Making peace with Pakistan-I
Islamabad meeting shows the way
by H. K. Dua, who was lately in Pakistan
THERE is a great deal to be said for the summit-level meeting between leaders of India and Pakistan in Islamabad last week.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf at last decided to experiment with a bit of history and place the two countries on a track which, if pursued with care and political will, can lead to peace in the subcontinent.
Apparently, some exchanges had taken place during the last few weeks between the two governments, but till the last minute there was trepidations on both sides how the two leaders, who had viewed each other with considerable suspicion, would react to each other and work out something that could bring to an end a history of hatred, bitterness, three wars, Kargil and nearly two decades of terrorism and violence.
Their labours in Islamabad were fruitful, much to the relief of the people of the two countries.
The two leaders’ own instincts, perhaps, the fatigue a long strife-torn relationship can bring about among people or the sheer force of circumstances and realities on the ground, and international pressures had all together led them to agree that Pakistan will not allow the territory under its control to be used by terrorists and India will accept talks on Jammu and Kashmir, as part of a composite dialogue which would begin next month.
That something could come out of the meeting was perhaps the assessment before Mr Vajpayee decided to board the plane for Pakistan. He had an easy excuse for not going to Islamabad. Two serious attempts had been made on President Musharraf’s life only a few days earlier in the vicinity of his official residence in Rawalpindi. It was clear that spoilers were at work to assassinate the Pakistani President.
Many in the Vajpayee government and the country were worried whether the Prime Minister should at all go to Islamabad and land himself in a situation where its own President’s life was in serious danger. Even Mr George Bush or any other world leader would have called off a visit were he to go to Islamabad in a similar situation.
That Mr Vajpayee insisted on going to Pakistan, despite advice to the contrary, shows that he was keen to pursue his peace-with-Pakistan project irrespective of the uncertainties. May be, behind-the-scene contacts had thrown up some possibilities of reaching an accord with Pakistan and he did not want to miss these. Already, he had begun saying that this could be his last attempt to make peace with Pakistan.
Possibly, the emotion and thought Mr Vajpayee had invested on his peace project and the ups and downs it had already gone through during the last few years had made him impatient for results. He could also be worried that India would soon get busy with elections and picking up the thread afterwards would take a long time.
The assessment of the Prime Minister and his key advisers, although it remained tentative until the last, must have been that despite a difficult situation, it was better he flew to Islamabad to attend the SAARC Summit and meet General Musharraf and see whether the two could set into motion a process that ultimately would abolish war from the subcontinent.
Also, it would have been imprudent to let President Musharraf down by not going to Islamabad and meeting him. After all, he had been responding positively to the peace moves India had been making since Mr Vajpayee gave a call in Srinagar in April last year for peaceful and tension-free relationship between the two countries.
The unilateral and unconditional ceasefire Pakistan had announced all along the Line of Control, the reduction in infiltration from Pakistan, the resumption of flights, and the agreements on bus and train services were the signs that tended to build some confidence in President Musharraf’s intentions and wash off the bitter memories of the Agra Summit over two years ago.
The international opinion also favoured a Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit. Not going to Islamabad would have earned India a bad image all over the world. Also, by going to Islamabad, the General would be spared of what would have definitely been regarded as a snub. It would also mean missing the opportunities that may be there to be availed of.
Whichever way the meeting may be described, its outcome has been received with a sense of great relief on both sides of the subcontinental divide, among the Saarc countries and in the rest of the world. The way congratulatory messages have poured in from President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Putin and leaders of China and the European Union shows how worried they had been about the continuing deadlock between India and Pakistan.
It would be presumptuous to say that the Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting has sorted out all the problems that have caused hatred and wars on the subcontinent all these years. The joint press statement that was issued at the end of the talks has tried to meet immediate concerns of the two nations, given a momentum to normalisation of their relationship and put them on track for securing a durable peace on the subcontinent.
Essentially, the joint statement, which required fine-tuning and meeting core demands of both sides until the last moment, commits President Musharraf to ensure that he “will not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner”.
Pakistan’s gain out of the exercise is that India has agreed to “a composite dialogue” to begin in February 2004. “The two leaders”, according to the joint statement, “are confident that the resumption of the composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides”.
India is happy as it has at last got the commitment from President Musharraf that Pakistan will not encourage cross-border terrorism, nor allow the territory under its control to be used by terrorists.
Pakistan is happy that it has made India accept its demand for a discussion on Jammu and Kashmir as a part of “the composite dialogue” and that these talks will begin as early as next month.
Whether some private assurances have been given by both sides to each other is not known, but the joint statement does not provide for a framework or a deadline for the composite dialogue on all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. The level at which these talks are to begin is yet to be worked out by the two countries.
Essentially, the two leaders have agreed that “the constructive dialogue would promote progress towards the common objective of peace, security and economic development for our peoples and for future generations”. This could be a general proposition, but it seems the two nations have come to the conclusion that it is better to work for peace and normalise relations than live in an atmosphere of distrust, hatred and violence.
How far the two countries are able to travel along this track remains to be seen.
(To be continued)