The view from Islamabad

Print edition : December 23, 2001

WHAT next in Kashmir, especially after the conditional, positive response by the Pakistan government to India's initiative of November 19?

For the first time since the Kargil conflict of May-June 1999 there are signs of a thaw in India-Pakistan relations. The latest moves on Kashmir undoubtedly mark a major change in the attitude of both the countries towards each other.

Of course several obstacles need to be overcome for a resolution of the complex issue to the satisfaction of all the parties concerned. At the same time, it can be said with some confidence that if everything goes smoothly in the next few weeks, the Ramz an peace process could lead to resumption of the stalled dialogue.

The most remarkable feature of the new initiative is the spirit of accommodation and restraint shown on both sides. Even the hostile propaganda put out through the state-controlled media has come to a halt.

The initial reaction of Pakistan to the ceasefire announcement by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was that it could be a short-term tactical move. But within 10 days Pakistan changed gear and responded with a decision to observe maximum restraint on the Line of Control (LoC).

WHAT led to this change of heart? International pressure perhaps played an important role, but that was not the only factor. Pakistan is conscious of the yearning of the people of Kashmir for peace and does not want to appear to be scuttling any initiati ve. It is also worried at the prospect of divisions within the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and some of the militant organisations operating in Kashmir. So it jumped into the fray to make sure that it remained one of the main players. And there by hangs the tale of many imponderables, which hold the key to a sincere attempt to end the Kashmir dispute.

The first and most important obstacle to the process is the wide gap in the perceptions of New Delhi and Islamabad on the steps needed to be taken to create the necessary atmosphere.

Pakistan believes that the ball is in the court of India after the December 2 announcement. India is of the view that ceasefire along the LoC has no meaning if it is not demonstrated in deed.

It wants Pakistan to demonstrate its sincerity by enforcing an effective check on infiltration into Kashmir. According to a senior diplomat based in Islamabad, "the main concern of India is about the ever-increasing reservoir of jehadis (holy warr iors). Unless infiltration is checked, ceasefire in itself has no meaning."

Pakistan vehemently denies the charge, and maintains that Kashmiris have been forced to take recourse to an 'armed struggle' only because of the failure of successive Indian governments to respond to their aspirations. Pakistan's stock reply to India's d emands to rein in the militant organisations has been that Islamabad has no control over the activities of 'freedom fighters'.

There is a discernible change in the outlook of both the countries. India has acknowledged that since the December 2 Pakistan announcement there has been a substantial decrease in infiltration. Even the number of violent incidents in the Kashmir Valley have come down drastically.

But the moot question is how long the military leadership in Pakistan can hold on and effectively control the militant organisation. The government has serious limitations in the matter of taking any bold and imaginative steps on Kashmir. One of the majo r factors that led to the ouster of Nawaz Sharif by the Army was the perception that he had compromised on the Kashmir issue. The earlier the Indian government realised this truth the better.

WITH several religious parties and organisations and an estimated one lakh armed militants breathing down its neck, the Pervez Musharraf government cannot be expected to reverse its policy on Kashmir beyond a point. Pakistan Foreign Secretary Inamul Haq, who made the dramatic announcement about the ceasefire, was forced to concede in response to searching questions from journalists that there is no change in the government's Kashmir policy. "There is nothing new in this statement. We are merely repeatin g what we had said in the past but in a different way," he replied.

Then what is the basis for Pakistan's belief that it has turned the tables on India? Islamabad seems to think that its formulation on the involvement of the APHC in the process of discussions separately with India and Pakistan, leading to a tripartite di alogue at a later stage, would put India in an embarrassing situation.

Senior diplomats concede that the invitation extended by the Pakistan government to the Executive Council of the APHC to visit Islamabad along with an appeal to New Delhi to facilitate their travel could pose a dilemma for the Indian government.

Unlike Pakistan, which insists that the APHC alone is the true representative organisation of Kashmiris, India believes that there are several other players concerned with the Kashmir problem. For instance, there is no way the Indian government could ign ore the National Conference led by the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah.

Another fundamental difference between the views of India and Pakistan relates to the nature of the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan insists that it is a bilateral dispute that needs to be settled through a trilateral dialogue. India's stand is that Pakistan ha s no locus standi on Kashmir and that the Indian government is prepared to address the grievances of Kashmiris on issues such as autonomy and Article 370.

An interesting aspect of the initiative from Pakistan has been the muted reaction from the militant outfits and religious organisations to the December 2 announcement. The Lashkar-e-Toiba is the only organisation to declare openly its resolve to continu e its operations in Kashmir.

That is an indication that the military government is in total command of the situation and that it is in a position to rein in the jehadi groups. However, it is difficult to guess for how long it can hold on to the ceasefire without a positive re sponse from India.

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