Holding the Line of Peace

Holding the Line of Peace
By H. K. Dua

In a major speech at Amritsar a little over a year ago, Dr Manmohan Singh offered to sign a “Treaty of Peace, Security and Friendship” with Pakistan so that the people in the two countries can live forever in peace.

Speaking at Jammu University, just a few miles away from the border, the Prime Minister yesterday sent out another signal that India will continue dialogue with Pakistan, despite difficulties.

He said at Jammu: “We will never allow anyone to stop the heartbeat of peace-loving people whatever the cause. We will also continue our dialogue with Pakistan, despite difficulties in this spirit because I genuinely believe that there is no alternative but to work for building peace.”

The Prime Minister was perhaps making clear to cynics, skeptics and peace-seekers on both sides of the divide that the current uncertainty in Pakistan will not deflect India from the peace track it had opted for as a matter of policy and conviction.

There are people in influential positions in India, however, who tend to believe that a dialogue with Pakistan may not be fruitful at a time when President Musharraf is batting on a sticky wicket and no one knows how the situation will unfold in the near future.

In Pakistan, there are people among the political parties and the intelligentsia who predict that India’s having talks with President Musharraf will be of little use at this time when the lawyers’ agitation is yet to end and in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid events.

Apparently, Dr Manmohan Singh is signalling that India will persevere with the dialogue with whosoever is ruling in Islamabad. May be, New Delhi is of the view that President Musharraf will survive the current storm. This assessment perhaps tallies with that of the Bush administration.

Dr Manmohan Singh has often spoken about making the borders irrelevant as a solution to the Jammu and Kashmir imbroglio, but he has never spelt out what the whole concept really involves on the ground. At Jammu, he has elaborated the idea a bit when he said: “I hope and believe that Jammu and Kashmir can, one day, become a symbol of India-Pakistan cooperation rather than of conflict. Borders cannot be changed, but they can be made irrelevant. There can be no question of divisions or partitions, but the Line of Control can become a Line of Peace with a freer flow of ideas, goods, services and people.

“The natural resources of the state of Jammu and Kashmir could then be used for the benefit of all its people. They need no longer be points of contention or a source of conflict. We could, for example, use the land and water resources of the region jointly for the benefit of all the people living on both sides of the Line of Control. Similarly, there are vast opportunities to jointly work together for the mutual benefit of our people. It goes without saying that this can only happen once terrorism and violence end permanently.”

This may not be just loud thinking by Dr Manmohan Singh on Kashmir. The envoys of both the Prime Minister and the President – Messrs Satinder Lamba and Tariq Aziz – have been working on these ideas in behind-the-scene talks during the past year at different places. The Prime Minister may be wishing the two countries not to lose the thread in view of the uncertainty in Pakistan.

By striking on the “Line of Peace” theme, Dr Manmohan Singh may be trying to create a climate for future bilateral agreements for which the time may not have yet come.

While the Prime Minister was more forthcoming at Jammu on the Indo-Pakistan dialogue, he ought to have spelt out how he and his government intended to tackle the internal dimension of the question. He has chaired three Round Table conferences; and reports of four working groups are already on his desk. The report of the key Working Group on the relations between the Centre and the J and K state has, however, yet to be turned in. His government is hardly showing an urgency in tackling this vital aspect of the Kashmir question.

Call it autonomy or devolution of powers among the regions, the Centre should move forward on issues of concern on both sides of the Banihal. There is no point waiting endlessly for the Hurriyat or others who do not want to join the talks.

Or, do the Prime Minister and his government believe that sorting out Kashmir with Pakistan will take care of all problems of the state? It is a pity, if this is the prevailing philosophy.