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January 25, 2001
M H Askari
End this uncertainty
Although Pakistan's official reaction to the extension of the cease-fire in Kashmir, as expressed in the statement issued by the foreign office in Islamabad on Wednesday, cannot be regarded as unequivocal, Prime Minister Vajpayee's decision cannot but be viewed as a positive step.
But while the window of opportunity continues to remain open, the expectation that as the guns across the Line of Control fall silent other substantive steps will follow is yet to materialise. New Delhi's continuing prevarication over the issue of passports to the Hurriyat delegation to travel to Islamabad is a source of deep concern. The expected talks between the Hurriyat leaders at the helm in Muzaffarabad and Islamabad as the first step in the peace process over Kashmir are yet nowhere in sight, giving sceptics -- specially the militants -- the chance to present the whole exercise as something of an act of deception.
One would have hoped that Pakistan Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf's forthright statement a day before the extension was announced would have prompted New Delhi not to delay matters any further. After presiding over a two-day conference of corps commanders, the general spoke of "some breakthrough" having been achieved in the efforts to start "a certain process of dialogue" between Pakistan and India. This in turn should lead to the removal of their differences peacefully, without opting for military solutions, he said. This should be seen as Pakistan coming closest to a no-war offer. In his statement, the chief executive in fact declared that his government had informed the Indian government that Pakistan was "all for peace," and that no opportunity should be missed for normalising bilateral relations.
That there has been no reaction from New Delhi to the unqualified declaration is somewhat enigmatic, unless the Indian leaders have initiated some moves through diplomatic channels, and some positive outcome may become visible in due course. General Musharraf has also committed himself to pursuing the Lahore process, which is particularly significant because some misgivings had earlier been expressed in a section of the Indian media about the military establishment in Pakistan not being quite supportive of it.
What appears not to have been realised by the policy-makers in New Delhi is the extent to which the military rulers in Pakistan are under pressure from what can only be called fanatical religious elements not to abandon the jihad in Kashmir. As Professor Matin Zuberi of Jawaharlal Nehru University -- a member of an Indian Track-II team which had a dialogue with a parallel group of Pakistani peace-seekers in Islamabad recently -- observed in his appearance on an Indian television channel, the ultra-religious elements in Pakistan are still fully supportive of a holy war in Kashmir. Redeemingly, the military rulers of Pakistan who are representative of the moderate section of Pakistani society appear committed to pursuing a process of peaceful negotiations.
Any dithering by the Indian side over the Kashmir peace process can only make it difficult for Pakistan's military regime to remain committed to the path of peaceful negotiations. There is a real risk of this happening because of a general perception in Pakistan that the militants of Hindu fundamentalist groups such as the RSS and the VHP are gaining in strength and that once they are entrenched in positions of power, there can be no hope of any kind of entente between India and Pakistan.
The language of militancy used at the recent Dharam Sansad, even if within the context of Ayodhya, can only be a source of sustenance for the extremist pro-jihad elements in Pakistan. With the present absence of flow of news between India and Pakistan, there is no way for the average Pakistani to know that saner elements in India still have a dominant position in Indian society, and that fortunately they continue to remain fully committed to the ideal of a secular India. With fire-breathing leaders such as L K Advani, Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi, indicted by the CBI for their active role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and yet continuing to be members of Vajpayee's coalition government, the common Pakistanis are not in a position to know that the Hindutva elements are still not in a majority in India.
While some senior Indian commentators like Brahma Chellaney appear to stress that a jihadi mentality has seeped into the military establishment in Pakistan, the fact is that General Musharraf's military government is not supportive of any form of sectarian or factional extremism.
This was evident from what Home Minister General Moinuddin Hyder said while addressing a gathering of the ulema. He made it clear that Pakistani society had to be de-weaponised and that the government was fully pledged to upholding the rule of law. With reference to some other Muslim countries being critical of certain institutions in Pakistan providing indoctrination and armed training to militants going into other countries to incite rebellions and subversion in the name of jihad, General Hyder clearly implied that the government would not allow anyone to "besmear the country's name."
As Pakistan's leading English daily, the Dawn, said in its editorial on Thursday, Kashmiris and Pakistanis are getting somewhat impatient with the uncertainty over the future status of Kashmir. This drift and uncertainly in prospects for talks on Kashmir must be brought to end without further delay.
The writer is a senior columnist for the Dawn, Karachi.
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