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A question of confidence

Print edition : Feb 16, 2002 T+T-

India insists that Pakistan act convincingly to check the infiltration of terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir before asking it to ease the military build-up on the border.

ALTHOUGH the war clouds over the subcontinent have receded, the armies of India and Pakistan are still in position along the border. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf recently characterised the continued deployment of Indian troops as "brinkmanship at its most dangerous". Speaking in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) on the occasion of "Kashmir Day" in early February, he said the Indian side had not reciprocated to the Pakistani efforts at rapprochement. He accused India of adopting a "very cynical" attitude even after he launched a crackdown on the Pakistan-based militant groups blamed by India for terrorist activities on its soil.

In January, Musharraf offered to hold talks for a phased withdrawal of troops in order to defuse the tension. New Delhi rejected the offer, saying that meaningful talks could only be held after Pakistan curbed cross-border terrorism and took action on "the list of 20". Musharraf called upon "influential countries" to prevail upon India as bilateralism had failed to ease its confrontational posture. At the same time, he also reiterated the Pakistani position that the Kashmiri struggle was legitimate and the groups fighting in the State had the backing of the Pakistani people.

The General's strong defence of the groups engaged in the freedom struggle in Kashmir evoked strong reactions in Delhi. The External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said that Pakistan was reverting to "yesterday's cliches". The official stated that the President's observations on Kashmir amounted to an interference in the internal affairs of India. A statement issued by the Foreign Office said that Musharraf had turned the clock back by restating "time-worn and untenable positions on terrorism". Indian officials say that his undue focus on the Kashmiri struggle has made them doubt his bona fides and his pledge on curbing terrorism. However, there are reports that despite the tough tenor of Musharraf's speech, Islamabad had started cracking down on militant groups.

Musharraf's speech came in handy for Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee during his election campaign. Addressing a rally in Punjab, he said that Pakistan would not be able to get hold of Kashmir by observing "Kashmir Day". He stressed that India wanted to resolve the Kashmir issue peacefully but insisted that it was up to Pakistan to foster a congenial atmosphere for talks. Vajpayee reiterated the government's stand that the troops would stay deployed as long as Pakistan continued to sponsor cross-border terrorism.

India's seeming reluctance to resume the dialogue process and start de-escalation along the border is viewed with a degree of concern by the international community, with the notable exception of Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov were in New Delhi in early February. Ivanov, concurred with India's assessment of the situation in the subcontinent. In a joint statement issued after talks between Ivanov and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, both sides condemned the "continued acts of cross-border terrorism against India". It said that "these activities from Pakistan and the territory controlled by it, must cease completely". Referring to Musharraf's assertions that concrete steps have been taken by him to curb terrorism, the statement said that such claims "can only be judged by the concrete action Pakistan takes on the ground". Both sides called for an end to the "continued terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir as also in other parts of India". They also called for "sustained and irreversible steps" so that an environment conducive to the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan can be created.

The statement added that the two countries should negotiate bilaterally in accordance with the Simla Agreement. It recommended that future talks between India and Pakistan should be based on the composite dialogue revolving round the eight points agreed upon at Lahore in 1999.

Ilya Klebanov told mediapersons in New Delhi that his country agreed with the Indian demand that Pakistan do something on the ground to display its sincerity.

Washington, on the other hand, apparently wants New Delhi to take steps to de-escalate the military situation. George Tenet, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), testified before an open session of the U.S. Senate's Intelligence Committee in February, that once India and Pakistan launched a conventional war it could escalate into a nuclear confrontation. The West has now found it convenient to raise the nuclear bogey to pressure New Delhi to withdraw its troops. Pressure from Washington may have been one reason why New Delhi and Moscow chose to downplay stories about the proposed sale of nuclear-powered Russian submarines to the Indian Navy. The Russian media had reported that negotiations were at an advanced stage with India for the sale or leasing of two nuclear submarines. It is an open secret that India is keen on acquiring nuclear-powered submarines to give its nuclear deterrence capability more credibility. However, Defence Minister George Fernandes denied that the Navy planned to purchase such submarines.

The international community is generally of the opinion that Pakistan is trying to curb the infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir. India seems to have signalled to the West that it would wait until the snows melt in March/April to come to a definite conclusion about the level of infiltration.

Western diplomats feel that both New Delhi and Islamabad, by conducting their diplomacy in public, are undermining the chances for any meaningful concessions. "The big bang theory will not work," said a diplomat, referring to summits such as the one held in Agra in 2001. They feel that a feasible way out of the long standing logjam is to turn the de facto LoC into a de jure border, with a "minor compromise in geography", citing the Anglo-Irish agreement as an illustration. New Delhi, however, insists that there is no change in its position on the status of Jammu and Kashmir.