From ceasefire to dialogue

Print edition : December 09, 2000

The ceasefire in Kashmir will make sense as an act of statesmanship only if Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee buttresses it by inviting the Hurriyat to talks and by inviting Pakistan separately to resume the Lahore process.

INDIA'S stand that talks with Pakistan on Kashmir are conditional on its ending "cross-border terrorism" was adopted abruptly only on July 12, 1999, the very day after Kargil was declared free of intruders from Pakistan. Never before that. It marked a sh arp reversal of the position India had taken after the intrusion was detected in May and the one it had taken during previous conflicts. The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met in November and December 1947 while the war in Kashmir raged. So did th eir officials. By December 8, even a draft agreement was drawn up by V. P. Menon and Mohammed Ali. In 1948, the two countries held talks under the auspices of the U.N. Commission for India and Pakistan. A ceasefire went into force only on January 1, 1949 .

Even after the insurgency erupted in 1989, the Prime Ministers continued to meet in the course of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summits and in New York during U.N. General Assembly sessions. The Foreign Secretaries held several rounds of talks and drew up useful agreements on confidence building measures (CBMs). At the last round in November 1998, India flatly rejected a fundamental on Siachen that had been accepted for over a decade, namely, mutual withdrawal. Pakistan, true to form, responded to the Indian intransigence with criminal folly. The closer integration of Kashmir and the refusal of talks in 1964 drove it to launch a war in 1965. All accounts have it that it took the decision on the Kargil intrusion in November 19 98.

The record during the Kargil crisis reads thus: June 13, 1999 at Srinagar after a trip to Kargil, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said: "India is for the continuation of the Lahore process which includes a commitment to the Shimla agreement, but, for that process, it is absolutely necessary for the status quo ante to be restored on the LoC" (The Hindu, June 14, 1997). This was justified since the intruders were yet to be evicted. Even so, Vajpayee declared: "Our plan is to regain that area th rough peaceful means and dialogue" (The Indian Express, June 14). This was a day after Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, came to New Delhi on July 12.

Vajpayee reiterated this stand the next day (June 14) at a public meeting in Udhampur: "You withdraw your troops and then we are prepared for talks" (The Hindustan Times, June 15). The report added: "Vajpayee said he had also emphasised that India was for the continuation of the Lahore process but pointed out to Sharif (who had called him over the phone in Srinagar 'repeatedly'), that this presupposed that both sides would adhere to the Shimla Agreement."

In an interview to Seema Guha, Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh said: "The treachery of Pakistan is self-evident. But I am neither disheartened by it nor discouraged in my ultimate goal. For that goal, there is now a route chart, which we have announced - restore the status quo ante of the LoC; permit the de-escalation to take place by going back; and we can then resume the composite dialogue process" (The Times of India, June 27, 1999). The route chart could not have been more precise or more sensible. It was not an off-the-cuff pronouncement, but a deliberate one. The reference to the "composite dialogue process" clearly revealed this.

The Indo-Pakistan Joint Statement in Islamabad on June 23, 1997 "set up a mechanism, including working groups at appropriate levels to address all these issues in an integrated manner." This was a reference to the preceding paragraph in which eight "outs tanding issues of concern to both sides were listed". One of them was Siachen, while "Jammu & Kashmir" and "Terrorism and drug-trafficking" were mentioned separately. "Cross-border terrorism" was in full bloom. Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral cynically reneged on the accord. Kashmir was not to be discussed substantively as an issue.

Despite the nuclear tests in May 1998, at Pokhran and Chagai respectively, the dialogue was revived by the Prime Ministers in New York on September 23, 1998. They decided that the mechanism envisaged in the Islamabad Joint Statement "would not be made op erational". The November 1998 meeting of Secretaries ended in bitter failure because the Bharatiya Janata Party regime's Defence Minister, George Fernandes, had declared in advance that there would simply be no Indian withdrawal from Siachen.

