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman has gone on record saying that the word border as used by India can apply only to international border not to the Line of Control which is not a border and what is more it is disputed. .
The Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh conveyed to Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf when he met him in New York in September 2004 on the sidelines of the UNGA session that, there was no question of India agreeing to a “re-drawing or re-working the borders”. In other words, without articulating in so many words, he seemed to take the stand that converting the LOC into an international border was the only practical option that he could see before him. It also meant that New Delhi was prepared to forego all claims on the territories of Kashmir, which were under the “Occupation” of Pakistan. According to an unanimous resolution passed by Parliament in New Delhi in 1992, the entire territory of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir including what is known as “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”, constituted an integral and an inalienable part of India. New Delhi was thus prepared to forego claims on POK. This was a path-breaking offer from India, completely ignored by Pakistan.

Since that meeting in New York, General Musharraf never failed to tell anybody who was prepared to listen to him that the LOC was indeed the problem and therefore it could not be the solution. For him Kashmir was the “core issue” and without a solution to the Kashmir “dispute” there could be no settlement of any kind with India.

It was a quantum leap forward for Pakistan President when he declared in categorical terms in Delhi on April 16, 2005 that the “peace process was irreversible”. He said this in full knowledge of what India’s position was on the issue. If Musharraf meant seriously what he said, this certainly heralded, to quote former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, “a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations” and wished the peace process good luck and god-speed. Musharraf on his part acknowledged before the media that it was Vajpayee who had started the peace process and he felt happy to receive his endorsement as it gathered momentum.

The question remains how far the change in the language of diplomacy is dictated by a genuine change of heart? For Musharraf, pressures have been building up for sometime. They might have reached a boiling point, threatening the stability of his position. The banished mainstream political parties like Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Shariff’s Pakistan Muslim League are regrouping, the fundamentalist coalition Muttahida Majlis e Amal ruling NWFP and Balochistan are on war path, the tribesmen controlled by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in Dera Bugti, Balochistan are up in arms, the South Waziris are fighting running battles with the Army causing casualties. Musharraf is also under intense pressure from US President George W Bush to eliminate terrorism from the soil of Pakistan. The rest of the international community, like the EU, Japan, even China have also lost their patience with Islamabad’s mollycoddling an assortment of Islamist terror outfits. They all fear Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of the extremists. Pakistan is most likely to descend into uncontrolled chaos if an Islamist marksman’s bullet kills General Musharraf. There is also no end of badgering from India to end cross border terrorism. If the UN adopts a Convention on Terrorism as it may, in September 2005, rejecting distinction between terrorists and killers who masquerade as Pakistan’s so called freedom fighters in Kashmir, Islamabad will have no legs to stand on, if it continues to sponsor terror from its soil into India.

Many Indians have started trusting Musharraf believing that he may have come some way from what he was during his summit meeting with Atal Behari Vajpayee in Agra and matured in the meantime. There is also the suspicion that he went to Agra genuinely believing that the Indians are “real monsters” who can not be trusted. The continuing dialogue process, the CBMs, the people to people contacts and so on, may have persuaded him to believe that the Indians were after all human beings like any other, with whom he could do business with. The big challenge is: If an acceptable solution to the Kashmir issue is found, how will he keep undiluted the relevance of Pakistan Army as the central political institution of the country. When he said recently that he was probably the last military ruler of Pakistan, he seemed to be acknowledging that Pakistan’s future was now tied to democracy and not military dictatorships. Pakistan will now embrace market reforms and promote material prosperity and not be held hostage to obscurantist authoritarianism and religious intolerance.

As his visit drew to a close, Musharraf made an effort to revert to his old rhetoric although the style was not so strident as before. Before he took his flight for Manila, as he spoke to the media, he re-iterated once again that Kashmir was the principal issue and the CBMs were of no use until a solution was found to the Kashmir problem. Once again he said that the LOC was the problem not the solution. Such an u-turn was not taken seriously in New Delhi. It is well understood that Musharraf has to keep his domestic audience in good humour, a large section of which remains radicalised by constant Government propaganda lasting half a century.

Not to be ignored is that Musharraf’s contradictory statements, whatever be the compulsions on him, are creating some confusion about the sincerity of his purpose. Is he under some kind of a political pressure to say things he does not like to say, which makes him to perforce retract statements if only to impress his domestic audience. To understand the game plan, we need to examine the meaning of two significant events, which took place just before the Musharraf-Singh Summit was held in New Delhi. Within a few days after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited New Delhi, Prime Minster Manmohan Singh sent Foreign Minister Natwar Singh dashing to Washington. Natwar Singh had an hour-long meeting with President Bush. What did they talk? Dr Rice had said everything that she had to say while in Delhi. So what more Bush and Rice had to say to Singh after only 10 days for which a trip to Washington became so necessary?

If the fast-moving high-octane diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing between New Delhi, Washington and Islamabad, that preceded Musharraf’s India visit, is any guide, one is tempted to speculate that an US-scripted Kashmir Plan - a road map to serve as the agenda for the New Delhi Summit - was what President George W Bush wanted to hand over personally to Natwar Singh. Does it include the provision that the LOC be converted into international border? It was also not too much of a coincidence that the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao happened to be in Islamabad and New Delhi only a few days prior to Musharraf came calling on New Delhi. The US and China being the two key alliance partners of Pakistan they have enough leverage to guide Pakistan towards a certain direction. Which they did in my opinion. Musharraf was left with no alternative but to follow the US scripted roadmap. However he decided to do it his way - blowing it hot and cold by turn - because he has to sell the package and carry his people with him. Dr. Manmohan Singh’s categorical statement that a final solution to the Kashmir problem will not involve any redrawing of the borders which Musharraf acknowledged, short of accepting it as the final solution, was not possible without a wink and nod from Washington and perhaps Beijing.

The All Parties Hurrayat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Jilani who has been consistent in his demand that the State of J & K should accede to Pakistan, complained after meeting President Musharraf in Delhi that, the General has moved away from supporting the cause of the Kashmiri people. It carried a message. The super-power prescribed Kashmir Peace Plan cooked in Washington is not one to be dismissed off hand and it is only a matter of time when peace according to the said plan will finally prevail in the state. Every thing else will be a matter of detail. India’s enhanced strategic relationship with the US is beginning to produce positive results, it seems.

And finally a word about developing closer trading relationship with Pakistan. Short of declaring India as Pakistan’s Most Favoured Nation trading partner, Islamabad has agreed to foster meaningful economic relationship with India. A Joint Economic Council has been formed to go through the whole gamut of developing closer trading links between the two nations. Two Gas Pipeline projects are under advanced stages of discussions namely the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline. Once these are functional, they will create co-prosperity zones for all the countries involved.

The conditions are propitious and the stage is set for an India-Pakistan Peace Dialogue to progress smoothly and succeed.

Dr Manmohan Singh was born in Pakistan and General Musharraf was born in India. Singh is a Western trained economist. So is Shaukat Aziz the Pakistan Prime Minister.
The time has come for Pakistan to call off its sponsorship of cross-border terrorism and replace it with cross-border trade with India. Such a change-over will immensely benefit large masses of poverty stricken people not only in South Asia but also in Central Asia. If past experience is any guide, some form of cast iron guarantees may be needed from both Washington and Beijing to ensure that Pakistan does not stray back into its old ways at some later date.

The author is a political analyst and commentator

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