The highlight of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's visit to India is a joint statement which describes the peace process between the two countries as "irreversible".JOHN CHERIAN in New Delhi
IT was a packed schedule for the visiting Pakistan President, General Pervez Musharraf, in New Delhi from April 16 to 18. Besides holding bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Musharraf met with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Before departing for Manila, the Philippines, he also met former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The meeting with Vajpayee was at the request of the Pakistan President. Musharraf said that a dramatic turnaround had taken place in bilateral relations since January 6, 2004, after the two countries signed a joint statement in Islamabad pledging to put relations back on track. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister at that time.
Despite his busy schedule, Musharraf found time to be at the Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium for an hour, along with Manmohan Singh, to watch the last match of the one-day cricket series between India and Pakistan.
The highlight of the Pakistan President's visit was the joint statement released by the two leaders which described the peace process between the two countries as "irreversible". The statement was released just before Musharraf left. It was evident that a lot of midnight oil was burnt before the two sides agreed on the final draft of the statement. It was no secret that the Indian side wanted to give more emphasis to the issue of terrorism, while Pakistan wanted the focus to be on the "core" issue of Kashmir.
The statement pledged to address the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in a "sincere and purposeful and forward-looking manner for a final settlement". The two sides also reaffirmed the commitments made in the joint statements issued by Musharraf and Vajpayee in Islamabad in 2004 and after the meeting of Musharraf with Manmohan Singh on September 24, 2004, in New York. Both these statements had committed Pakistan to stop giving aid and succour to terrorist groups operating from its territory. The latest joint statement, therefore, reflected the main concerns of the two countries.
Musharraf, armed with a commitment from New Delhi for a "final settlement" of the Kashmir dispute, can now ward off domestic criticism that he had returned from India empty-handed. There was a lot of criticism in Pakistan about the timing of the President's visit, given the fact that New Delhi had initially appeared a trifle reluctant to play host. The External Affairs Ministry had originally mooted the idea that Kochi was an ideal venue for the Pakistan President to watch a one-day cricket match. But once Musharraf made it clear that cricket was only secondary and that he wanted to talk politics, the Prime Minister's Office stepped in and duly extended an invitation to him to come to New Delhi. Also granted was Musharraf's wish to visit the Ajmer Dargah, which he could not fulfil during his visit four years ago.
The joint statement said that cooperation between the two sides along the Line of Control (LoC) would continue. It agreed to the setting up of more meeting points for divided families, increasing trade and facilitating pilgrimages to either country and cultural interaction. Importantly, the statement "condemned attempts" to disrupt the Srinagar-Muzafarrabad bus service. Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, in a briefing to the media before the Musharraf visit, was of the view that the Pakistani government had a responsibility to control the activities of terrorists. India still feels that some of the so-called "terrorist elements" have the backing of the Pakistani state. In the course of his visit, Musharraf seems to have convinced the Indian establishment that he and his government are as much a target of the "jihadi" and "terrorist" groups. The attempts on the General's life are given as illustrations of the threat. Musharraf is also facing serious internal threats from tribal groups in Balochistan and "jihadist" elements in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
United States President George W. Bush once again reiterated his support for the India-Pakistan peace process when External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh met him during his visit to Washington in the second week of April. Bush has been going out of his way to help the politically beleaguered Pakistani President. Musharraf is, of course, a key factor in the Bush administration's strategy to combat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. With the U.S. all set to have permanent military bases in Afghanistan, the need for a stable Pakistan under a loyal ally has become all the more important. Both Washington and New Delhi have not been talking about the need for real democracy in Pakistan. The day Musharraf landed on Indian soil, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader Asif Zardari was put under house arrest when he returned to Pakistan from Dubai for the first time after a long stay in prison.
The other important decisions announced in the joint statement include proposals to increase the frequency of the bus service on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route and also allow trucks to ply the route to promote trade. New bus routes have been proposed, including one between Poonch and Rawalkot. The two sides agreed for the early start of a bus service between Amritsar and Lahore. The Khokrapar-Munnabao rail link will be ready by January 1, 2006. The Pakistan consulate in Mumbai and the Indian consulate in Karachi will be reopened before the end of the year. The Indian government has asked the Maharashtra government to locate a property to house the Pakistan consulate.
The joint statement said that the two sides should "immediately" start discussions to find mutually acceptable solutions for the Sir Creek and Siachen issues. It was also agreed that the Ministers of Petroleum and Natural Gas of the two countries would meet in May to explore the possibility of cooperation in that sector, including the issue of pipelines. Musharraf now talks about gas pipelines from Turkmenistan and Qatar. There is a growing suspicion that both New Delhi and Islamabad are putting the Iran gas pipeline proposal on the back burner, under pressure from Washington. A pipeline from Turkmenistan also means more business opportunities for American firms, which have well-placed lobbyists in Islamabad and New Delhi.
The joint statement said both countries would benefit from enhanced economic and commercial cooperation. In this context, the two countries have decided to reactivate the Joint Economic Commission, which has been inactive since 1988. The Joint Business Council is expected to meet soon. The Baglihar issue did not figure in the joint statement. Musharraf did convey to Manmohan Singh his government's deep misgivings about the Indian decision to go ahead with the construction of the dam. The dam, according to Pakistan, would allow India to use water as a "weapon", by either inundating low-lying areas in Pakistan or by cutting it off at will. Pakistan had taken its case to the World Bank for arbitration, claiming that the Indian move violated the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. According to Indian officials, Manmohan Singh gave Musharraf a solemn assurance that New Delhi unequivocally "abided by the parameters laid down by the 1960 treaty in letter and spirit".
The other main talking points between the two leaders related to the inclusion of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) representatives in the ongoing dialogue process and the reduction of Indian troop presence along the border in Jammu and Kashmir. The Hurriyat at this juncture looks more disunited than ever. The so-called hardline faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has given the impression of being disillusioned with Musharraf himself. Geelani said in New Delhi that the "core" issue of Kashmir did not figure prominently in the India-Pakistan dialogue process any more and that Kashmiris were "confused" about Pakistan's support for the peace process. He informed the media in New Delhi that he had told Musharraf to take a tougher line and treat Kashmir as the "core" issue.
New Delhi has indicated that it is actively considering the reduction of troop levels in Jammu and Kashmir. The issue figured at the meeting between the two sides. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee also attended the talks. The National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister, M.K. Narayanan, had said that troop reduction depended on the level of militancy in the Kashmir Valley. He indicated that there would be troop reduction provided there was a reduction in the militancy. The Indian side feels that Islamabad is still not doing its utmost to crack down on the militant network.
While talking to Editors of Indian newspapers prior to his departure, Musharraf said that nobody would be allowed to disrupt the peace process but that the "bigger partner should show magnanimity". He emphasised that the Kashmir issue had to be resolved "amicably" but warned that if it was sidetracked, it had the potential to spark conflicts between the two countries in the future. During his visit, Musharraf showed that he was now more of a realist. He said that the world had changed after September 11, 2001, and that military solutions were "not the options anymore".