Pretence and posturing

Published : Aug 04, 2001 00:00 IST

While General Pervez Musharraf keeps up the pretence that the Agra Summit did not flop, the position of his regime on Kashmir and cross-border terrorism remains unchanged.

FOUR hours before Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf addressed a televised press conference on July 20, three Indian correspondents walked into the office of a well-known columnist in Islamabad for a chat. "You are welcome. Now I have nothing to worry if the (intelligence) agency guys were to walk in after you have left and want to know what I was talking with the Indians. My answer would be, it was the same thing General Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee discussed in the course of their one-to-one interactions."

The columnist continued: "The agency chaps on either side of the border can no longer walk up to the ordinary citizen and demand to know what he/she was up to with the man/woman from across the border", the columnist went on. This is the single biggest achievement of the Agra Summit.

No doubt there is an element of exaggeration and over-simplification in this assessment of the Summit. But nobody can deny the grain of truth implicit in the statement. Thanks to the Kargil conflict and the media hype on both sides of the border, actively aided and abetted by the two governments, even talking to any person from across the border was construed as an "anti-national" act. At the Summit the leaders succeeded in breaking the ice, though relations froze within no time thanks to the continuing differences over some fundamental issues.

In the context of the complex India-Pakistan relations of the last five decades, perhaps it is time to address the issue of conflict management rather than aim at the utopian goal of 'conflict resolution'. Both sides concede that Kashmir is at the root of the strife. And Kashmir is the biggest stumbling block in the path of normalisation of ties. For Pakistan, all routes for a thaw in relations are through Kashmir. The military establishment repeats parrot-like that there can be no peace in the region without the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Coming from a nuclear weapon state, this is an outright threat. At the same time, it is also the truth. The stance of India is equally rigid - that Kashmir is at the very core of its nationhood, implying that the accession of Kashmir to the Union of India is a closed chapter and Islamabad should stop dreaming about the United Nations Resolutions on plebiscite and the right of the people of Kashmir for self-determination.

This pointing of the finger at each other does not begin and end with the U.N. Resolutions and the 'unfulfilled' promises to the people of Kashmir. It goes much beyond that. Islamabad accuses India of 'oppressing and suppressing' with brute force the 'indigenous struggle for the right to self-determination'. Pakistan claims that 75,000 people of Kashmir have become martyrs ever since the struggle turned militant in the face of growing Indian repression.

India sees the hand of Pakistan in the so-called indigenous struggle and accuses Pakistan of aiding and abetting cross-border terrorism. India refers to the regular terrorist training camps on Pakistani soil. It points to the number of militant organisations operating from Pakistan, which recruit and send hundreds of jehadis (holy warriors) to the Kashmir Valley from across the Line of Control (LoC).

The game of mutual recrimination goes on. It was the of failure on the part of India and Pakistan to marry the concerns of each other on Kashmir that held them back from agreeing on a joint declaration at the Summit. India was willing to show a certain degree of flexibility by not only putting Kashmir on top of the agenda of any future talks but agreeing to discuss it at the political level.

In the Composite Dialogue Process (CDP) of 1997 Kashmir was second on the list of the eight subjects identified by both sides as issues of mutual concern. Under the CDP, Kashmir was to be dealt with at the Foreign Secretaries' level.

Despite the two major concessions allowed by India, Pakistan was not willing to address India's concern over cross-border terrorism. The military establishment simply refused to accept the formulation. There is a reference to terrorism in the draft declaration, on which both sides almost came to an understanding. But as Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar pointed out in Islamabad after the Summit, the reference was in the context of drug trafficking.

At his press conference, Musharraf went one step further and sought to draw a fine line of distinction between cross-border terrorism and cross-LoC terrorism. "The border is between India and Pakistan and there is no terrorism there. If you are talking of Line of Control, I beg to differ. There is a freedom struggle going on in Kashmir and we do not agree with the Indian viewpoint that it is terrorism," he said in reply to a specific question.

Given the tremendous clout of the jehadi lobby in Pakistan, Musharraf is in no position at the moment to accept the linkage between the centrality of Kashmir and cross-border terrorism. Perhaps that explains his rigid posture and the manner in which he was received back home on his return from Agra. He was hailed as a hero by even fundamentalist elements like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, which were bitterly opposed to his journey to India.

WHAT after Agra? This is the question uppermost on the minds of every India-Pakistan watcher. Posturing in Islamabad and New Delhi in the post-Summit phase has only added to the suspense.

Some indications of Islamabad's thinking on how it proposes to continue the journey that began in Agra would be available in the next three weeks.

The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan are expected to meet on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Standing Committee meeting scheduled to begin from August 10 in Colombo. Indications are that Chokila Iyer and her Pakistani counterpart Inamul Haq will hold an informal discussion. Developments in the post-Summit phase are bound to be the topic of their meeting.

Pakistan has greater compulsions than India to keep up the pretence that the Agra Summit was not a failure and that it would like the process to continue. This is evident from the manner in which Islamabad changed its stand on the confidence-building measures (CBMs) an announced by India in the run-up to the Summit.

The initial reaction of Islamabad was that the CBMs should flow from the Summit and not precede it. Abdul Sattar said after the Summit that they never came up for discussion. Musharraf went one step further and declared that the resolution of the Kashmir problem was the biggest CBM.

However, it is clear that Islamabad does not want to give an impression to the international community of being unreasonable on the subject. Hence the latest statement of the Pakistan Foreign Office that Islamabad would study each of the CBMs proposed by New Delhi on its merit.

As things stand, the Indian side has no reason to feel encouraged by the attitude of the military government. Not only the rhetoric of Musharraf but also the developments in Kashmir cause serious concern in New Delhi. For the first time since Pakistan announced its policy of "maximum restraint on the LoC", both sides have charged each other with resorting to artillery firing without provocation.

What is worse is the stepped-up violence in the Valley. The incidents in the fourth week of July, which forced the authorities to suspend the Amarnath pilgrimage, and reports of the cold-blooded murder of 15 persons belonging to a minority community on July 21, pose a serious threat to the fragile understandings arrived in Agra. As a senior Indian diplomat said, the minimum that New Delhi would expect from Islamabad is an unequivocal condemnation of incidents involving the killing of innocent civilians.

"If Pakistan is really serious about carrying forward the caravan of peace from Agra, the military establishment should send out a clear signal that it does not approve of mindless acts of violence irrespective of who is involved. Otherwise how can we be expected even to consider picking up the threads from Agra?" he asked.

What has upset the Indian government more than anything else about Musharraf is his "bizarre commando concept of diplomacy". New Delhi is clearly not impressed by the manner in which the Pakistani delegation tried to conduct diplomacy bypassing "traditional channels and normal procedures".

"It is indeed illogical. Agreements /Declarations (Simla and Lahore) that have been signed are abjured. A draft declaration that was not agreed upon is said to be the basis for political action. Even of that, the portion that was not agreed upon is taken as the main point. And then it is argued that this must be the test of sincerity on the other side," the diplomat said.

Normalising the ties between the two countries is indeed going to be a long haul.

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