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Dialogue in danger

Print edition : Aug 10, 2007 T+T-
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf have said on several occasions that the peace process is irreversible.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf have said on several occasions that the peace process is irreversible.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

With Musharrafs focus on internal problems, his government may not be able to give top priority to the peace process with India.

There are fears in some quarters that the serious internal problems confronting Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf may have an adverse impact on the India-Pakistan peace process. There has been increasing pressure on him from the United States after the visit of U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney to Islamabad earlier in the year. If the American diktats are followed, then the Pakistan Army will have to wage a virtual war against the Pashtun tribesmen in the volatile border region with Afghanistan. Pashtuns are said to number around 40 million, with an estimated 30 million of them settled in Pakistan. With Musharrafs focus on the volatile tribal areas, the government may not be in a position to give top priority to the peace process with India.

However, both the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistan President have said on several occasions that the peace process is irreversible. On July 15, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once again renewed his call for peace in the region. In a speech in Jammu, he urged that the Line of Control (LoC) be converted into a Line of Peace so that the land and water resources of the divided State of Jammu and Kashmir could be used by people on both sides of the border. However, he cautioned that such a development could only take place after peace returned. Jammu and Kashmir can one day become a symbol of India-Pakistan cooperation rather than of conflict. Borders cannot be changed but they can be made irrelevant, the Prime Minister said.

Musharraf stated in December 2006 that Pakistan was willing to give up its claim on Jammu and Kashmir, subject to demilitarisation, self-governance, a soft LoC and a supervisory mechanism. The two countries have been engaged in intensive dialogue for the past three years. In the first week of July, the Home Secretaries of both countries met to discuss terrorism-related issues. Before that there was a meeting of Foreign Secretaries. Manmohan Singh and Musharraf had agreed during their meeting in Havana last September to cooperate closely in combating terror. Home Minister Shivraj Patil himself acknowledged that the level of infiltration from across the border into Jammu and Kashmir had come down. Some observers are of the view that Islamist militants in Pakistan are now keener on overthrowing the government in Islamabad than on liberating Kashmir. The number two in al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahari, has been making repeated appeals to Pakistanis to rise up against Musharraf.

The recent events could have reinforced the view in the Pakistan establishment that peace with India would serve its strategic interests better. According to reports now surfacing in the American media, the George W. Bush administration had coerced the Pakistan government into falling in line after September 11, 2001. According to the reports, Musharraf was told that if he did not switch off support to the Taliban, then Washington would retain the option of bombing Pakistan into the Stone Age and would give New Delhi the green signal to retake the disputed part of Kashmir under Pakistani control. The Pakistan Army realised that it could not fight on two fronts at the same time and caved in to the U.S. demands. For the past 60 years, the Pakistan Army has been trained and equipped to fight India. Now it has been told to focus on the fight against terrorism and the resurgent Taliban. We trust Musharraf to follow his self-interest, a senior Indian External Affairs Ministry official remarked.

After the Secretary-level talks in New Delhi in July, Islamabad and New Delhi have agreed to enhance cooperation to combat crime and terrorism. A joint statement issued after the talks said: It was agreed that terrorists and criminals in either country will be effectively dealt with. The Indian side conveyed to Pakistan its concerns about cross-border terrorism and sought assurances on the dismantling of the terror infrastructure in Pakistan territory. Despite strong denials from Islamabad, New Delhi insists that terrorist training camps and communication networks are allowed to function. India maintains that the Mumbai blasts of June 11, 2006, had cross-border linkages.

Pakistan is not happy with the pace of negotiations between the two countries. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, while on a visit to Washington in June, stated that the time had come for both countries to address substantive issues, especially the core issue of Kashmir. He said that Musharrafs bold and flexible approach on dispute resolution and his four-point proposal to settle the Kashmir dispute was a manifestation of the sincere desire to constructively engage with India. Musharrafs proposals include withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the LoC, initiating a meaningful and sustained dialogue process, and examining other solutions acceptable to all parties. Musharraf has been suggesting for some time that the Indian government demilitarise the major cities in the Kashmir Valley. This has also been the demand of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an ally of the ruling Congress in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the last week of July, a committee set up by the Indian government recommended that Indian troops in Kashmir vacate State government buildings, private homes and farms that were converted into military camps and bases during the course of the 17-year-old insurgency. The committee has, however, ruled out any major cuts in the massive Indian troop presence in the valley. The Indian Army and paramilitary started vacating the premises of private and State government properties in 2005, but the process seems to have been proceeding at a snails pace. The move by the Indian government is seen in some quarters as a belated attempt to bolster the Musharraf government.

Recent statements by senior American and British officials have been emphasising the importance of the peace process for the subcontinent. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. Under Secretary of State, told U.S. Congress that the peace process needed to go much further. Incidents of violence in the valley in recent months have gone down considerably. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service has been welcomed by the Kashmiri people.

There were indications that both sides were close to an agreement on the Siachen issue. Indias insistence that Pakistan authenticate its actual ground position line on the glacier has postponed a settlement. Islamabad is in no hurry to settle other smaller disputes, such as Sir Creek and Tul Bul Barrage, without the more contentious issue of Siachen being resolved first. Both sides have pledged to keep on trying to resolve all the outstanding disputes, using formal as well as informal channels.

Bilateral trade has more than doubled in the last three years. Experts say it has the potential to reach $10 billion by 2010. New road and rail connections have been established and there are plans to further improve the transport links between the two countries. Indian and Pakistan officials have said that there has been tangible progress on many issues though underlying tensions remain.

Musharraf was in a hurry to clinch a peace deal with India since his historic Agra visit. He was in a position to deliver on his promises until last year. Now, with the political tide turning against him, India-Pakistan relations could enter uncharted waters. Some people in India and Pakistan are now asking whether the peace process will survive Musharraf.