Vajpayee's Proposal of Peace Talks with Pakistan Immediately Proved Hollow in Kashmir


The excitement generated by Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's invitation last month to Pakistani chief executive general Pervez Musharraf, for peace talks in Delhi, quickly proved hollow when the very different positions of the two sides were made clear. Even while the pre-summit parleys were underway, India's duplicity became clear: it invited Musharraf for talks about "peace" but simultaneously terminated the six-month-old 'ceasefire' in Kashmir.

That the ceasefire was a farce had become obvious even to the most die-hard Indians; it also revealed the manner in which Indian diplomacy is conducted. The simultaneous announcements were intended to sow the seeds of distrust between Pakistan and the people of Kashmir, as well as tie Islamabad down to maintaining "maximum restraint" on the Line of Control (LoC), disconnecting it from the Indian ceasefire in Kashmir. Delhi may have succeeded in the latter, but the people of Kashmir have suffered too much at the hands of Indian troops to fall for India's machinations over their relations with Pakistan.

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India should not be allowed to extricate itself from the Kashmir imbroglio without a clear commitment to resolve it according to the wishes of the people of Kashmir.

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If talks between the two nuclear neighbours lead to any decrease in tension and movement towards the resolution of the dispute, it would be a major achievement and would be welcomed, especially by the peoples of the two countries. But there are nagging suspicions about what prompted Vajpayee's sudden volte face when he had parroted the "no dialogue" mantra despite Musharraf's repeated assertions for nearly two years that Pakistan was ready for talks with India "anywhere, any time". In fact, Musharraf had done more: in November 1999, soon after assuming power, he unilaterally withdrew troops from the Line of Control. Then on September 6, 2000, while addressing the UN general assembly, Musharraf offered a defence pact with India and a mutual reduction in armed forces, with the possibility that South Asia could become a nuclear-free zone. This was followed in December 2000 by another withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the LoC.

Suspicions about Indian intentions are not the result of Pakistani paranoia. On May 28, within days of Vajpayee's invitation, Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh stated in Delhi that India was willing to "discuss" Jammu and Kashmir, but not prepared to negotiate. He went on: "The government as a servant of parliament is bound by the act of parliament that says that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. The government is bound by that because that is the will of the Indian people."

Singh also ruled out a referendum in the disputed state, despite its being demanded by Pakistan and the people of Kashmir, and endorsed by numerous Security Council resolutions. He said that the only way Kashmir could be included in the talks was as part of a "composite dialogue", where it would be one of several issues. "A composite dialogue process mechanism has been agreed upon for some years now... The first item in that composite dialogue process was confidence-building measures. The second was Jammu and Kashmir. We have no hesitation in talking about Jammu and Kashmir," he said.

Islamabad has a different perception of the problem. Kashmir is central to the issue; unless there is progress on the question of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, there can be no progress in relations between the two countries, despite Vajpayee's reformulation that "poverty is our common enemy." Poverty is the result of the Kashmir dispute, not the other way round. India's tendency to speak from both sides of its mouth was also evident in commentaries by Indian analysts, among them Kuldip Nayar, a journalist who also once served as India's ambassador. He wrote in an opinion column: "Why can't India and Pakistan think of the region as the whole and its people? The core problem is not Kashmir. Kashmir is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is distrust with which the two countries have lived since partition. Let them shed that first. The rest will follow" (The Dawn, Karachi, May 26).

Given such Indian duplicity, can anything be expected from the talks? That depends on what prompted Vajpayee to invite Musharraf in the first place. It was not a sudden realization on India's part that dialogue is better than war; there are more practical reasons for Vajpayee's offer. Since 1989 India has indulged in an orgy of killing, rape and pillage in Kashmir in order to crush the people's aspirations. Far from cowing the people, this has increased their resentment against India. Delhi then launched the ceasefire ploy to divide the mujahideen. This also ended in complete failure, as did the appointment last month of K C Pant as India's point man for Kashmir. The All-Parties Hurriyet Conference, as well as mujahideen leaders, have pointedly refused to meet him. Pant has had no meaningful talks with any Kashmiri leader so far. Effectively his mission is over.

On the international level, Indian attempts to enlist the support of Saudi Arabia and Iran to isolate Pakistan have failed. During his visit to Tehran (April 10-13), Vajpayee was allowed to see Ayatullah Seyyed Ali Khamenei; the Rahbar made it clear that India must settle the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan by negotiation. Similarly India's efforts to persuade the US to brand Pakistan as a sponsor of "terrorism" failed to elicit a positive response from Washington. There are other external factors as well that have compelled India to adopt the dialogue approach. The US wants India to play a global role but has demanded that it first shed its regional obsessions; it cannot be both a global and regional player. The carrot of global status has spurred India to deal with its regional worries, albeit on its own terms. There is, however, no escaping the fact that Kashmir is a festering wound; Indian military officers have repeatedly said that there is no military solution to the problem: it demands a political solution.

The Indian foreign minister, in announcing the invitation and the termination of the ceasefire, explained that his government's decision sprang from four requirements relating to Vajpayee's peace initiative: to secure peace along the Line of Control (LoC) and the government's intention to continue restraint; to continue the process of dialogue on Kashmir initiated by the prime minister; to ensure the Indian security forces' maximum care to ensure no harassment to the civilian population; to put Kashmir at the centre of the resumed dialogue (which was implied by Vajpayee's invitation to Musharraf).

Yet no sooner had these words been uttered than an Indian foreign ministry spokesman reiterated that India was looking for a "composite dialogue" and not only talks on Kashmir. "Composite dialogue" is a euphemism fo,r fudging the core issue of Kashmir. In 1960 India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty, yet this did not redu,ce caused by the Kashmir dispute. Five years later the two countries fought a full-scale war. In more recent Indo-Pakistani negotiations an eight-point agenda for talks at the foreign-secretary level has been agreed upon, but how this wide range of subjects might help what should be a Kashmir-specific summit meeting is difficult to imagine.

Whenever the talks materialize -- they will not be held until Vajpayee recovers from his knee operation (on June 7), as if Musharraf were being invited for a wrestling match -- the Pakistani chief executive should concentrate on Kashmir. It will require his survival skills as a commando, but they must be brought to bear on the field of diplomacy. India will attempt to prolong the talks while continuing its policy of brutality in Kashmir, hoping to crush the uprising there.

Similarly, there will be efforts to create misunderstandings between political and jihadi groups in Kashmir on the one hand, and Pakistan on the other. This is a trap Musharraf must avoid. India should not be allowed to extricate itself from the Kashmir imbroglio without a clear commitment to resolve it according to the wishes of the people of Kashmir. Like all alien occupiers -- the French and Americans in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan and the zionists in Lebanon -- India is bleeding in Kashmir and will implode as the human and material costs of the occupation escalate.

If the talks result in a clear road-map for a resolution to the Kashmir dispute, it would be a major breakthrough. Anything less would be a waste of time, as far as Pakistan and the people of Kashmir are concerned. Pakistan must also avoid the trap of talks for their own sake; that is India's need, not Pakistan's. If it becomes clear that that is all India wants, it would be better to end the farce and let India continue to bleed in Kashmir.

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Zafar Bangash writes from Crescent International, a newsmagazine of the global Islamic movement.


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