Peace process is a definite casualty

Peace process is a definite casualty
By H. K. Dua

BESIDES killing over a score of persons and injuring over a hundred, last Saturday’s serial blasts in Delhi have also blown up an early resumption of the peace process with Pakistan.

That the Delhi blasts have come after explosions in Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Bangalore and the bomb attack at the Indian Embassy in Kabul have raised doubts about Pakistan’s seriousness about the peace process.

This is notwithstanding the statement which Mr Asif Zardari made soon after taking over as President promising “good news” on Kashmir and his keenness to work with neighbours to tackle problems in the sub-continent.

After the Delhi blasts, even the sizeable tribe of peaceniks in India is disinclined to believe that whatever President Zardari’s intentions, he will be able to control the elements in Pakistan who are out to create trouble in India.

Delhi and Islamabad have been exploring the possibility of a meeting between them in New York during their visits to the United Nations later this month, but its outcome is unlikely to be more than handshaking. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite his desire to see peace in his time, may, however, have to convey to President Zardari that terrorism and peace cannot go together.

The people in India, who are greatly exercised over the recurring serial blasts, would be expecting the Prime Minister to let President Zardari know that verbal assurances are not enough and there has to be clear evidence that Pakistan has given up its proxy war in India.

Two days after the Delhi blasts, Defence Minister A.K. Antony — who is a man of few words — has come out with the statement that a large number of armed groups have sanctuaries in the neighbouring states using bases there to carry out acts of terrorism across India. “That militants are getting support from across the border is a fact”, says Mr Antony. Such a statement from a senior Cabinet minister is though no news to the people who are becoming impatient with the government’s inability to stop the terrorist strikes which are becoming more frequent than ever before.

Soon after taking over, President Zardari said he already had a dialogue with Nawaz Sharif and that he had taken into confidence all the political forces inside and outside Parliament “and will set up a caucus” of a few people on Kashmir policy. “We are going to go about it in a fast lane”, he said. By mentioning those outside Parliament, he might have meant the Army.

At best, Zardari’s statement amounted to an expression of intent and before he could get into motion to build a consensus on Kashmir policy, have come the serial blasts in Delhi, with the splinters killing the prospects for an early resumption of the peace process for quite some time.

What is he going to tell Dr Manmohan Singh when he meets him in New York? “Sorry, Prime Minister, when I was preparing for putting the peace process in a fast lane, I did not know that there were people who were working on serial blasts in Delhi.” Zardari must be knowing, however, that the people who killed Benazir Bhutto are still roaming around freely in Pakistan and there are also elements who would not like to see peace with India. Can he really enjoy the authority to tackle the terrorist groups which have made Pakistan their sanctuary?

No one in India doubts that peace is better than war with Pakistan. But years of peace-building have not yet proved fruitful. The peace process moved forward during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s years in power; it got a definite push from Dr Manmohan Singh when he and Pervez Musharraf were moving towards a solution that might have made borders irrelevant, at the same time without disturbing them, keeping sovereign rights intact.

Then came the blunder of President Musharraf in sacking the Chief Justice of Pakistan in March 2007, the lawyers’ agitation, Benazir’s assassination, polls and exit of Musharraf. The peace process, which was being worked out by interlocutors quietly, was perhaps kept alive notionally, but no concrete offer was made by either side mainly because Pakistan remained caught in uncertainty and also India did not know who to deal with in Islamabad.

There is no harm meeting President Zardari who has said he was aware of the peace dialogue that has already taken place, hinting that he could come forward with a set of proposals “before the month-end”, and some “good news” before the Indian elections.

The promised “good news” has, however, been followed by the blasts in Delhi! The explosions forbid an attempt by Dr Manmohan Singh to evolve a political consensus on Kashmir with Pakistan.

The question will be asked in India whether Zardari can deliver a settlement when the Kashmir policy is essentially under the control of the Pakistan Army. And what about the capacity of the ISI, which was behind the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, to wreck any accord with India?

The overall situation in Pakistan will remain fluid with Islamabad either unwilling, or, unable to control the Taliban, Al-Qaida or other extremists and as such it cannot venture too far in a dialogue with India. Also, India is getting into election mode which rules out bold peace moves that might involve a give-and-take approach.

It is too plain that the India-Pakistan peace process will remain on hold for quite some time. Neither the situation on the ground in Pakistan, nor the political realities in India permit an early picking up of the thread.