Home > News > Columnists > Mohammad Sayeed Malik
It's a question of timing
January 03, 2003
It's a gridlock that has plagued the subcontinent since partition.
But the recent shootout on the western borders of Pakistan in which an abandoned madrassa was bombed by US B52s should give hope to those desiring to break the gridlock.
For it indicates that despite describing Pakistan as it frontline ally in the war against terror, Washington is not averse to strikes within Pakistan in its hunt for Osama and the Al Qaeda.
And this can only be good news for India, which has been crying itself hoarse in vain about Pakistan being the problem, not the solution.
For one, this incident is likely to raise the anti-US feeling already prevalent in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where the fundamentalist Muthahida Majlis-e-Amal has secured a political footing.
This in turn is likely to put further pressure on General Pervez Musharraf, who has so far performed his balancing act between the fundamentalists within and the Americans without with consummate ease of a trained acrobat.
But the deep resentment against the American presence in Pakistan, fuelled by repeated reports of the Federal Bureau of Investigation making arbitrary arrests in Karachi and Lahore, indicate a growing disillusionment with the regime not just within the nation, but more critically, within the army, with officers asking whether this is what they were trained for.
But more such US intrusions are likely in the future as the American forces in Afghanistan, frustrated with their targets crossing into and out of Pakistan, decide to follow them into Pakistan with or without Islamabad's permission.
So despite denials from both sides, this is the first sign that the US-Pakistan honeymoon is slowly turning sour.
At the moment, the US is obsessed with the impending attack on Iraq, and it does not really want to start another front in the region right now by openly taking on Musharraf.
The US is also sticking to its time tested theory that a known devil is better than an unknown one, and this fear is being shamelessly used by Musharraf, who keeps pointing out how the nation could go the Taliban way if he was removed. The recent elections which brought the fundamentalists to power buttress his claim.
But this cannot endure forever. Sooner, rather than later, the US is going to find that mollycoddling Musharraf is proving to be counterproductive.
As always, Musharraf, in an attempt to divert domestic ire against his sucking up to the US, will try and stir things up further in Kashmir and India. So we can expect a few more terrorist strikes by the likes of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and other outfits operating out of Pakistan.
For India, timing is of the essence. Instead of hoping and waiting patiently for Pakistan to implode, New Delhi needs to ensure that it is ready to add the final straw the moment it perceives the general tottering.
There are those who argue, both in Pakistan and the US, that Musharraf should be given a chance, since Pakistan's experiments with democracy have been resounding failures. They point out that Musharraf has his task cut out trying to bring the country out of the religious darkness propagated by the mullahs, and he needs our support, not our recrimination.
These arguments would have held water if Musharraf had sustained the pressure on the fundamentalists, instead of releasing them from jail to fight elections under his banner. These arguments would have held if Musharraf had shown an inclination to accept the Indian position that while the two nations could agree to disagree over Kashmir, there were other areas that the two nations could agree to cooperate in.
Instead, he keeps reiterating that tired refrain about Kashmir being the core issue, and that the terrorists are 'freedom fighters' who only get moral and political assistance from Islamabad.
So while India asserts that there can be no debate over Kashmir being an integral part of the country, Pakistan wants the issue to be resolved through a plebiscite as per the UN resolutions, or the directives of the Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) dated 13 August 1948 and 5 January 1949.
But first, a slight detour: In a position paper dated December 2 1947, on the Kashmir dispute prepared for the US Delegation to the UN General Assembly, then acting secretary of state Dean Acheson says:
"Indications recently received from official sources in India and Pakistan and from unofficial sources, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's speech of November 1, 1947, are that the current dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir may be referred to the United Nations for settlement.
"Pandit Nehru stated in his speech when discussing the provisional accession of Kashmir to India that 'as soon as Kashmir is free from the invaders our troops will have no further necessity to remain there and the fate of Kashmir will be left in the hands of the people of Kashmir'. Nehru then suggested a referendum in Kashmir 'under international auspices like the United Nations'."
This document, and others like it, give an indication of where the Pakistan demand is coming from.
So Panditji wanted a plebiscite. But that was in 1947. And even then, he stressed that this could only happen once "Kashmir is free from invaders."
Today, the Indian position is that the Simla Agreement signed between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan on July 3, 1972 supersedes and negates the UN proposals.
Under this agreement, signed after the 1971 war, the Line of Control was to be treated as the border until the issue was resolved peacefully. "Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this Line," it says.
Both sides accuse each other of having violated this accord on numerous occasions.
So how does one get out of the gridlock?
Let us suppose India, ignoring domestic concerns about this encouraging other separatist movements, were to agree to a plebiscite in Kashmir under UN auspices. No matter what the verdict, would that end the animosity between the two nations?
Let us now suppose that both sides agreed to respect the Simla Agreement on not using force to resolve the dispute, and to maintain the sanctity of the Line of Control. Would that end the reciprocal bitterness that has bubbled since partition?
Let us finally look at the worst case scenario, where the two sides decide to go to war over Kashmir. Nuclear strike and counterstrike, which turn large parts of India and most of Pakistan into a radioactive wasteland. Would that resolve the issue?
So what is the solution?
The hawks believe that Pakistan must be taught a lesson, that it must be made to realise the cost of sponsoring terror in India. They talk of pre-emptive strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
The doves believe that India, being the larger and more powerful nation, should make 'concessions' to Pakistan. They want more people to people interaction, more cultural and economic ties, and they hope all this will someday help bridge the great divide.
In fact, most of the world seems to want something called a diplomatic, as opposed to a military, solution to the crisis. And again, conventional thinking says India should be one making the concessions.
Given the failed Lahore bus initiative and the fiasco at Agra, what form could such a diplomatic initiative take?
It's a question of timing.
Suppose, at a time when Musharraf was on the verge of collapsing, India publicly and formally renounced its no first strike policy, saying it reserved the right to strike at any nation which it perceived as a threat to its security.
And simultaneously, it unveiled a proposal to create a South Asian federation, along the lines of the European Union, and invited Pakistan to join as founder member.
The clincher? Set a date to discuss Kashmir. And only Kashmir, without any preconditions, a decade from now. But make it very clear that each terrorist attack in that state would add a year to that deadline.
So if the terrorists continue, their dreams suffer. And if they don't, who knows what might happen in a decade?
Naïve daydreaming? Certainly.
Isn't that what New Years are all about?