Photograph of VT Joshi

Author - VT Joshi

How productive are the recent peace initiatives in Indo-Pak ties likely to be? Will they yield fruitful results this time or again lapse into a quagmire of despondency as has happened so often in the past several years and decades?

These questions stare the people in the face in the whole of the subcontinent and go well beyond in South Asia. The answer has to be necessarily a mixed bag of hope and despair, of great expectations and deep frustration. There are positive as well as negative signals. The touching scenes of long lacerated family reunions as the Lahore bus service resumed, portray the human face of Indo-Pak impasse and must move the mountains. But the frequent exchange of rhetorical threats and verbal missiles between the leaders of the two countries make the mountains weep, instead.

The ardent desire of the common people of India and Pakistan for peace and normal good neighbourly relations between the two belligerent nations was never in doubt, and has survived the vicissitudes of history and politics. If a proof was ever needed it was there in the warm exchange of visits between the recent delegations of members of the two parliaments (called National Assembly in Pakistan) and businessmen. Their visits are expected to be followed soon by those of cultural and artistes’s delegations. These and various other aspects like the resumption of full diplomatic ties and prospects of the long stalled SAARC summit being held in Islamabad in January next, are happy tidings in the incipient thaw in bilateral relations after long months and years of tension and turmoil. But was it necessary at this stage to speculate that there would be no bilateral talks between the prime ministers on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in the Pak capital?

Perhaps quite significant was the reception organized in Islamabad reportedly by Jamaati-I-Islam of Pakistan for the Indian MPs’ delegation led by the most ardent and indefatigable champion of Indo-Pak amity, Mr. Kuldip Nayar, eminent journalist and Rajya Sabha member. It is another matter that the Jamaat chief (“Amir” of the Jamaat, as called there), Qazi Hussain Ahmed had once declared in a Karachi public meeting in the late 1980s’ that his ambition was to “plant the green flag on the Red Fort” in Delhi. The Qazi Sahib’s impressive flowing gray beard, which he sports with loving care, was jet black at that time. Years of dogmatic strife have hopefully mellowed him.

The Indian External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, seems to specialise in making statements every now and then with a distinctly anti- Pak ring around them. Are such wanton pronouncements harping on worn- out, futile slogans and shibboleths day in and day out, (as indeed those of the pontific deputy prime minister, L. K. Advani, as well) really necessary to pave the way (or queer the pitch) for the long awaited “dialogue” between the two countries on various issues plaguing their relations. Puerile talk about the so-called confidence building measures (CBM) sound hollow in this context. (Cross border violence notwithstanding).

In refreshing contrast is Sinha’s counterpart, Pakistan’s suave foreign minister, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, whose public statements seem designed, at any rate, not to vitiate the atmosphere. As revealed in his numerous interviews and press reports Kasuri exudes a modicum of warmth and encouraging expectations. It is Kasuri who has been emphasizing the acceptance of the Indian proposal for a composite dialogue on all issues including Kashmir. To a question by this writer on the most pragmatic solution to the K-problem, in a BBC programme, Kasuri was candid and considerate in his observations. He remarked we are not aiming at a “solution” right now, but concerned about the resumption of talks – “Talks about Talks”, as he put it. About the allegations of cross border terror he regarded the views of most Indians to be rather “one sided”.

After his return from Washington on completion of his ambassadorial assignment in the United States in 1990 Dr. Karan Singh made a profound remark in an interview to a weekly magazine. The sole purpose of the External Affairs Ministry appeared to be to “keep denying” whatever Islamabad says on every little minor issue, he averred. Instead, considering the size and potential, Pakistan should be regarded as Mexico to the United States, he beseeched. What Karan Singh did not specifically mention but clearly thought deplorable was (and is) the mutual obsession of India and Pakistan with each other.

After a visit to the two countries in the early 1950s’ Taya Zankin observed that Pakistan was “obsessed with India” and “India with herself” -- (obviously in those halcyon days of the Nehru era). The situation has not changed much since then except that the situation has degenerated into mutual obsession with a nuclear edge.

An indication of the goodwill and robust pragmatism that exists among most of the thinking sections both in India and Pakistan is provided by the two successive series of weekly BBC programmes – “Question Time India” and “Question Time Pakistan”. The distinguished panelists of both the countries (in separately conducted programmes) deal with a wide range of questions on national and international events from enlightened studio audiences. A clear common strand is unmistakable in favour of a quick resolution of all outstanding issues between the two countries.

Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali's appearance in the last episode of “Question Time Pakistan” was its crowning glory. He emerged as the most sensible, suave, considerate PM with impeccable expression and impressive command over the English language. It is to be ardently wished his command also extends to his authority as PM. A striking contrast to President General Musharraf’s all too familiar bluff and buster, Jamali appears to be a perfect foil for the Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Left to themselves the two prime ministers are sure to bring about an amicable settlement of all bilateral issues and usher in a new era of peace and stability in the subcontinent. The pity is that events in the troubled neighbourhood Jamali is not known to call the shots. Inshe Allah, one can only hope that circumstances change enough to give the two premiers the vision and courage needed for the purpose.

Meanwhile, on the Indian side there are some welcome signs of fresh thinking. Mr. Vasant Sathe's plea for "facing the Kashmir issue squarely and discuss it in all its dimensions" (in an article in Hindustan Times) comes as a breath of fresh air in the prevailing suffocating atmosphere when the recent peace initiatives by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan appear to be in serious danger of losing their momentum and bringing the whole process back to square one, as has happened so many times in the past, (as already pointed out) in spite of the restoration of full diplomatic relations and Lahore bus service, visits of trade delegations and contingents of parliamentarians etc.

It is time to realise that the K-issue is the main stumbling block in the path to normalisation and strive to remove it instead of harping on old familiar, failed efforts like “step-by-step” approach, “confidence building measures”, “People-to- People Contact” and all that crap.

Sathe has also suggested that the discussion on Kashmir could be held in the framework of UN resolutions. Pakistan can certainly be challenged on this score and asked to accept the resolutions in toto, and vacate POK as the first step. Will it ever do it?

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, who is the only prominent Indian leader to have openly and consistently advocated the conversion of the Line of Control as the only practical solution to the K- problem, has made yet another sensible in a recent TV interview – “To invite the world famous statesman, Nelson Mandela, to mediate between India and Pakistan”. It is a pity that leaders of eminence like I. K. Gujral and Natwar Singh rejected it in the same T.V. programme on the special plea that India has taken the stand against third party mediation. It is another matter that Nelson Mandela burnt his fingers by innocuously offering help as NAAM chief sometime back when it should have been seized upon but India rejected it out of court with unjustified contempt and incalculable harm. Even so Mandela deserves to be persuaded to mediate even at this crucial juncture.

VT Joshi

17 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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