Photograph of VT Joshi

Indo-Pak Front: Hope in the Air
Author - VT Joshi


THE NEW YEAR: COUNT THE BLESSINGS

It is a "huge" pity that General Pervez Musharraf has provoked a "huge" controversy in Pakistan and considerable skepticism in India with his sportive offer to give up his country's insistence on the United Nations resolutions to resolve the Kashmir problem. Even to the point of usually cautious Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali and his suave foreign minister Khursheed Mohammad Kasuri differing sharply with President Musharraf, and expressing their differences in an unusual public stance.

This is however futile if not exactly done advisedly. It is indeed a non-issue as Musharraf himself as much as Jamali and Kasuri know full well that the hoary UN resolutions are dead beyond resurrection. Under these very resolutions Pakistan is required, as the very first step, to vacate fully and completely from POK (the portion of Kashmir it has occupied) in the run up to a plebiscite. Will Pakistan ever do it? Never indeed. There is not a ghost of a chance in a thousand years. India could indeed have called Pakistan's bluff long ago if it had challenged its neighbour to fulfill its obligations first, instead of itself shying away from the resolutions.

Obviously Musharraf made his "sportive" offer in a casual observation in a show of "magnanimity" and to contend that India lacked this virtue. On their part Jamali and Kasuri resorted to the all too familiar public postures as a bargaining point when the chips are down. Chastened or not by the most recent successive assassination attempts on his life, Musharraf still calls the shots. His emphasis on flexibility needed on both sides in dealing with a difficult situation is most realistic and welcome.

Musharraf's remarks, however casually made, sharply contrast with former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright's suggestion of a plebiscite to resolve the Kashmir issue. It is all the more surprising since her erstwhile democratic boss, President Clinton, was never known to support such a view. Instead he insisted on respect for the LoC and actively brought about an end to the Kargil conflict. Albright's suggestion, if meant to be taken up seriously by her compatriots, gives an altogether new dimension to the American position on the Kashmir issue, and may as well further complicate the already complex matter.

Hopefully the reported noises made against Musharraf's observations in some quarters in Pakistan have little to do with Albright's views. Benazir Bhutto's Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League in Islamabad are part of the routine public postures to score a typical political point by the opposition. They also know in the heart of their hearts, as everyone else knows, that the UN resolutions are long dead, as Secretary General Kofi Aman himself conceded sometime back during his visit to Islamabad.

Nonetheless India has done well, officially and gracefully, to welcome Musharraf's offer for whatever it is worth -- instead of picking holes, as is the wont of Advani, his Man Friday Venkaih Naidu and Co.

TU TU MEIN MEIN

All the same, mercifully indeed, the New Year opens on an optimistic note in sharp contrast to the past two eventful years on the Indo-Pak front. Thanks to a series of interesting developments in recent months there appears to be an apparent beginning of a modicum of understanding between the governments of the two countries, backed undoubtedly by the upsurge of goodwill at the peoples' level.

After an avoidable tu tu mein mein (mutual bickerings) between some leaders of the two countries the two prime ministers will meet in Islamabad for a courteous handshake and exchange of pleasantries under the shadow of SAARC Summit though not for any substantive talks which in the very nature of the problem cannot be engaged in a casual manner.

One must count the blessings despite many odds. It may be somewhat premature, even foolhardy, to expect the miracle of a settlement in the near future of all the outstanding issues plaguing bilateral relations over half a century. Nevertheless it will not be unreasonable to hope for a better turn of events than hitherto towards an amicable settlement.

Among the positive aspects of the thaw have been the prompt reciprocal responses of the two sides to each others and peace proposals laced with a sense of realism. Like, for instance: the helpful manner in which the initial condition set by Pakistan for introducing a bus service between Srinagar and Muzafarabad was toned down by it to facilitate the possible early opening of the bus service which is the most significant of various proposals: the earnestness with which the talks have been pursued for resumption of air and rail links after some initial hurdles: unilateral release of certain class of prisoners held by each from the other side: almost spontaneous gestures of goodwill by the two sides culminating in the Indian PM's Divali package and his Pak counterpart's Eid ceasefire along the entire LoC and Siachin.

