Rendezvous at Roosevelt

Rendezvous at Roosevelt
India and Pakistan begin exploring peace
by H. K. Dua

Way back in the summer of 1972 as a young correspondent in search of a story I ran into P.N. Haksar and asked him what would happen at the talks between Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. This was about three or four days before the Simla Summit.

P.N. Haksar, who was a major influence on Mrs Gandhi’s decision-making those days, wasn’t prepared to say much about the Simla meeting but chose to remark: “I don’t know what is going to happen, but it is natural under the circumstances that Bhutto wouldn’t like to go home empty-handed and Mrs Gandhi wouldn’t like to send him back like that.”

“That would be impolitic,” he added after a pause and just looked into distance.

Neither Dr Manmohan Singh nor President Musharraf would have liked to return from New York to be greeted by headlines at home suggesting that their talks had failed.

Subcontinental compulsions of peace, and behind-the-scenes nudging, if not pressures, by international facilitators, had driven the two leaders to have a one-to-one meeting at Roosevelt Hotel in New York. No one had really expected that chronic India-Pakistan problems would be resolved at this meeting, but the significance of their talks cannot be underestimated.

Until earlier this year President Musharraf’s hopes for a dialogue with India had centred on Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Like the former Prime Minister himself and his colleagues in the NDA government, President Musharraf had not envisaged that parliamentary elections in India would throw up a UPA government led by Dr Manmohan Singh. Islamabad as such has since been nursing the feeling that the Manmohan Singh government might not give as high a priority to a dialogue with Pakistan as had been given by Mr Vajpayee.

President Musharraf must have discovered at Roosevelt Hotel that Dr Manmohan Singh was no less committed to working for peace on the subcontinent than Mr Vajpayee. Diplomatic courtesies apart, Dr Manmohan Singh is said to have impressed the General with his sincerity and keenness to walk along the peace track.

Before setting out for New York, each leader might be guessing what he could offer at the talks and what he would get in return. There was, after all, the risk of going home empty-handed and being asked, “What have you got from the exercise?” A failed exercise in summitry is sometimes more worrying for the protagonists than the problems it is supposed to tackle.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s government has spent only a little over 100 days in office and is yet to consolidate its position. Surely, President Musharraf and his advisers must have known that the Prime Minister of India would not be serving Kashmir at the table. On his part, Dr Manmohan Singh would have pondered what would help him keep the dialogue alive without offering Kashmir to the General.

Neither seemed to be in a hurry to settle the Kashmir issue. Neither was sure how the outcome of an attempt to tackle Kashmir at this time and involving give-and-take would be received back home.

Essentially, neither Dr Manmohan Singh, nor President Musharraf could afford to be seen offering concessions to the other, politically placed as the two leaders are in their countries.

Dr Manmohan Singh knows that any suggestion of looking concessionary in approach to the General would be picked up by his critics within his own party and also by Mr Vajpayee’s party, which till the other day was willy-nilly backing the former Prime Minister in his attempt to make peace with Pakistan.

On the other hand, President Musharraf has his army to contend with; and many of his generals continue to be possessed by the notion that it has to and can ultimately get Kashmir for Pakistan.

Some spadework done in advance by advisers of the two leaders and behind-the-scenes diplomacy which was at play had indeed created a congenial atmosphere for the talks. But much depended on whether the two leaders would succeed in developing enough rapport with each other.

The Roosevelt Hotel meeting was their first encounter and for them to have struck an India-Pakistan deal – say on Siachen so early in their dialogue — as has been speculated in Pakistan, would be going off the mark. After Kargil, such a deal requires greater mutual trust between the two countries than is evident now.

Also, it is not in the nature of Dr Manmohan Singh to be adventurous — and so early in his prime ministerial career. While he could be aiming high for his tenure, he is not the kind of a person who would like to play around with nationally agreed policies.

The two leaders know that at this point of time they can only take their countries along only to sustain the peace process and may be to place the talks in a slightly higher gear than has been allowed in the past.

The statement they issued at the end of their labours is brief and skilfully drafted. As often seen in the world of international diplomacy, it does not compromise either India’s position, or Pakistan’s. Yet it throws up willingness to strive for peace and some hope for some better days to come.

On the surface, both sides seem to be sticking to their established positions. No policy departures have been pronounced. Dr Manmohan Singh insisted on referring to the commitment made by Islamabad in the joint statement the two countries issued on January 6 that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used by the terrorists.

May be he was replying to some of his critics when he stated immediately on return: “It should leave no doubt in your minds that controlling terrorism is a pre-condition for a forward movement in the dialogue process. We cannot discuss confidence-building measures and substantive issues if terrorism continues”. He couldn’t be more categorical in asking Pakistan to wind up terrorist training camps and communication networks and check infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir from across the Line of Control.

All that has been agreed to in New York is carrying forward what has come to be known as “Composite Dialogue”, working out more confidence-building measures and launching purposeful talks to find a solution of the Kashmir question.

President Musharraf’s gain is that there will be substantive talks on Kashmir between the two countries — a position accepted in the January 6 statement issued after the Islamabad talks between Mr Vajpayee and General Musharraf as a part of the proposal to start a Composite Dialogue. It has certainly been given a push in New York.

It is too clear from the statement that the emphasis hereafter is going to be not only on discussing the nature of the Kashmir question that has caused three wars on the subcontinent and plenty of havoc, but also how to resolve it.

The Kashmir question is too complex and no one had expected Dr Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf would resolve it at Roosevelt Hotel. But they have certainly cleared the way for substantive discussions on all aspects of the issue.

Apparently, the future rounds of talks will be at senior levels, not at the level of Dr Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf. The job of their representatives will be to discuss all available options for sorting out the Kashmir question.

There can be many routes to a solution of the Kashmir issue, which involves national sentiments, India’s views of a secular State and Pakistan’s claims to Kashmir as a Muslim State. Essentially, the solution will lie in the two sides’ capacity to resolve the territorial issue.

Whatever the official stand it might take on the negotiating table, India might ultimately agree to the Line of Control becoming the international border — a concept that has roots in the Simla Agreement. The agreement which Indira Gandhi and Bhutto signed in July 1972 converted the old Ceasefire Line into the Line of Control which, according to the Simla Agreement, can never be disturbed by either side by the use of force. Under the Simla Agreement, the Line of Control was virtually given the attributes of an international border.

It is another matter that Bhutto soon afterwards disowned the Simla Agreement and that he himself was sent to the gallows.

There are several other ideas that have been trotted out by the US and other international do-gooders. Many of these are wishful thinking. Others will be shot down by either India, or Pakistan, or both. It cannot be that both Islamabad and New Delhi have not applied their mind to some of the serious suggestions emerging out of the Track Two diplomacy.

Ultimately, a solution of the Kashmir question will have to be found by India and Pakistan themselves. It is not going to be easy to find one. And it will require a lot of time and patience and considerable political will.

There will be pitfalls and hazards on the way, but it is worth India and Pakistan taking the path which can one day lead to a durable peace on the troubled subcontinent.