The Lahore Declaration of February 21, 1999 revived the peace process and gave momentum to it. The Prime Ministers set up a back channel through their representatives, Brajesh Mishra and Niaz A. Naik (vide the writer's article "Misread lessons of Kargil" , The Statesman, February 12, 2000; also "Back-channel diplomacy", October 14, 1999). Naik's proposals were as wildly unrealistic as his indiscretions were grave. The "Chenab solution", which spelt a partition of Kashmir on communal lines, was a b rainchild he nursed devotedly.

Pakistan is yet to appreciate the justification and depth of Indian resentment over Kargil. The peace process was wrecked by Gujral's cowardice in 1997 and Pakistan's treachery in 1999. However, following diplomatic precedents in India and elsewhere, not ably during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, India continued the talks. Naik descended on New Delhi on June 25 and met Vajpayee. He revealed in an interview to the BBC, broadcast on June 29, that Vajpayee's "message to me was that if the situation is re solved as quickly as possible then the process which he had started along with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif can easily be resumed and accelerated. He twice used the word 'accelerated' (The Asian Age, July 1, 1999).

On July 4 came the Clinton-Nawaz Sharif "Joint Statement on Kashmir Conflict". Pakistan had to quit Kargil. Once that was done, the Indo-Pakistan dialogue should be resumed: "The President said he would take a personal interest in encouraging an expediti ous resumption and intensification of those bilateral efforts, once the sanctity of the Line of Control has been fully restored."

In form, the Joint Statement represented a bilateral agreement. But, if Clinton interrupted the parleys to talk to Vajpayee, it could not have been to brief him on what had gone on between him and Nawaz Sharif. The briefing could have been done at the end, as is commonly done. Clinton, obviously, was putting forth his proposals to Vajpayee to make sure of his acceptance of the deal he had persuaded Nawaz Sharif to accept. It was left to Sandy Berger and Strobe Talbott to fill in the details, resp ectively, with Brajesh Mishra and Jaswant Singh. It was in effect, though not in form, a tripartite accord.

After a remarkable week's lull in public utterances, news broke that the Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of both countries had met at Attari on the border on July 11. What transpired there is as relevant to the credibility of the BJP-led government as what went on at Blair House a week earlier, on July 4, is. The two were clearly linked. Vajpayee gave the "good news" to a hurriedly convened all-party meeting that very day - as hurriedly as the DGMOs met that day.

Brajesh Mishra merely detected "some evidence of the withdrawal already taking place" in some sectors of the LoC. Sartaj Aziz, on the other hand, said plainly enough: "The DGMOs... agreed on the modalities of de-escalation, including sector-by-sector ces sation of ground and air operations to facilitate the Mujahideen's disengagement." He also said: "Following the Mujahideen's positive response to our appeal to de-escalate in Kargil, the Government of Pakistan and the Government of India have been in con tact on the question of the restoration of the LoC." He was reading out to the press a prepared statement. This was an accord on ceasefire. Mishra gave the game away when he said: "We hope that in seven days the status quo ante on the Line of Control will be restored if it goes according to plan": an agreed plan, obviously. (vide "Kargil diplomacy", Frontline, August 13, 1999).

On July 12, the day after Pakistan's withdrawal, the official spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs announced a total and sudden reversal of India's position: "We have stated the irreducible minimum of our demands: withdraw, reaffirm the sanctity and inviolability of the LoC and show action on the ground that cross-border terrorism in Kashmir will cease" (The Indian Express, July 13, 1999). India was no longer seeking the restoration of the situation as it prevailed prior to 1999, but to the one that prevailed before 1989 when insurgency broke out in Kashmir.

For a while Jaswant Singh persisted in his favourite parlour game of playing with words. This was not a "precondition" but a "pre-requisite" for talks, he said on July 20. Clearly the reversal had been planned for making it public after a ceasefire.

Not a single country has supported this stand. It rested on two false assumptions. First, that world opinion, finding Pakistan's conduct disgusting, would punish it as a terrorist state and demand far-reaching amends from it. Secondly, the United States would reverse its stand on Kashmir and endorse India's stand. Some American statements did come close to doing just that. Even the old formulation reiterated since 1990, that Kashmir is "disputed territory", was left unsaid, studiously.

