Confused response

Published : Nov 21, 2003 00:00 IST

Pakistan suffers a diplomatic setback as India draws international attention with its latest confidence-building measures, some of which could alter the very nature of the Kashmir dispute.

in Islamabad

THE fortnight beginning October 22, the day India unveiled 12 confidence-building measures (CBMs) for the normalisation of relations with Pakistan, was in many ways similar to the post-April 17/18 Srinagar peace initiative of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Both the developments were of equal shock value. Pakistan not only failed to anticipate India's moves, but was not ready to deal with the fallout. The delay in the announcement of the counter proposals, after several false alarms, is proof enough.

The Indian CBMs came when Pakistan least expected them as it was proceeding on the assumption that with India in election mode, bilateral matters would not be high on the priority list of the government. Besides, Islamabad was sitting pretty as New Delhi had not bothered to respond to most of the CBMs announced by Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali on May 6. Jamali had proposed a series of measures for the normalisation of relations between the two countries, essentially seeking a return to the situation that prevailed before December 31, 2001, when India almost snapped ties in protest against the December 13 terrorist attack on the Parliament building. India did not agree to any of the proposals mooted by Jamali on the plea that it would prefer a "step-by-step approach" rather than jump to summit-level talks. Pakistan could do little other than shout and scream, accusing India of lack of sincerity. But it had little other option than to fall in line as New Delhi began to unveil the same proposals one by one. The Lahore-Delhi bus service best illustrates the point.

More important, Pakistan failed to mount pressure on India about its May 6 CBMs. This should have been its instant reaction to India's latest proposals. The Pakistan Foreign Office issued a statement saying the Indian measures would receive serious consideration but failed to mention that most of them were the same as those proposed by Jamali. As the expectations of Pakistan's response to the CBMs swelled, the Foreign Office went on the defensive, terming most of them "recycled and rehashed".

However, the Kashmir-centric proposals, particularly the offer to operate a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), which has implications that can alter the very nature of the India-Pakistan dispute, stunned Pakistan. To use cricket phraseology, that was a googly. After all, it had been a long-standing demand of Kashmiris on both sides of the divide. How could Islamabad turn it down? Mushahid Hussain, who was Information Minister in the Nawaz Sharif government and is currently a member of the ruling combine, put it thus: "India's initiative was a smart move. More symbolic than substantive, it deflected pressures from the West on New Delhi to resume dialogue with Pakistan while putting Islamabad on the defensive with proposals aimed at winning public opinion within Pakistan, Indian Muslims and Kashmiris."

With no dialogue on Kashmir offered and India not budging from its previous position, the steps unveiled are more humanitarian in nature, aimed at easing travel among divided families across the international border as well as the Line of Control (LoC).

Concurrently, India announced for the first time a willingness to negotiate formally with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), that too through its hawkish Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, indicating that the velvet glove of talks covered a clenched fist. So, unfortunately for Pakistan, India chose to strike when Islamabad was busy trying to sort out the mess in the APHC caused by a vertical split in its ranks on the lines of moderates and hardliners. Developments in the Kashmir Valley further compounded the problems faced by Pakistan in formulating a coherent response to India.

Besides, it came under immense international and domestic pressure. The accolades from the world capitals, including Beijing, the all-weather friend of Islamabad, on the Indian move was perhaps too much for the establishment. Unqualified support from the international community to the Indian CBMs was a clear signal to Pakistan to respond. Sentiments on the domestic front, at least in the informed circles, were no different. Admittedly, in the Urdu press there was great a deal of passion and counsel to the government not to walk into the Indian trap. But foreign policy experts, including former diplomats, advocated the need for Pakistan to be pragmatic, taking into account the global scenario.

As Najmuddin A. Shaikh, former Pakistan Foreign Secretary, explained, "many in Pakistan would argue that responding positively to India's proposals or making counter-proposals when India has rejected a dialogue on the agreed agenda would mean a negation or at least erosion of Pakistan's principled stand. That would be a mistake. The proposals must be examined to see how far they serve to achieve this objective." He said the Indian proposals had received much wider and positive reaction than those made by Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf in the United Nations General Assembly in September on ceasefire on the LoC. "Admittedly Musharraf's proposals were much the same as those he had made earlier to visiting Indian journalists and retired diplomats. Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha's proposals are not new. And yet his proposals attracted the sort of international attention and comment that Musharraf's initiative was denied even when it was first made."

