Put peace process back on track

Put peace process back on track
By H.K. Dua

THE political uncertainty and strife that kept Pakistan on edge for more than a year are now luckily over. This may perhaps be the best time to resume the stalled dialogue between India and Pakistan.

An elected government led by Yousaf Gillani of the PPP has assumed office in Islamabad. The two major political parties that have formed the coalition, the PPP and the PML (N), have thrown up enough signals during the last few weeks that they would love to walk along the peace tack.

PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari in an interview even favoured putting the Kashmir issue aside to give a push to the peace process. This may have been for the record for the Indian interviewer in the first flush of victory; and Zardari may be singing by now a different tune for the home audience. But there is realisation in both the PPP and the PML (N) that peace with India is a better proposition than recurring wars.

President Pervez Musharraf is committed to the peace process; so is his successor in the Army, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani. Whatever the relations that ultimately might emerge between the democratically elected government and the President, it is unlikely the latter will throw in a spanner if India and the new Pakistan government resume the composite dialogue, which has been lying in a state of suspended animation for over a year.

Following the mandate from Dr Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf, the two Foreign Secretaries have met in the past to discuss steps to improve relations between the two countries. And as a part of back-channel diplomacy, S K Lamba and Tariq Aziz have also met secretly several times in Dubai and elsewhere to thrash out differences between the two countries on Kashmir. Messrs Lamba and Aziz have been maintaining their contacts to keep their exercise afloat even if Pakistan remained caught in tumultuous events for a year.

Even if the composite dialogue has not made any headway because of the changing situation in Pakistan, the labours of Lamba and Aziz, as also of the foreign secretaries and other officials, should not be allowed to go waste.

The interlocutors of the two nations have travelled a considerable distance even on Kashmir. They can pick up the thread where Lamba and Aziz left it last year without much strain on proclaimed positions.

Officially, neither government has acknowledged the areas of convergence on Jammu and Kashmir but a few points where the interlocutors have come to a sort of understanding are already known in the public domain. They are:

No change in the territories;
Open borders in Jammu and Kashmir;
Autonomy for both sides of Kashmir;
Joint consultative commissions to be set up on both sides of Line of Control; and
Reduction of forces on both sides of Jammu and Kashmir; in other words, demilitarisation.

It is unbelievable that these points of convergence have been short-listed without a nod from the top echelons of the two governments. None of these points compromise the rival claims of sovereignty over Kashmir, or the existing territorial positions. The unspelt idea seems to be aimed at avoiding the contentious argument like plebiscite, which Pakistan has already given up and the Simla Agreement, which is no longer a reference point for the Indo-Pakistan dialogue.

For the newly elected rulers of Pakistan, going ahead with the peace process can win them more public support. Wars are no longer a selling item in Pakistan.

Also, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif need not fear that the Army would scuttle the peace process. Even if there are elements in the Pakistan Army who think they will go out of business in case of peace with India, the two leaders should be bold enough to jump onto the peace wagon. They might discover the people following them in numbers.

Also, Dr Manmohan Singh, who has invested a lot of time and energy on the peace process, can make another bid for peace on the sub-continent without hazarding a risk.

It will be an error to think that peace with Pakistan might cost the Congress party votes. Peace with Pakistan can be projected as an act of statesmanship and courage, which can get the Congress more votes than the rhetoric of the rabble-rousers.

There could be a few people in the opposition BJP who might make noises against peace with Pakistan, but they can be silenced by reminding them that Dr Manmohan Singh is following the same track as the one chosen by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Pakistan has held elections; India is going to hold one. The time has come for both countries to look beyond the electoral politics and discuss peace in wider interest of the future of the one-fifth of humanity living in the sub-continent.

Sixty years after Independence, the people on both sides of the divide deserve to see an end of a history of hatred and wars and to live in peace and harmony. Their voice should be heeded.