Photograph of VT Joshi

Author - VT Joshi

The best thing that has happened since the peace initiatives of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan is the visit of a group of hard line clerics led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, and now the Opposition Leader in Pak Parliament's National Assembly (lower house).

Most significant of all his public statements is his repeated, unreserved emphasis on the Simla Agreement and his party's willingness to accept conversion of the Line of Control as the international border to resolve the Kashmir issue if the two countries agree to it as well as the people of that long bruised, battered State.

Among the other notable points of equally profound significance Maulana Fazlur Rehman has made during his 10-day sojourn, are:

  1. The Ayodhya issue is an "internal" matter of India.

  2. He dismissed all inconvenient questions relating to his "fatherhood" of the Taliban, saying he has come on a friendly goodwill mission and not to rake up the unpleasant past.

  3. There would be no development of the two countries without peace and it can be ushered in only through direct bilateral negotiations and not through violence or American intervention.

  4. Bitterly anti-American and anti-Musharraf, he stoutly denied that his visit has anything to do with the Pak President.

  5. His acceptance of the suggestion for LOC-conversion is not at behest of General Pervez Musharraf.

  6. He has unequivocally condemned the latest terrorist killings in the Akhnur camp and called for the "severest" punishment to the perpetrators of the outrage.

  7. Kashmir is an "important" issue but it must not be allowed to become an "obstacle" in the path to peace normalization of Indo-Pak ties.


On his return to Pakistan, in reply to a question if it meant Kashmiris should give up jihad, the Maulana is reported to have shot back: "Why do you want the mujahideen not to give up the gun? Do their lives have no value? Can the gun get them their rights?" Such a dramatic change of heart and/or mind, if real, is unimaginable from one who virtually swore by jihad and militancy not long ago.

The LoC conversion proposal has long been dominant, yet dormant, in the thinking of most sections of the people in both the countries as the only pragmatic, ultimate solution to the vexed K-problem that has plagued the subcontinent for the past half a century and more. It was indeed waiting for someone to give the call and "bell the cat". And the bearded Maulana has virtually done it. Its salutary impact should not be lost in vituperative mutual recriminations. It deserves to be felt all the more keenly, coming as it does from the most unexpected, unsuspected quarter -- Pakistan's most prominent ultra conservative fundamentalist outfit, JUI, which leads the six-party extremist religious combine, Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), holding 50 seats in the National Assembly, ruling the crucial Northwest Frontier Province and being a partner in the Baluchistan provincial government.

It is equally significant that Fazlur Rehman narrowly missed emerging as Pakistan's Prime Minister in its present politico-religious-military milieu by a solitary vote. In a sense this implies that although MMA has only 20 percent of its seats, Fazlur Rehman commands almost half of the peoples elected representatives in the National Assembly. So his new-found candid views in the changed regional and global situation must be given due weight and not brushed aside lightly as some quarters are apt to do in India.

Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali, who consequently won the post of Pak premier also by a single vote margin, is known to be equally keen on speedy normalization of relations between the two countries. Together they may as well be expected to turn the tide of bilateral hostility in conjunction with Atal Behari Vajpayee provided the momentum generated by the peace initiatives is not allowed to peter out again in the wilderness of acrimonious verbal missiles and saber-rattling of extremist religious and political groups in the two countries and the hawks in Pak army.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman's numerous consistently conciliatory statements in TV interviews and meetings with a wide spectrum of Indian leaders from prime minister Vajpayee and Opposition Leader Sonia Gandhi to RSS and VHP bigwigs open a window of opportunity for the people and parties to seize and create a strong public opinion in both the countries in favour of a quick resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio.

His repeated insistence on the Simla agreement has wider implications. Though he has not spelt it out in so many words it is well known (and he could not have been unaware of it) that an extension of the Simla pact involves the unwritten understanding between the late Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Bhutto in favour of the conversion of the LOC into an international border as a permanent solution of this problem.

It is difficult to say if all that the Maulana has been saying reflects a genuine change of heart after years of frustrating, dogmatic pursuits or merely a change of strategy. Nonetheless on its face value it is quite encouraging and deserves to be taken seriously and pursued vigorously. At any rate it must not be rejected out of hand.


Incidentally, an inkling of the Maulana's past thinking could be had from an interview this writer had with him in Islamabad way back in 1987. As soon as I called on him in his sparsely furnished office room he remarked instantly: "You Hindus are very lucky". Quite puzzled, I asked him why he thought so. "Muslims of the subcontinent are divided into three countries while the partition united the Hindus", he explained rather pensively, indeed wistfully.

This is not to suggest that Maulana Fazlur Rehman, or any Pakistani citizen, young or old, man or woman, would ever envisage reunification of the divided countries or agree to compromise on the sovereignty and independence of their country. How zealously they guard it may be gauged from the fact that by and large they resent any suggestion even of a "Confederation" with India as fancied in some quarters and notably by leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav. Pakistanis feel that a "confederation" will be the beginning of the end of Pakistan. Peace and friendship with India they devoutly wish, one hundred percent, but for a confederation the support will be "zero" percent.

Even so the Maulana's candid expressions perhaps underline the winds of change sweeping his country - in spite of the contrary official postures of successive governments. And notwithstanding the latest terrorist outrage and senseless killings in Jammu and Kashmir designed obviously to derail and sabotage yet again the incipient peace progress as has happened so often before.

It should be no surprise that one of the terrorist groups is reported to have specifically cited Maulana Fazlur Rehman's support to the LOC-conversion idea as the "reason" for its indulging in the latest killings. It is painfully obvious that one could expect nothing better from them, and there may indeed be more attacks as the conversion proposal gains ground. So also equally hostile reactions can be expected from rightwing extremists like RSS, VHP and their ilk.


However these are bound to be a passing phase, indeed a torturous but inevitable passing phase, once the groundswell of popular will comes up fervently in favour of a quick normalization of relations. It must assert itself quickly before stalemate sets in again. The groundswell of public opinion is already evident in the baby Noor Fatima episode and similar other gestures.

A word of caution is however warranted. For instance Government of India's offer of free medical treatment to 20 Pakistani children is no doubt a magnificent gesture. But it is a short-sighted, thoughtless pronouncement that has justifiably caused considerable dismay and acute embarrassment to Pakistan's medical community as much as to the Musharraf-Jamali government. The offer should have been formally made to the Government of Pakistan and its consent obtained first instead of making a unilateral announcement.

Though comparisons are odious and certainly not on all fours in this particular instance, one is reminded of Rajiv Gandhi Government's bid to air-drop food supplies to help the beleaguered Tamils in Sri Lanka without the clearance of that country's Government in the late 1980s. It was described by London Times at that time, half in jest, as India's "Relief Raids"!

VT Joshi

26 July 2003

VT JOSHI (1925-2008) worked for more than fifty years as a journalist. He retired from THE TIMES OF INDIA in 1989. During 1985-89 he was the Special Correspondent of THE TIMES OF INDIA in Pakistan. His books "PAKISTAN: ZIA TO BENAZIR" and "INDIA AT CROSS ROADS" (co-author GG Puri) were widely reviewed in both India and Pakistan.

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