New Delhi began to bask in the glory of "visiting dignitaries" vying with one another in paying compliments to India's "growing stature". Abba Eban once poured scorn at fellow citizens who jumped with joy whenever a state accorded recognition to Israel. Evidently, the Indian leaders' vulnerability to flattery has acquired such international recognition that the dignitaries came to New Delhi with pales of butter for thick spreads over demanding egos there; within and outside the government.

The astute Bill Clinton gently but calculatedly put an end to the ecstasy in an interview to Shobhana Bhartia, published in The Hindustan Times on September 3, 2000, on the eve of his meeting with Vajpayee: "I am troubled by the threat to peace po sed by the Kashmir dispute." He urged "direct discussions between India and Pakistan... sincere efforts to end violence... And, of course, the wishes of the Kashmiri people must be taken into account." The last formulation was repeated when the interview er sought his views about a settlement "within the existing territorial framework of the two countries". What has gone unnoticed is his reply to her pointed question: "When in the subcontinent, you had suggested that this century does not reward those wh o seek to redraw borders in blood. Are you, therefore, saying that the Kashmir issue can be solved within the existing territorial framework of the two countries?"

The point was well taken. In India, Pakistan and the U.S., Clinton's remark was indeed construed as an endorsement of the LoC as an international border in a future accord. He swiftly dispelled the impression: "My belief that nobody's goals will be achie ved through violence does not pre-ordain any particular type of settlement for the dispute. What a solution looks like will be determined by the participants in the process of dialogue that brings peace to Kashmir." Reliance on American support now will prove as unwise and futile as did reliance once on the Soviet veto.

If any accord on the Kashmir question must reflect and respect the wishes of the people - in all the regions, and of all the communities - their participation in the talks at some stage cannot be ruled out, morally and politically. Likewise, it is too late in the day to question Pakistan's locus standi as a party to the Kashmir dispute. A host of Indo-Pakistan agreements since 1947 recognise that. The Shimla Pact (Para 6) binds both sides to resolving it, as do the Islamabad Joint Statemen t and the Lahore Declaration. There is another good reason. George Fernandes said on November 20 that the Kashmiri "militant groups are funded and trained by Pakistan. They need Pakistani approval before reacting."

All the more reason, then, to talk to Pakistan. The Hizbul Mujahideen's offer of ceasefire, on July 24, 2000, had the full backing of Pakistan. It was not its injection of any new terms but the Indian government's firm resolve to exclude talks with Pakis tan and political parleys with the Hizb itself that led to their collapse on August 8 (vide this writer's "Questions about the Kashmir ceasefire", Economic and Political Weekly, November 4, 2000).

Vajpayee's announcement on November 19 of a month's ceasefire during "the holy month of Ramazan" sought reciprocity from both Pakistan and the militants. But, he did not offer to talk to either, while affirming his commitment to "a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue". A ceasefire buttresses the status quo which the militants seek to alter; a point the government missed when it offered surrender terms to the Hizb at the Srinagar talks on August 3. The Hizb had declared a ceasefire preparatory to ta lks, which would cover Pakistan at a later stage. India sought, instead, the Hizb's surrender and its help to fight the other militant groups.

Dare one hope that the lesson of August has been learnt now? Or, is this ceasefire another exercise in gimmickry? At some point India will have to climb down from the petard on which it has impetuously hoisted itself since July 12, 1999. The asset garner ed in 1999 - goodwill following Kargil - has begun to dwindle. The cordon sanitaire around Pakistan that was sought to be erected has collapsed. On October 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in New Delhi that the Kashmir issue should be reso lved bilaterally, peacefully and "on the basis of a compromise".

If the ceasefire is to make sense as an act of statesmanship, it is but right that the Prime Minister should buttress it by inviting the Hurriyat to talks and by inviting separately Pakistan to resume the Lahore process as well. Disclosure of an "underst anding" between the DGMOs of both countries, on November 21, to de-escalate firing on the LoC, just two days after announcement of the ceasefire on November 19 gives ground for hope that moves in that direction are being considered.

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