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|February 26, 1999||
T V R Shenoy
The Lahore expedition was about saving lives
There are literally tens of thousands of reasons why Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee shouldn't have gone to Lahore. The body of each Indian killed by Pakistani machinations is reason enough in itself to desist, and let us remember that twenty thousand Indians wee killed in Jammu and Kashmir alone in the past decade.
Against these, there is one reason why the prime minister was right in going as he did: so that the children and the grandchildren of all those killed in militant attacks do not suffer a similar untimely death.
Some may wonder whether such a visit will succeed even in the intended purpose of putting an end to terrorist attacks. They point to the brutal murder of Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir on the very eve of the prime minister's trip. This seems to buttress the old point that it doesn't really matter what the prime minister of Pakistan says -- the bureaucratic-military-fundamentalist establishment in Pakistan is perfectly capable of setting up its own agenda.
It would have been easy for the prime minister to let the status quo continue. But that plays into the hands of the militant lobby in Pakistan. Nor is war a realistic option: even if you put aside the fact that both nations have access to nuclear options, it is simply too expensive an option. Finally, there was the so-called 'Gujral Doctrine' -- essentially appeasement at any cost, too cowardly for any self-respecting nation.
But isn't that what happened on February 20? No, because the prime minister played his cards quite carefully. The fallout of the nuclear tests has left the Pakistani economy in tatters while that of India, quite incredibly, has grown. That puts the Pakistanis in a far worse position than they were in the days of Gujral, meaning that they simply cannot afford to be quite as stubborn as before.
Pakistan has made several concessions. Islamabad used to insist that there could be no progress on trade or cultural exchanges unless the issue of Jammu and Kashmir was settled once and for all. Today, Nawaz Sharief himself publicly ridicules that attitude, pointing out, quite correctly, that it proved fruitless for 50 years.
The brutal fact driven into the Pakistani establishment is that their country lacks both the military prowess and the international backing to wrest Jammu and Kashmir by force. Nor is there any hope of any Indian government presenting Indian territory on a silver platter. And beyond a point, the concept of 'limited war' is not tenable; after spending literally millions of dollars, Pakistan has not gained any territory since the regime of General Zia-ul Haq unleashed Operation Topaq a decade ago.
Second, up to a few months ago, Islamabad insisted on third party negotiators since bilateral talks were going nowhere. In a unipolar world, there could be no doubt who would hold the scales in such talks -- the United States. But President Bill Clinton was conspicuously absent form Lahore, and it wasn't a voluntary absence. (If nothing else, it would have been wonderful public relations for him, a nice change from bombing Iraq and Serbia -- his chosen methods of diverting public attention from the Lewinsky scandal!)
The third point where Delhi and Islamabad see eye to eye is on the subject of 'self determination.' That phrase has had a particular meaning ever since the days of Woodrow Wilson (another Democrat in the White House). It generally ends up as support for a minority wanting to secede from the mother country. So Indians had every reason to be suspicious when murmurs of 'self determination for Kashmiris' began to be heard in London and Washington.
Jammu and Kashmir is neighbour to several nations. I point no finger at anyone, but it would suit the Chinese, to name but one, if that strategic territory were a weak and independent nation, rather than part of a powerful country.
When you come right down to it, what has India conceded? It hasn't surrendered its claims to Pakistan occupied Kashmir. It didn't give in to demands for third-party negotiators. On a more positive note, some of the highest officials in Pakistan have acknowledged the fundamental sterility of harping on Kashmir to the exclusion of everything else.
All that talk of 'brotherhood' leaves me cold -- as a South Indian I feel no kinship for Punjabis from the wrong side of the border. But I can't object to anything that may help save Indian lives without losing India's dignity. And that, essentially, is what the prime minister's trip to Lahore was about.
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