October 12, 2001


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Admiral (retd) J G Nadkarni

Remember Kashmir?

Indians are great cricket lovers but apparently our politicians either do not watch the game or understand its rules. Only 11 players can play the game in each side and the captain has considerable say in selecting the team. He does that depending on a number of things like the state of the pitch, the strengths of each player and the overall strategy.

Captain George Bush, having decided to take on the Osama bin Laden XI in the Afghan stadium, has selected his team. He has included Vice-captain Tony Blair and a number of other players. A reluctant Pervez Musharraf has been dragged in. Musharraf was, for the past few years, playing for the opposing team until he decided to ditch them and join Bush.

An overeager India has been left out from this World XI. Despite their unstinted enthusiasm to be included, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh has been only kept as the twelfth man and sometime later he may be allowed to carry drinks on to the field.

By a quirk of fate, after 20 years Pakistan once again finds itself in the position of a frontline state and India in the position of a bystander. India's efforts to get the United States or other coalition countries involved in its own war against terrorism have been ignored.

If there is one lesson from the events of last month, it is that each country has to face its own problems. India has to confront its own demons, fight its own wars and find its own solutions. Apart from tea and sympathy, not one country will lift a finger to come to anyone else's assistance unless there is something in it for it.

Once again it is time for our external affairs ministry and the government to brush up on their history. This is the thirtieth anniversary of the 1971 war with Pakistan. Just about this time 30 years ago, millions of refugees were pouring into Bengal and Assam to escape the repression in East Pakistan.

Indira Gandhi undertook a monumental trip of many Western countries to seek their help. All leaders listened to her politely. Not one offered help, least of all Richard Nixon, who, with Henry Kissinger, was forging a new policy towards China at the time.

Pakistan was again of use to the US as a go-between. The US could ill afford to alienate Pakistan and had to turn a blind eye to Islamabad's repression of its own countrymen.

The main lesson, that countries do not forge friendships because of common ideologies or even common goals, but by current needs and conveniences, seems to have been forgotten. We still seem to expect other countries, which have nothing in common with Kashmir, to come to our aid. The prime minister may be a good letter writer, but that is not going to move George Bush.

Today, the situation may not be on all fours, but it is similar to that in 1971. The US and its allies have decided to paste Afghanistan into submission. Millions of refugees are pouring into Pakistan, worsening its already precarious economic and politically unstable situation. Apart from a few dollops of aid to tide over immediate bankruptcy, it is unlikely that any long-term monetary aid will come our neighbour's way.

If ever there was an opportune time for the two neighbours to forget the past and forge out a new policy for the future, it is now. Both Pakistan and India must realise that eventually both countries must solve their own problems. Fifty years of antagonism and mistrust have brought our nations nothing but misery, perpetual poverty and ever growing defence expenditure.

Just a few months ago there appeared to be a ray of hope when General Musharraf visited India. A window of opportunity had opened which might have led to some resolution of the numerous problems that are waiting to be solved. Unfortunately, the slight bit of goodwill generated at the time has been frittered away. Musharraf's obsession with Kashmir has prevented any progress on other fronts.

Possibly as a result of disappointments after both Lahore and Agra, India's policymakers today appear totally paralysed in trying to pursue any solutions to improving relations between our two countries. We are so fascinated by the events after September 11 and so glued to our TV sets that we are in danger of once again wasting the opportunity that has opened up. Instead of pontificating and gloating over Musharraf's misfortunes at home we should be forging and articulating a positive policy for a long-term solution to Kashmir and terrorism.

Unfortunately the general environment appears to be against any such moves. The macho US response to the WTC attack followed by daily air attacks on Afghanistan seem to have turned millions in the country into instant Rambos. At a TV talk show the other day more than 80 per cent wanted to bomb the terrorist training camps across the border. Even responsible leaders like Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah are beginning to talk about undertaking such actions.

Terrorism in Kashmir is certainly making hardliners of our top leadership. Sense and sanity have crumbled along with the WTC towers. What exactly do we intend to do about Kashmir in the future? Just wait and watch what happens to General Musharraf? Or write letters to Bush about terrorism in Kashmir? Or wait for that famous day when we hope that after finishing the Taleban, Bush will finally turn his attention to terrorism in Kashmir?

It is India's misfortune that just when a strong guiding hand was required to steer our country during the present perilous times, we have dithering prevarication and an absence of clear policy at the top. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition has provided the strong national leadership that is essential at this time.

Pakistan too must be realising the folly of encouraging the fundamentalists at home over the past 15 years. General Musharraf appears far too nervous and subdued today than a few months ago. All that bluff and bluster has gone. One keeps hoping that the crackdown on the fundamentalists is neither too late nor too temporary.

Just a few months ago a dozen political and peaceful solutions to the Kashmir problem were being articulated. Now not one is in sight. The best thing which can happen to Kashmir at present is for both sides to declare a year of truce while Pakistan solves its internal, economic and Afghan border problems and India uses the time to forge an innovative and liberal policy for the future of Kashmir. That policy must include a measure of autonomy, free and fair elections and a promise of good governance.

Pakistan may be preoccupied with its internal and Afghanistan problems now. But that should not stop the Indian government from trying to bring about one more summit or at least a meeting of foreign ministers. Track II diplomacy must also continue. The momentum of Agra must be restored. Efforts must once again be made to implement some confidence-building measures. We may even be surprised if we see a different response this time around.

We cannot expect peace and prosperity overnight. But at least a start in statesmanship must be made now. Will our leaders get away from their TV sets and obsession with Afghanistan for at least a short time to pursue the unfinished agenda on Kashmir?

Admiral J G Nadkarni (retd)

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