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Yes, we are back on the path of peace again
December 12, 2003
Here we go again.
January promises to be a very interesting month indeed. If things go according to plan, it might even be a month that will mark an epochal turning point on the subcontinent.
The writing is on the wall. There will be a 'summit' soon after, or perhaps even during -- the SAARC summit January 4-6 in Islamabad. The frantic negotiations that have been taking place between New Delhi and Islamabad, sometimes through the offices of non-governmental agencies, indicate that a few more radical confidence building measures from both sides can be expected before the month is out.
One of them may well be India's decision to accept a oil/gas pipeline from Iran/Central Asia/Afghanistan coming to India over Pakistani territory. Despite fervent appeals from many of these nations, particularly Iran, New Delhi has steadfastly refused to accept such a pipeline, contending that it posed a security risk. In other words, it did not accept Pakistan's guarantees that it would protect the pipeline and not use it for political or strategic leverage against India.
If India does decide to accept this now, it would give both Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reasons to crow in front of their respective domestic audiences. Vajpayee for his magnanimity and adherence to the path of peace, Musharraf for finally making the Indians see reason.
From the Pakistani side, we can expect the granting of Most Favoured Nation status, something India has been demanding for a long time. Road, rail, and air and sea travel between the two nations will be fully restored and magnified. We can also expect major visa camps in both nations, despite protests from security agencies in both nations.
But what about the 'core' issue of Kashmir, as Pakistan describes it?
I suspect we will see a softening of Islamabad's stand, though it will never be described as such. Musharraf, without admitting it, may tacitly accept that the core issue could be discussed and handled better without the media glare, while building up ties in other would not harm, but actually benefit both nations. Whether the general's acceptance is due to powerful nudges and perhaps even shoves from China and America or due to his own foresight is another issue.
Who knows, both sides may even accept the Line of Control as the international border -- which, helped by the ceasefire -- is being frantically fenced on the Indian side.
But then again, Pakistan has officially protested against the fencing, with Major General Shaukat Sultan, director general of the country's armed forces' Inter-Services Public Relations, saying that it violates the current ceasefire as well as all bilateral, multilateral and international agreements. He stopped short, however, of threatening to call off the ceasefire.
Cynics point to the aborted missions of Agra and Lahore and predict that this latest effort too will go the same way. They say Vajpayee, in his hurried quest for peace, has forgotten that there are no instant solutions to such long drawn out conflicts, no karma cola. They point to the Cold War thinking still obviously prevalent in the corridors of power in Washington and Russia, despite the war officially having ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Optimists say that Vajpayee, having learnt from the past, would certainly not agree to a dialogue with Pakistan without having first established a iron-clad road map. So what if the main conditions imposed by India for talks after the December 13 attack on Parliament have been conveniently forgotten, they ask. They cite the subliminal messages coming out from the leadership in both nations as indications that a genuine, workable peace plan is being given the final finishing touches.
The truth, I think, lies somewhere in between.
Yes, India and Pakistan have obviously been talking at length over a solution that would be acceptable to both nations. Having burnt itself twice, at Lahore and Agra, India hopes that relegating Kashmir to the backburner in bilateral relations while cracking down ruthlessly on terrorism would be a first step towards an eventual solution.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has painted itself into a corner, with the international community finally coming around to the Indian view that Pakistan aids, abets and sponsors terror not just in Kashmir, but in Afghanistan and other places as well. A successful summit, and a workable peace plan, would do wonders for Musharraf's, and hence Pakistan's, image at home and abroad. Which is why it was frantically and repeatedly demanding summit level talks with India.
But New Delhi, realizing this, deliberately kept Islamabad guessing right until Prime Minister Jamali announced the complete ceasefire on the border. Unofficially, Islamabad has been told that even though Vajpayee had finally agreed to attend the summit, he could just as easily cancel it if the ceasefire was violated or in case of a major terror attack in India.
Yes, India and Pakistan are again back on the path to peace, and trying very hard to remove the roadblocks en route. Yes, once again, there is a glimmer, a slight flicker, of light, of hope that this time, something will change.
After all, both Musharraf and Vajpayee seem to have put their credibility on the line. The overnight dismantling of huge statues of missiles which proliferated in Pakistani cities after the nuclear tests of May 1998 is perhaps symbolic of times to come.
But I would certainly advise those expecting an instant solution to the Kashmir problem against holding their breath.