All this was preceded by the restoration of top level diplomatic ties: acceptance by both sides of the proposals for a comprehensive, composite dialogue on all issues including Kashmir instead of the earlier postures of "Kashmir first" pitted against "No Kashmir". Cross border terror is still no doubt a sticking point but not impossible to surmount, given the apparent readiness shown by the two sides to resolve the issues rather than dither and delay as often in the past.

DEMOCRACY VS DICTATORSHIP

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's visit to India proved to be quite conducive to a climate for resolution of the Indo-Pak impasse. Though coloured by her own peculiar plight of self imposed exile brought about by Musharraf's military regime, she beseeched India to test its sincerity in solving the Indo-Pak conflicts amicably by agreeing to an early dialogue.

Ms. Bhutto claimed that only a democratic regime in Pakistan could resolve various issues with democratic India. Her recipe is however a tall order since there is no prospect of a full blooded democratic dispensation taking over in the near future there. Besides the two democratic stints, each under Benazir and Nawaz Sharif, proved of no avail. And both lost power in a maze of corruption charges -- much to the ecstasy of the army for a take-over.

There is no doubt that in her first stint as prime minister of Pakistan in 1988 Benazir extended full cooperation to her Indian counterpart, Rajiv Gandhi, in their incipient efforts at amicable settlement of some of the bilateral issues despite a totally unhelpful army. Her help was notable in respect of ending the terrorist insurgency in Indian Punjab. But she soon buckled under the same army pressure, and was eventually ousted from power by President Ishaq Khan in August 1989. Once bitten doubly shy, she almost joined the anti-India forces when she returned to power three years later, and raised the hysterical chorus of "Azadi, Azadi, Azadi" on the K-issue.

It is absolutely true, as revealed by Banazir Bhutto, that the low intensity proxy war was launched by Pakistan to focus international attention on the Kashmir issue in mid 1989 (though formally denied by Pak government). This writer was witness to the apprehension felt by the then Indian Embassy diplomats in Islamabad, notably the late Mr. Arun Patwardhan, then Deputy Chief of the Embassy headed by Mr. S. K. Singh and later by Mr. J. N. Dixit. Mr. Patwardhan made no secret of his conviction that, once the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan, Pakistan would lose no time in diverting the so-called "Mujahids" towards Kashmir. That was towards the close of Benazir's own first (aborted) term as Pak PM. The havoc the terrorists have since played in Kashmir is history. (Mr. Patwardhan, who moved to Hanoi as India's ambassador in Vietnam, later died in a tragic air crash along with his wife and son).

During her brief stay in India Benazir Bhutto gave vent to her nostalgia and yearning to go home. Away from which she has been virtually compelled by the Musharraf regime to wander as a fugitive in foreign countries. She bemoaned her fate in a touching interview to Hindustan Times and barely concealed her ardent hope of returning to her country as its prime minister for the third time in a fresh general election. If, in a miracle, luck favours her again, will she be as friendly to India as she has been out of power? Perhaps and hopefully. If her recent candid public statements made in India are any indication.

DREAM COME TRUE

Among various other happy indications of a friendly turn in bilateral relations it must be noted that throughout the past several months two of Pakistan's most outstanding leaders who have adopted laudably helpful approach are prime minister Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali and his foreign minister Khursheed Mohammad Kasuri.

Equally significant and as helpful was the refreshingly new peace odyssey early this year (2003) of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, who is now the Opposition Leader in Pak parliament and was not long a die-hard patron of the jihadi outfits. He brought a breath of fresh air by his robust sense of purpose in striving to usher in an era of peace and amity in the subcontinent in sharp contrast to his own earlier stance.

The proposal to introduce a bus service between Srinagar and Muzafarabad will go a long way towards resolving the K-problem.

Likewise, if it materializes soon, the move to restore the rail link between Khokrapar and Munabao will be a "dream-come-true" of the late Pak prime prime_minister Mohammad Khan Junejo. Junejo ardently made promises repeatedly to his native Sind province to bring it about but failed because of the resistance by the Pak army way back in the late 1980s. Hopefully the army has since changed its views and will not impede the progress again in this regard.

VT Joshi

22 December 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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