An offer well meant

An offer well meant
By H.K. Dua

THE Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, could not have chosen a better place and time for extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan.

A little less than six decades ago, Amritsar had seen the country being partitioned, one of the largest migrations of the people both ways, and periodic wars and all the suffering they entailed. Flagging off the bus to Nankana Sahib, Dr Manmohan Singh also sent a message to President Musharraf to forget the bitter past and join hands with him in building peace on the subcontinent.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s message was sincere in content and tone, forward-looking and constructive in approach to vital subcontinental questions. Speaking just 33 miles away from Lahore – where the idea of Pakistan was unfolded in the 1940s and which, like Amritsar, had gone through the travails of Partition – Dr Manmohan Singh assured Pakistan: “India sincerely believed that a strong, stable, prosperous and moderate Pakistan is in the interest of India and South Asia. We are sincerely committed to the prosperity, unity, development and well-being of Pakistan. We want good neighbourly relations.”

The carefully chosen words were meant to give a feeling of re-assurance to the people of Pakistan and silence those in that country who have the tendency to play on its perceived sense of insecurity. Essentially, the Prime Minister wished India to be taken as a trusted friend, and not as a hated foe.

To underline his message, he offered to sign a “Treaty of Peace, Security and Friendship” with Pakistan so that the people of both countries could live forever in peace and like good neighbours and friends, sharing each other’s pain and joys. He said he was sure the leadership of Pakistan would reciprocate his offer.

The Prime Minister knows that peace-making is not easy and there are bound to be hurdles on the way. That is why he seemed to be recommending a step-by-step approach. He visualised the possibility of settling issues like Siachen, Sir Creek and Baglihar and making efforts to leave behind “the animosities and misgivings of the past”. The process could ultimately culminate in a “Treaty of Peace, Security and Friendship”.

He sounded more trusting of General Musharraf than ever before on his commitment to fight terrorism. “General Musharraf has taken bold steps to curb extremism and I compliment him for that. But more needs to be done in the interest of both India and Pakistan.” Despite the suggestion asking for more steps against terrorism, these remarks are a far cry from not-too-old an Indian position that no dialogue with Pakistan was possible until it ended all terrorism.

Visualising Pakistan’s keenness to treat Kashmir as a core issue, Dr Manmohan Singh rightly pointed out that it would be a mistake to link normalisation of relations with finding a solution to Jammu and Kashmir. He, however, pointed out that India was ready to discuss practical solutions to resolve this issue as well.

As in the past, he ruled out an exchange of territory or a change in the boundaries. “Borders cannot be redrawn but we can make them irrelevant – towards making them just lines on the map.” Significantly, he floated the idea – perhaps for the first time – of setting up cooperative and consultative mechanisms to maximise gains of cooperation in both parts of Jammu and Kashmir. He did not give details but it seems somewhere in the back channels these ideas, coupled with the repeated suggestions of making the borders irrelevant, are being gently pushed forward. More is likely to be heard on them as the dialogue moves ahead.

By nature, Dr Manmohan Singh is not given to rhetoric, nor making statements for effect. The initial reaction from Pakistan is hesitant, but President Musharraf and his men are bound to be studying it closely. It will, however, be a mistake on Pakistan’s part to read in the statement what it does not say.

The Prime Minister has on behalf of his country made a sincere offer of peace and friendship to Pakistan. This should be taken in the spirit in which it has been made. Seeing it in a positive light and with an open mind, President Musharraf can grasp the hand of friendship and help in building peace and harmony in the subcontinent. Such moments do not come too often.