Photograph of VT Joshi

Author - VT Joshi

"Confidence building measures". "Composite dialogue". "Step by step approach". "Trade talks". "Cultural exchange". "People-to-People contacts". "Core issue". "No, not a core issue". "Bilateral issue". "No third party mediation". "American pressure". "No, None at all". And so goes the pathetic tale of Kashmir, marking a 50- yearlong crescendo crisis.

Haven't we heard all this before ad nauseum? There is a familiar ring about these terms bandied about nonchalantly every time Indo-Pak impasse comes to the fore amidst mounting tensions and half-hearted, perfunctory public debates.

To be sure there have been no less than 19 times the foreign secretary-level talks were held. Every time the parleys begin amidst great expectations and the spirit of bonhomie oozes on the first day. On the second day each side re-states its old familiar postures as rigidly as it has always done before. Eventually the suave, soft-spoken diplomats and bureaucrats adjourn to call it a day. They seem to "celebrate" their ill-concealed failure amidst cocktails of choicest drinks, sumptuous dinners and depart amidst warm hugs exuding the same spirit of bonhomie with which they started on their umpteenth mission to resolve Indo-Pak problems.

The failure creates deep despair and disillusionment in the public life of both the countries. But who cares. Not the politicians nor the bureaucrats. The wheel of discontent, deprivation and despondency grinds on inexorably with the common people anxiously waiting for yet another (futile) exercise at peace making.

Before the ill-fated Lahore summit, Nawaz Sharif, the "self-immolated" prime minister of Pakistan, now cooling his heels in exile, deplored that bureaucrats spend hours on changing a "word here or a comma there" to produce a draft declaration that leads to nowhere. Like the proverbial dog's tail the talks spring back to square one. An agreement remains as elusive as ever.


The latest initiative of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan through their initial phone conversation has again instantly led to a new stream of expectations and euphoria. Indicating the people's ardent desire for peace and tranquility. But it is foredoomed unless there is a refreshing change of outlook and a new approach and determination to break the deadlock. The diplomats and bureaucrats on both sides can do precious little. And they do their best in the only way they know best and are adept in - dithering. They need clear and unambiguous political direction to resolve the issues and produce results.

The two sides must give up what the eminent jurist and lawyer, Ram Jethamalani, has aptly called their "wooden headed approach". It will indeed by a breath of fresh air in the prevailing suffocating political climate of constant sabre rattling if the Vajpayee government summons courage and gives up the "wooden headed" approach that has marked the efforts of successive governments and political leaders of all hues and colour for the past several decades. Kashmir cries out for a bold initiative by both India and Pakistan together to relieve the misery and hardships of its hapless people on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC).


Some myths have to be understood and cleared before a rational, pragmatic approach to the vexed problem is possible and evolved earnestly. Willy nilly Kashmir is the biggest stumbling block in the path to normalisation of Indo-Pak relations even if we do not want to call it a "core" issue, and has inevitably become an international dispute. Plainly the international community is fed up with it as personal conversations with diplomats reveal.

The mutually contradictory positions of the governments of the two countries are so rigid and unrelenting that the problem can never be resolved without some urgent third-party assistance, call it mediation, facilitation, intervention or whatever. Not long ago a statesman of impeccable stature, Nelson Mandela, burnt his fingers by innocuously offering to help on behalf of NAM. That opportunity ought to have been seized by both the countries but it was spurned by India with unbecoming contempt and incalculable harm. In the changed global situation since then effective international pressure means American pressure. Once bitten twice shy, India has shunned the very word 'mediation' like plague.

Even so whether we admit it or not, there is already international intervention by western powers feverishly shuttling between New Delhi and Islamabad in any critical situation. These indirect parleys are akin to the "proximity talks" (held in Geneva) under the auspices of the United Nations which eventually led to the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989.


Pakistan has long been clamouring for mediation in the fond hope that it will be favourable to its position. But the situation has changed drastically since the end of the cold war, and now even more so after the Iraq war.

It must be noted that no amicable, peaceful solution is possible today or 50 years hence except through the conversion of the LOC as the permanent international border with easy access for interaction and visits between the people of the two parts of Kashmir which takes care of the human problem. Events have proved beyond an iota of doubt that military solution is impossible to achieve by Pakistan or India while neither will give up what it has and can ever take over what it does not have.

Despite their contrary public postures, both the countries and their political and military leaders know this full well in their heart of hearts. Yet each side pretends that the whole of Kashmir belongs to it. In reality however it dangles its claim to the other part of Kashmir primarily as a bait at the bargaining counter, on the one hand, and on the other, to impress domestic constituencies bravely but vainly. For all practical purposes the LoC is already an international border though still a sizzling hot line which urgently needs to be converted into a peaceful, pacific border.

It is a widely held myth and misconception in India that Pakistanis will never accept LOC as the permanent line of demarcation. They know full well that it is the only possible, practical solution to the vexed problem. The prospects of an imminent peaceful, pragmatic settlement (if readily visible) will positively help the common people as well as the large thinking sections in all walks of life to welcome, appreciate and support it just as the people of India will also undoubtedly do. And this in spite of the initial noisy, even furious protests and virulent demonstrations by extremist groups in the two countries -- like Togadias and Bal Thakarays on one side and Qazi Husain Ahmads and Abdul Gafoors on the other side. But eventually theirs will be a cry in the wilderness and drowned in the groundswell of public support in both the countries. There is in fact a very large thinking section in Pakistan too, and the silent majority in both the countries ardently hope and pray for an amicable end to the bloody impasse.

However, the big question is: Who will bell the cat? In the present international milieu a dispassionate reconsideration of the ticklish issues involved and bold initiatives are urgently needed, and only the United States (and Britain), as named by Jethamalani sometime back, can bring about a settlement. It is time the pretext of "no-third-party-mediation" is given up since there is nothing dishonourable in it. Far from it, it will be in the supreme national interest of both India and Pakistan. Surprisingly though but certainly pragmatically the Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh has welcomed the idea of mediation while Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir has repeatedly and publicly declared that the only solution to the K-tangle is conversion of LoC into international border.

There is an old saying. "The wise give up half when faced with the loss of the whole". The alternatives to a peaceful settlement can only be two extreme positions: Absorption of the whole of Kashmir into India or Pakistan through endless bloodshed and bitterness; or an Independent Kashmir in perpetual conflict with both India and Pakistan. In either case it would inevitably be an invitation to disintegration of both.

Atal Behari Vajpayee is certainly a wise man. He has taken bold initiatives. He has "mused" that he is prepared to depart from "the trodden path". Now is the time to seize the K-problem by the horn and make a firm, positive offer to Pakistan to resolve it once for all, (as far as possible with the consent and consensus of major parties), and transform the Indo-Pak scene dynamically. Instead of resorting to daily doses of senseless rhetorical threats and chanting "the-tried-and-failed" slogans and shibboleths like "step-by-step approach", "confidence building measures", "composite formula" and all that crap.

VT Joshi

26 May 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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