It was essentially this backdrop that dictated Pakistan's response. Indian proposals could broadly be put into three brackets:1. Proposals mooted by Pakistan; 2. Suggestions to go beyond the ties, as they existed before December 31, 2001; and 3. Kashmir-centric ones. Naturally Pakistan's answers for all three categories are different. In a loaded response, it accepted the proposals it had made, sought composite dialogue on additional CBMs such as re-opening the Sindh-Gujarat link, and sought refuge under the U.N. cover on Kashmir-centric CBMs. Of course, the riders attached by Pakistan, in some cases at least, change the very character of the proposals. Soft proposals such as restoration of sporting ties in all fields, including cricket, have been endorsed without any hitch. Changes sought to some CBMs, which alter their very spirit, are best illustrated in the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus link.

"We welcome the start of a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar but since Kashmir is a disputed territory, check-posts in the area must be manned by U.N. forces and people of both sides must carry U.N. documents," Riaz H. Khokar, Pakistan Foreign Secretary, who unveiled the counter package, told journalists.

IN what is a clear attempt to reach out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan mooted 100 graduate and post-graduate scholarships to students of the Indian State. It floated the idea of free treatment of disabled persons and widows and victims of rape affected by "operations of agencies". The punch line was that Pakistan wants to enlist the services of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to help implement the schemes. Khokar expressed the hope that New Delhi would allow these agencies to work in Jammu and Kashmir. These CBMs have serious implications for India in the sense that allowing their implementation would not only be tantamount to accepting Kashmir as a disputed territory but conceding the Pakistani viewpoint that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are under tyrannical rule. More than anyone else, Pakistan is fully conscious of the fact that India will never accept these proposals. Pakistan considers the CBMs announced by India as no more than cosmetic steps for the improvement of relations. Khokar in fact described the Indian CBMs as "non-issues" and was at pains to emphasise that immediate resumption of composite dialogue was the need of the hour to resolve all their differences.

In his opening statement, Khokar expressed disappointment that India made no mention of "composite and substantive dialogue on all contentious issues, including Kashmir" in its latest peace initiative. "We seek composite dialogue on all issues, including Kashmir, because we believe this is in the mutual interest of both the countries," he said. He reiterated Pakistan's known stance on Kashmir and described it as "cancer and poison" to establishing peace in the region. "It is due to this reason we stress the need for composite dialogue," he said.

In response to a question as to why Pakistan was putting conditions on a bus service that sought to link Kashmiris on both sides when the government knows the stance of India on the issue, Khokar said if India was sincere about starting a Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, then it should have no objection to it.

Talking of specific proposals on the Khokrapar rail link and the Karachi-Mumbai ferry service, he maintained that Pakistan did not have any problem in starting these services, but these should be included in the composite dialogue. He said that Pakistan had also accepted the technical-level talks on the restoration of air links and the resumption of the Samjhauta Express. "We have conveyed our acceptance to hold the second round of talks for restoration of air links," he said, adding, "we propose a mid-December date for holding technical-level talks on the resumption of the Samjhauta Express."

However, Khokar made it clear that there must be no linkages between technical-level talks on air links and the resumption of the Samjhauta Express. "We are happy that India agrees on resumption of sporting ties and we are looking forward to it," he said. He described India's proposal to hold camp offices in remote areas of the two countries, in order to provide visa facility to the two peoples, as "very useful". "We have no problem in accepting it but for this purpose we need more diplomatic staff, therefore, we (Pakistan and India) shall restore full strength of diplomatic missions," he said.

On India's plan to start an additional bus service between Lahore and New Delhi, he argued that if India accepted the resumption of the Samjhauta Express, there would be no need for such a bus service. However, he proposed a bus service between Lahore and Amritsar. He further said that Pakistan welcomed the Indian proposal of maritime security, as Islamabad had sought a memorandum of understanding on this last February in order to establish a collective hotline between the two countries. The Islamabad CBMs could at the best be termed SCBMs (self-confidence building measures). Pakistan needed them badly after India twice walked away with all the international attention and praise. The moot question is whether it is going to work.

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