Balle-Balle is not peace

Balle-Balle is not peace
India, Pak have to cross many hurdles
by H.K. Dua

Plenty of hopes have been raised in India, Pakistan and among international do-gooders that the recent contacts between the two countries are going to lead to the dawn of a new era on the sub-continent.

Partly the fault is of rosy headlines and media reports in both countries. In a large measure, the air of optimism that can be felt on both sides of the divide is because of the inherent wish of the people of both India and Pakistan to see peace reign in the sub-continent in their lifetime.

The Balle-Balle mood has also been generated by daily exchange of jathas across the Wagah border and the bonhomie they experience on both sides.

Such people-to-people exchanges improve atmospherics but have only limited impact on policy making which is generally in the hands of hardened decision-makers. They are not guided by inner desires or outburst of pent-up emotions.

Wishes, however, are not necessarily peace, nor is mere absence of cross-border rhetoric and invective which were being exchanged over the years.

All that has been achieved so far is that dialogue between the two country has been resumed despite the Lok Sabha elections and change in the government in India. The Manmohan Singh government has been able to tell Pakistan and the rest of world that it is in no way less keen than the NDA government on a dialogue with Pakistan.

Too many formulas have been floating around lately and have become the subject of animated discussions in New Delhi and Islamabad giving the impression that serious discussions are on between the two countries on resolving the Kashmir issue – the real bone of contention. Some of these formulas are old but packaged in a fresh wrapping paper and some of them have been trimmed for greater appeal; but essentially the two countries are distant from resolving the Kashmir question.

Dr Manmohan Singh has met President Pervez Musharraf in New York and the National Security Advisors of the two countries-Mr J. N. Dixit and Mr Tariq Aziz – have been having their secret meetings. But what has essentially been discussed is the “process” for sorting out Indo-Pak problems and the stage for discussing the nitty-gritty of any formula for resolving the Kashmir question has not yet reached.

Essentially, Indian emphasis is on the two countries taking more steps to build greater mutual confidence which in turn could facilitate a solution of the Kashmir issue. For Pakistan, resolving Kashmir is the highest priority without which, it contends, confidence building is of little utility.

The gap between the position of the two countries relates to approach in addition to what seriously divides them on the Kashmir issue. This is evident from the public statements President Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh have made during the last few weeks.

President Musharraf surprised New Delhi by his Iftar party statement on October 25 in which he unfolded his recipe for solving the Kashmir issue. It envisages division of Jammu and Kashmir into seven regions, their demilitarisation and granting them status of independence or placing them under a joint control or under the UN mandate.

The Pakistan President did say that a solution to the Kashmir question cannot be found either by insisting on plebiscite or making the Line of Control into a permanent border. He described his statement as “food-for-thought” giving the impression that these were not specific proposals he was making and that he was merely encouraging a debate on ideas that could help solve the Kashmir issue.

New Delhi was surprised about the tone and content of President Musharraf’s statement and the way he tried to push the Kashmir question to the centrestage of the current dialogue between the two countries, particularly when Messrs Dixit and Tariq Aziz were actually discussing how to go about.

New Delhi thought that President Musharraf was pushing India to resolve Kashmir fast and relegating confidence building. It made it known that it will respond to President Musharraf’s proposals only when officially made. Apparently, New Delhi is feeling irritated over President Musharraf going public under the “food-for-thought” rubric.

That not much headway has been made, and, the two countries are continuing to stick to their positions is also evident from Dr Manmohan Singh’s statements in his just-concluded visit to Jammu and Kashmir as also from President Musharraf’s interview to Agence France-Presse.

In Srinagar, Dr Manmohan Singh made it plain in his own way that no proposal that would seek the division of Jammu and Kashmir on religious and regional lines would be acceptable to India.

He said: “I have made it quite clear that any redrawing of international borders is something which is not going to be acceptable to us. I also make it quite clear to Gen. Musharraf and everybody else that any proposals that seek the division of our country on the basis of religion are not going to be acceptable to us. Within these two limits, we are willing to look at whatever proposals are made on the table”.

This was in response to President Musharraf’s plan to divide Kashmir in seven regions and their demilitarisation. Dr Manmohan Singh is clearly rejecting it.

What Dr Manmohan Singh said has also not come as music to President Musharraf. Clearly commenting on Indian Prime Minister’s statement that boundaries cannot be redrawn, President Musharraf told AFP that he was not encouraged by signals emanating from India. “Certainly the vibes should be much better than this”.

What has surprised New Delhi is that part of the AFP interview where President Musharraf is again describing violence being resorted to in the Jammu and Kashmir as “freedom struggle” and at the same time adding that “violence will stop only when peace dialogue moved forward”.

Many in New Delhi who generally view the peace process with a critical eye are bound to compare President Musharraf’s latest remarks with his similar statement at Agra three years ago which wrecked his summit meeting with former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and pushed the peace process back by about two years.

Rather than appreciating Dr Manmohan Singh’s move withdrawing some troops from Jammu and Kashmir, President Musharraf said these were “good optics”, adding that India was not striking at the strategic issue.

It is too clear that besides strategic policies, domestic compulsions are holding back both Dr Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf for coming out with innovative moves.

Pakistan is not yet realising that no Prime Minister in India can accept another partition of Kashmir. Also, the division of the State on religious ground can result in a backlash which would be difficult for any government in New Delhi to tackle.

President Musharraf on the other hand does not want to annoy fundamentalists in Pakistan or those sections in his army which are not prepared to reconcile themselves to a solution that will not give them the Valley.

The statements made by the two leaders do not mark any departure from the stated country positions. These are, however, early stages of the dialogue and it will be wrong to believe that India and Pakistan have run into a deadlock when search for peace has hardly begun.

The path to peace has certainly to be paved with sustained good intentions but those who are to pursue it have to find ways to get over the hurdles that may come in their way. Patience, political will and a concern for the well-being of the entire sub-continent should not be lost sight of by those who are destined to make history.