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It's not Kashmir, it's Bangladesh, silly!
July 14, 2004
Forgive me for being a wet blanket.
But the writing is on the wall.
Despite the much hyped talks with Pakistan, despite the fencing, despite the sensors on the border, despite the ceasefire along the Line of Control, despite Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's repeated pledges and promises, the number of people killed in terrorist violence in India since January till July 11 is 1,036.
The number was 2,542 in 2003, says the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
As the new government in Delhi tries to get a grip on the situation and ensures that there is something to show from the so-called composite dialogue with Pakistan, reader fatigue over the daily dance of death in the Kashmir valley has led to these horror stories being put on the back pages of most newspapers.
No, I am not knocking the talks. But from what little I have seen of the process so far, I am less than cautiously optimistic.
That is because neither side seems to have a clear-cut game plan, a road map, which has some credibility on both sides.
That does not mean such road maps do not exist. Not just India and Pakistan, but the US and maybe even other nations have various versions of such maps. But they could be maps of the moon for all the practical use they are to the peace process.
I do, however, see loads of concessions being made. And sadly, New Delhi seems to have bought the argument that by virtue of being a bigger nation, it ought to concede, or at least seen to be conceding, more than its neighbour.
For one, by getting off its high horse on Kashmir, by virtually admitting that it is disputed territory, something no previous government was willing to acknowledge, at least officially.
Second, by accepting Musharraf's contention that he has no control over some of the jihadi elements active in Kashmir, and hence delinking the peace process from the violence in the valley. In other words, ending militant mayhem is no longer a condition for the peace parleys.
Senior security sources in the new Indian administration, however, insist that they have real time satellite imagery of the border which can track militants trying to sneak across, as well as the kind of support they receive from "external sources."
Any 'major' attempt by Pakistani forces to assist such 'crossovers' would be immediately brought to the attention of Islamabad, Washington and other world capitals, they say, and Pakistan is well aware of this. Earlier, the Pakistanis would use artillery to cover such attempts, but with the November ceasefire still in place, they are hopeful of completing the fencing of the border by late September. Will that stop infiltration? Check, maybe, stop no.
Third, by unofficially admitting that it is not interested in the parts of Kashmir administered by Pakistan known as the northern areas, in what would be the top of a map of Kashmir.
Incidentally, a large chunk of land from this region -- which India officially lays claim to -- was ceded to China as part of a border adjustment by Pakistan. If indeed some agreement was brokered which took these parts out of the Indian claim, New Delhi would have one less sector to worry about in its border dialogue with China.
Fourth, by buying Musharraf's veiled threat that the talks mean nothing unless there was some immediate progress on Kashmir which he could use against the jihadis reportedly baying for his blood.
Fifth: By accepting that Kashmiris -- of all political hues and shades, including the gunmetal-grey of militants -- had to be involved in the process.
Delhi is yet to determine whether this should this include Kashmiris from Azad Kashmir, from Gilgit Baltistan (whose people insist they are not Kashmiris to begin with), or only those in the Indian occupied parts of Kashmir. How about Ladakh? Are they not Kashmiris too?
What concessions has Pakistan made?
For one, it has stopped harping on the UN resolutions which recommend a plebiscite, though more out of compulsion than real goodwill. Simply because the resolutions are non-binding in nature to begin with, being more in the nature of suggestions.
There are rumours that during the 90-minute foreign secretary level discussions on Kashmir, India hinted that it might revisit the plebiscite idea on a 'partial basis' -- that is, how about starting with one in the northern territories 'administered' by Pakistan?
Second, by seeming to accept India's proposal that relations at other levels -- cultural, economical, even political -- be developed even as the Kashmir issue was discussed between the two nations. In other words, make Kashmir an important issue, but not the 'core issue.'
India has used this system to good effect with China, and there are rumours that Beijing's 'urging' had much to do with Musharraf's decision to accede to this proposal, albeit only if Kashmir was 'technically' kept high on the agenda.
Does that mean India can expect Pakistan to reciprocate the MFN status given to it by Delhi? Most unlikely.
Does that mean our other problems with Pakistan, the latest being the Baglihar dam project which Pakistan insists violates the Indus water accord, might be resolved first? Again, highly unlikely. Water has always, and will continue to be, a major strategic factor, not just in the subcontinent, but in the world. In fact, some analysts believe most wars of the future will be over water.
So what exactly can we expect from this series of talks described as the composite dialogue, expected to culminate with a meeting of the leaders of the two nations before the year is out?
What will the two foreign ministers discuss when they meet in New Delhi August 25 to review the process?
That depends on a lot of factors.
One, of course, is the ability of both sides to sustain the momentum and think out of the box. In other words, 'progress' on Kashmir. Having accepted that Musharraf cannot negotiate without Kashmir being on the table in some form or the other, India now wants to ensure that other issues are delinked from Kashmir in an effort to continue the peace process.
That is what National Security Adviser J N Dixit stressed on his Pakistani counterpart Tariq Aziz during their not-so-hush hush meeting in Amritsar in June, before the two sides met officially on nuclear confidence building measures.
In the process, they came up with a rather strangely worded statement, which says 'both sides recognise nuclear apabilities of each other, based on their national security imperatives, constitute a factor for stability.' So now we have two warring nations claiming that their nuclear weapons actually brought 'stability' to the region.
Second is the public perception on both sides. Having concluded that high expectations fanned by the media were at least partly responsible for the failure of the earlier talks, both sides are deliberately downplaying even real progress by stressing that this is just the beginning.
But there is that feeling that time is running out, and that the foreign ministers need to come up with something concrete before they meet in August.
So have these talks been a washout?
Not if you look at the real attempts to establish a nuclear hotline, among other things, to ensure that neither side 'mistakenly' lets loose its arsenal on the other.
Not if you include attempts bridge other divides, though it must be kept in mind that all these differences were identified years ago, (expect perhaps the relatively new discord over the Baglihar project) when the first foreign secretary-level talks took place between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in June 1997.
But can one really wipe out half-a-century of hate, suspicion and acrimony with just a series of talks? Can one erase decades of brainwashing, which make Pakistani children believe that all 'Hindustanis' are slimy odious creatures who are better off dead, in a month? A year?
How does one suddenly convince a jihadi, whose raison de etre is the murder of apostates, to suddenly start loving kafir Hindus?
And how does one resolve the Kashmir dispute without one side feeling that it has lost?
"It's not Kashmir, it's Bangladesh,' a senior Indian official told me recently.
According to him, the military and other officials in the Pakistani establishment are still smarting over the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971, and want retribution in some form or the other. And 'while we can talk and talk till the cows come home,' the chances of a breakthrough are bleak as long as this generation remains in Pakistan, he felt.
But until the next generation, which does not carry this emotional baggage comes along, 'it's always better that we keep talking about talking. Who knows, something could actually emerge out it.'
Forgive me for being a wet blanket. But the writing is on the wall.Ramananda Sengupta