Dialogue will help to cast away Indo-Pak war clouds
Dialogues between countries do not necessarily start after the situation normalizes. They take place to normalize the situation. India and Pakistan are two countries, which are known for picking up the thread after the end of hostilities. They did so at Tashkent when the 1965 war ended and again at Shimla after the 1971 war. And when the guns fell silent, they, ritualistically, adopted a long list of peace measures, which unfortunately remained only on paper.
Today's standoff between the two countries is similar to the ones witnessed earlier. The difference is that there has been no last-minute agreement or dramatic declaration, although both sides say that the war is over. They are more used to wars than to think of peace.
There is yet another difference: never before have the forces of the two countries, a million in number, stood eyeball to eyeball for six months at a stretch. The two countries do not know how to get out of the corner to which they have painted themselves. Once Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf publicly stated that the war had been averted, they should have restored the status quo ante, following the precedent at Tashkent and Shimla. Maybe it wouldn't create an ideal situation, but at least there would be a modicum of normalization.
The two countries should have begun de-escalation by now. There is no doubt that the tension, which you could feel at one time, has now lessened. Soldiers on both sides have begun to go on leave. The atmosphere of confrontation looks somewhat relaxed. It is childish to insist on the other side taking the first step. Maybe both countries should withdraw their troops simultaneously, after the field commanders have worked out the modalities.
If India were to take the initiative, it would in no way lose its izzat (honour). In fact, its stock in the international community would go up for taking the step towards normalcy. Nowhere in the world hostilities are allowed to be permanent because they affect all in some way or other.
We are on a strong wicket because our demand has been more or less met. New Delhi's condition was that it would not withdraw its troops or hold talks with Islamabad until the infiltration stopped. After facing an undeclared war from across the border for some 13 years, such a reaction was understandable. But when there is proof of infiltration lessening why drag your feet? Home Minister LK Advani, not known for understatement, himself says that the infiltration has decreased. Defense sources also confirm it.
Whether the infiltration has completely stopped or whether no such act will be repeated in the future is a matter of conjecture. Even after the employment of all modern facilities, the earliest we would know about the complete stoppage of infiltration is six months. Should forces stand in a war-like position for such a long time? We are talking about human beings who are stationed at perilous heights or in the sweltering heat of the deserts. Not robots.
As for infiltration, the West is also in the picture. Musharraf has repeatedly said that the infiltration has been stopped. He has even given an assurance to that effect to Washington and London. In fact, he has assured America that he will stop infiltration permanently. He can do shadow boxing as he has done before but he cannot renege on the promise made to Washington, which is Pakistan's economic lifeline.
New Delhi's response should have been more positive. Even our first reaction to take the forces straight to the border was hasty. It is nobody's case that there should be any let-up in meeting cross-border terrorism. But exhausting the forces by letting them on the border is counter-productive. It may be because of pressure but Islamabad is making efforts to stop infiltration.
It is true that most of the camps that the ISI has established to train and equip militants for cross-border terrorism have not been closed yet. And there are reports that a few more are coming up. The international pressure on winding them up is increasing and Islamabad will have to do that ultimately. In any case, the end product is stopping infiltration. Since it is lessening, it is in our interest to take further steps.
For example, people-to-people contact is an important ingredient of better Indo-Pak relations. New Delhi should resume the bus and train services to Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan air service to India should be allowed to operate.
Once people from both sides meet, they might be able to goad their respective governments towards peace. At least, the atmosphere will become more conducive to it. Islamabad is not making things easier. Even what New Delhi has done has not been reciprocated. For example, New Delhi's gesture to allow Pakistan flights to fly over the Indian airspace.
Similarly, Islamabad, unlike Delhi, has not named the High Commissioner to India. Our Pakistan friends tell us that we should not make them as a test case. Their argument is that Musharraf is under a lot of pressure from the jehadis, religious groups and other fanatics.
By not reciprocating to India's steps he is trying to give an impression that he is not yielding even an inch to New Delhi. The propaganda against him in Pakistan is that he has sold Kashmir to India at the behest of America.
Rhetoric on both sides may be difficult to check in the days to come because it is grist for their propaganda mills. Hardliners in the two countries are digging in their heels. Yet, there should be some steps to indicate that both of them have left far behind, the period when they were about to jump at each other's throat.
In a way they have, because the foreign dignitaries relaying visits to New Delhi and Islamabad to normalize the situation is far less than before. Although they are talking to New Delhi and Islamabad all the time, they are still a little worried.
The second visits of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and America's deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage in less than six weeks suggest that the international community is still on tenterhooks. They want de-escalation. Armed forces, if they are not in the barracks, give an impression of disturbed conditions.
For reasons best known to him, Defense Minister George Fernandez has said that the troops will not be withdrawn till October. What is he trying to convey? Pakistan and Kashmir are scheduled to hold elections in October. How are they connected with the withdrawal of troops unless the stationing of them is meant to influence the elections?
India and Pakistan have to find a way to get away from the present situation so that a dialogue can get off the ground. Once New Delhi makes an announcement that a dialogue could begin soon, the pressure on Musharraf from within his own countries will go down. The reported jehadi plot to kill him sounds ominous.
Whether India can trust him or not is not as relevant as the situation we may face if he is ousted. At present he has the upper hand but the reports that there are jehadi elements in the army does not augur well for the future. Again, it is not in our interest that Pakistan becomes a failed state. Its weakness can create innumerable problems for India.
Islamabad's strength will be in proportion to the steps India takes to normalize the situation. The withdrawal of troops is on the top of western powers' list. New Delhi's intransigence on this point can cost it the support of international community which has been so consistent in putting pressure on Musharraf and which has been saying that the Line of Control (LoC) is sacrosanct.
Kuldip Nayar is a renowned South Asian journalist and former Indian High Commissioner to the UK.
Topics: Foreign Policy, Pakistan