July 25, 2001


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Admiral (retd) J G Nadkarni

Do India and Pakistan want the IMF to dictate a solution?

Despite the gloss put on the outcome by the respective foreign ministers at their post-summit conferences it is difficult to hide the disappointment at the result of the much-hyped meeting between the two heads of state. Given the rhetoric and the posturing leading up to the meeting it is difficult to see how it could have been otherwise.

India having invited the general and Pakistan having accepted, both sides then appeared to have second thoughts. Even before General Pervez Musharraf set foot on Indian soil, Pakistan started talking about Kashmir being not only the most important but the only item on the agenda. Not to be outdone, the India foreign ministry retaliated by asserting that Kashmir was an integral part of India as proclaimed by our Parliament. The Indian media dubbed Musharraf 'the Butcher of Kargil' and the Pakistan media talked about the wholesale breaches of human rights by the Indian army in Kashmir.

It was apparent that both sides, with eyes on their respective constituencies, were keen on scoring points. Showing a total lack of understanding for Indian sensitivity, the Pakistan high commissioner decided to invite the Hurriyat leaders to his tea party. In a obvious tit-for-tat for the discourtesy shown to Vajpayee at Lahore, the chief of the air staff did not salute Musharraf. The chiefs of staff were not invited to the Presidential banquet lest they found themselves shaking hands with the general. Apparently, the parade commander of the honour guard was also specially selected so that the guest would have 'to look up' to him. The government, which obviously connived in these acts, thus brought diplomacy to the level of school boyish pranks. What next? A chief throwing a custard pie in the face of a state guest whom he does not like? A search for a six-footer as the next prime minister?

Ironically, the government unwittingly handed over a diplomatic gift to the visitor, who looked more statesmanlike by ignoring these slights.

Despite the shadow boxing, things appeared to go quite smoothly the first day. All speeches were conciliatory and mild words replaced the rhetoric. The talks at Agra went into overtime and the mood changed to optimism. After all, what can two people talk about for so many hours if not about some way of solving the deadlock.

The president's breakfast meeting with India's top editors, televised later, was the point at which things began to sour. If Musharraf wanted to come across as a tough no-nonsense ruler of a neigbouring country, he succeeded magnificently. His give-nothing attitude apparently strengthened the hands of Indian hardliners who succeeded in rejecting a joint declaration. The cordiality and goodwill of the first day gave way to cautious optimism on the second and ended with intransigence, stubbornness and finally disappointment on the third.

The most disappointing feature of the summit from the Indian point of view was the refusal of the Pakistani side to progress on any other vital points until the question of Kashmir was first addressed and solved. Apparently they have a genuine fear that Kashmir will be sidelined if any confidence building measures gather momentum. Thus, nothing at all was achieved on the question of fishermen, easing of visa restrictions, control of the arms race, increased trade and most vital of all, nuclear risk reduction.

So finally, both sides had nothing to take back home except pleasant memories of the Taj and goodwill. Post summit recriminations, name calling and accusations have eroded much of the cordiality of the meeting and when the two leaders meet again they will practically start again from scratch instead of building on Agra. Indeed, the Indian government wants to put Agra behind and is already taking about taking Simla and Lahore as the starting points.

What of the future? Ironically, despite the failure of the talks, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf still remain the best bets for some sort of settlement on Kashmir.

Musharraf's position is indeed tenuous. Like all army strongmen he came to power promising a restoration of democracy. By the order of his supreme court he is required to do that by October next year. And like all army strongmen he will surely find some excuse to put that off nearer the time. But the economy is tottering and the IMF is twisting his arm to reduce defence expenditure.

If Pakistan collapses economically, a hawkish general, helped by the jehadis, may even replace him. In India too people are becoming disillusioned with the BJP and the NDA. At the same time no party is strong enough to come to power without the help of regional parties, condemning India to a spate of coalitions in the years to come. As coalitions are more than likely throw up harmless but ineffective prime ministers (Remember H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral?) there is not much chance of the problem being solved from this side also.

Thus time is running out. Despite the disappointment of the first summit, both sides have no alternative except to buckle down for the long hard grind ahead. They have to produce some sort of a solution before time runs out for the participants. It is unlikely to be a perfect solution nor will it satisfy everyone. But it will have to do, for the alternative is even more horrible to contemplate.

Many experts advocate the status quo to continue. That may mean accepting the Line of Control as the international boundary but it will also mean continuing or even escalating militancy and killings in the Kashmir Valley, clashes on the Siachen glacier, more bombings within the state and elsewhere, hijacking of planes, periodic capture of fishermen and, most serious of all, steady and serious escalation of the nuclear risk. Above all, it will also require both countries to maintain their defence budgets at high levels, leading certainly in the case of Pakistan, to serious economic crises.

India too need not be glib or apathetic about its economy. There are already signs indicating an economic slowdown. How long will it be before we make our next trip to the IMF?

Do both countries really want the IMF to twist their arms and dictate terms? Is that the only way some sort of agreement will eventually come?

Many years ago both India and Pakistan agreed to solve all problems bilaterally. The time has come for both countries to put their mouth is. Today practically every long standing problem in the world (Ireland, Israel-Palestine) is being solved with the help of third party mediation. There are enough mediators waiting on the sidelines. If India and Pakistan do not want them to meddle, there is little time to lose in solving the Kashmir 'issue.' Otherwise, the IMF will dictate a solution.

Admiral J G Nadkarni (retd)

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