have been written about General Musharraf''s visit to New Delhi and a wearyingly
familiar pattern has begun once again to emerge in the writings. While the
Indian media have greeted the joint declaration with a satisfaction that borders
on euphoria the Pakistani media have been cautious to the point of pessimism.
"The joint statement ... clearly points to one conclusion: The Pakistani
leadership has succumbed to the pressure to proceed with the normalisation
of relations with India and put the core dispute of Kashmir on the backburner,"
says an editorial in the conservative English daily The Nation. Even
liberal newspapers and columnists have expressed the fear that General Musharraf
may have given away too much and gained very little in return.
reactions, which are based solely upon an enumeration of the various confidence
building measures that Musharraf agreed to, miss the wood for the trees. The
fact is that the Delhi meetings have achieved a breakthrough in India''s relations
with Pakistan of almost unimaginable importance: Prime minister Manmohan Singh
has succeeded in winning President Musharraf''s trust. In doing so he has placed
an enormous burden of obligation upon himself and upon India: We must now
prove ourselves worthy of that trust and find ways of reciprocating it. The
misgivings being expressed in Pakistan and the satisfaction, bordering upon
complacency, being expressed in India arise from perceiving only the first
half of this pact.
has not bestowed his trust lightly. As Kargil and the Agra summit showed,
he is not a dove on India-Pakistan relations. But as President of Pakistan
he bore the brunt of 9/11 and was the first to realise that coping with it
required far reaching changes in policy. That is why he lost no time in grasping
Prime minister Vajpayee''s proffered hand of friendship in 2003.
then, however, Musharraf has appeared to be making most of the concessions.
This is a direct outcome of the stark opposition between the two countries''
starting positions. Pakistan has always held that Kashmir is the core dispute
and must be dealt with first. India has maintained that other issues should
be resolved first, in order to create an atmosphere conducive to the resolution
of the Kashmir dispute. In 1997 the two countries committed themselves to
a ''composite dialogue'' in which all issues would be dealt with simultaneously.
process was revived in 2003 but since Kashmir is by far the most complex and
sensitive of all the issues whatever little progress there has been has taken
place on other issues. Since the underlying difference of approach remained
and was reflected, among other things, in India offering a plethora of CBMs
but remaining silent on Kashmir, Pakistan continued to regard New Delhi''s
overtures with suspicion and dragged its feet over responding to its proposals.
India therefore reacted sharply and negatively to every statement on Kashmir
that emanated from Islamabad.
The change began when President Musharraf met Dr Manmohan Singh in New York.
What they said to each other has been only sketchily reported, but it is significant
that Musharraf did not call off the dialogue when Dr Singh told him unambiguously
that a change in borders was not possible. Pakistan''s reaction was restrained
even when he repeated this in Srinagar in November. The only explanation was
that Dr Singh had laid out an alternative approach to resolving the Kashmir
dispute that had appealed sufficiently to Gen. Musharraf to keep the dialogue
alternative, we gradually learned, was a ''people-centred approach'' that shifted
the emphasis from demarcating territorial boundaries to increasing the freedom
and welfare of the Kashmiris. This required a progressive softening of the
LoC and progressively removing consular and other barriers that prevented
Kashmiris in both parts of the old state from meeting, trading and discussing
common problems with each other. If this process did not meet any roadblocks,
it would end in virtually eliminating the divide between the two parts of
Kashmir, at least for the Kashmiris.
Musharraf obviously found this approach sufficiently attractive to accept
it. Having done so he pushed ahead with characteristic decisiveness. As Dr
Singh pointed out to a group of Indian editors on Monday, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad
bus service would never have got off the ground without his direct intervention.
India too might not have agreed to participate in the Iranian gas pipeline
project had the prime minister not taken a personal interest in it.
But every step towards the normalisation of relations without a direct engagement
on Kashmir reinforced fears in the Pakistani security establishment that India
was trying to make it accept the LoC by the back door. These reached a crescendo
with the reopening of the Jhelum road across the LoC. President Musharraf
decided that the only way to end the ambiguity was to broach the subject directly
with the Indian prime minister. Before coming to Delhi he made it clear that
he wanted to establish a time frame for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
He also intended to broach the issue of the Baglihar dam.
Dr Singh apparently convinced the general that there could be no time frame
for the resolution of the dispute because it was a process. Each step in it
depended upon the completion of the previous step, and there was no way of
accurately predicting how long that would take. But he did lay out his road
map for the resolution of the dispute. He explained what that was in a meeting
with Indian, and some Pakistani, editors organised by the Editors'' Guild,
on Monday. "Territorial disputes are very difficult to resolve, and take
a long time", he began. Then, explaining in detail what his people-centered
approach envisaged, he added, "I do not know how long this process will
take, and I cannot predict where it will lead to, but each step that we complete
will unfold new possibilities that we cannot see at this time. If Kashmiris
from both sides are free to meet and talk to each other they may come up with
proposals that we can look at."
drawback of any prolonged process is that it is fraught with uncertainty.
Carrying it through to a successful conclusion requires steadfastness of purpose
in the leaders and an absence of severe, unforeseen shocks. After two generations
of conflict, conservatives in Pakistan can be forgiven if they doubt the existence
of the former in New Delhi.
as respect for Musharraf has risen in India, so has fear of unforeseen developments
that could topple him from power. But President Musharraf was not deterred
by the uncertainty because he detected in Dr Manmohan Singh, the steadfastness
of purpose and sincerity that he had been looking for. That is why he has
bestowed his trust on the Indian prime minister.
now needs to prove itself worthy of it. Dr Singh has already taken the first
steps in that direction by calling for a review of the Baglihar dam project.
An unstated purpose of the review is to allay the Pakistan army''s fear that
in its present form the Baglihar dam will make it possible for India to cut
off the supply of water to Pakistan for long enough in winter to dry out the
canals on which Pakistan depends for her defence against Indian armour. This
fear, which might have been valid in the ''70s when it was first voiced, is
now irrational because there is another dam, the Sallal, south of Baglihar
on the Chenab. But if it is possible to allay this apprehension without seriously
reducing the power generating potential of the dam, India is likely to do
area in which Dr Singh has shown his readiness to met Pakistan''s concerns
is trade. Told by the General that India''s offer of most favoured nation status
had been almost completely negated by the plethora of non-tariff barriers
that it had erected to imports from Pakistan, he said that this was news to
him and immediately asked for a report on the NTBs.
However, New Delhi has not moved on the third and most important
front the opening of a dialogue with the Hurriyat leaders even after
they expressed their desire to meet the prime minister. Until it does so India''s
intentions will remain suspect.
The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former editor of the
Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Financial
Express, and a former information adviser to the prime minister of
India. He is the author of several books including, The Perilous Road
to the Market: The Political Economy of Reform in Russia, India and China,
and Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a regular
columnist with several leading publications.