March 27th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The PM, farmers, the FTA and the election

EDITORIAL: Telstra has lost its way

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Spending signals start of election campaign

ANALYSIS: Australia-US trade deal a monumental folly

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Lilies of the field / Speaking conspicuously

MURRAY RIVER: Science overturns need for big environmental flows

INDONESIAN ELECTIONS: Indonesia taking control of its own destiny

How alcohol leads to harder drugs (letter)

The Passion of the Christ (letter)

DOCUMENTATION: IVF - Playing against a stacked deck

MEDIA : Join the Fairfax Club

ASIA: Behind the India-Pakistan thaw

ECONOMICS: Eight centuries of wavy prices

BOOKS: JAMES BURNHAM, by Samuel Francis

FILM REVIEW: Shattered Glass

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Behind the India-Pakistan thaw

by Dr Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, March 27, 2004
The Indian and Pakistani leaders are making efforts to improve relations to bring lasting peace to the subcontinent. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has stated that it was time for Pakistan to look for a realistic solution to the Kashmir dispute.

His announcement that Islamabad no longer insisted on a United Nations resolution on Kashmir heightened suspicions at home and caused the backlash. Two assassination attempts on President Musharraf have shaken the Pakistani establishment.

The forces that are targeting Musharraf are angry with Musharraf and the military under his command for the proactive policy of denying shelter to the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who are fighting against the United States-led coalition, and a perceived shift in Pakistan's traditional 'bleed India' policy on Kashmir.

Musharraf's statement on Kashmir points to a paradigm shift in the country's India policy.

There is little doubt that Musharraf's latest statement on Kashmir is part of a series of major gestures aimed at addressing India's concerns. New Delhi has repeatedly complained about continuing cross-border infiltration, a terrorist infrastructure geared to engage in anti-India activities, and Pakistan's unwillingness to participate in trade and cultural exchanges.

In recent months, Islamabad has tried to meet Indian demands. It has banned a number of sectarian and fundamentalist groups reputed to have links with terrorist groups. It has also banned terrorist outfits, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad.

For the first time in the history of the relations between the two countries, Pakistan initiated a 'unilateral' cease-fire, and it has been in place since November 26, 2003. India also responded positively.

During the 12th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee expressed readiness to resolve all pending differences with Pakistan, including those that revolve around the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

Three days of hectic talks followed that statement, which resulted in a joint statement by the two countries expressing their resolve to resume talks. It raised the level of curiosity as to what exactly transpired between the leaders of the two countries.

The factors that contribute to orientations for a meaningful dialogue are:

  • There is incremental pressure on India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue, and especially to address the issue of Jammu and Kashmir;

  • The possession of nuclear weapons and missiles by both countries is considered to have real potentialities for a nuclear conflict;

  • The phenomenon of terrorism in the subcontinent is no longer considered to be confined to separatist aspirations of some sections of the people of Kashmir. It is now acknowledged as a part of international and trans-border terrorism. There is general consensus in the international community that states and governments should not be allowed to use terrorists as instruments of their foreign and security policies;

  • There is a groundswell of public opinion in both Pakistan and India that the adversarial political relations and confrontationist military postures between the two countries should be brought to an end;

  • There is awareness that the continuation of antagonistic attitudes is detrimental to the fundamental well being of the two countries.

There are a few factors that may be compelling India to talk about bringing the Kashmir issue to the table earlier rather than later. India has possibly started realising that it would be more prudent to resolve the issues that lie at the heart of the militancy than to take on casualties on a daily basis.

The logic of this assessment is that it is not just a convergence of approach between Vajpayee and Musharraf about the dialogue process, but a shared conviction that the past should be left behind to move on to a direct rational working relationship.

Pakistan's viewpoint

President Musharraf, in his US visit in July 2003, twice made a commitment with the US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, to completely stop infiltration across the Line of Control (LOC). The Bush Administration then publicly promised that it would hard-press Musharraf to stop supporting the Kashmiris. These pronouncements virtually sent shockwaves through all Kashmiri circles across the board.

Pakistani officials acknowledged that Washington had been urging them to adopt flexible stances in the interests of stability in the region. Islamabad then accepted all the confidence-building measures proposed by New Delhi, including the ones related to a bus service between Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and Srinagar, and the revival of the ferry service between Karachi and Mumbai, the air service between Islamabad and Delhi, and the train link between Sindh and Rajastan.

On the economic front, Pakistan spearheaded the campaign for the adoption of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), and is actively engaged in convincing a reluctant Bangladesh to endorse the framework.

Whatever the motives, Pakistan is moving at a pace no one had dreamt of before. The voices within Pakistan urging the establishment to look for a way out of the Kashmir imbroglio is growing.

Both Vajpayee and Musharraf have shown wisdom, statesmanship, courage and flexibility in this effort. But the truth of the matter is that the minority hardliners in Pakistan are fast losing ground. It has largely gone unnoticed that no political party in Pakistan has raised its voice against any of the confidence-building measures announced by India since April 2002 for the normalisation of ties between the two countries.

Even the Jamaat-e-Islami, which took to the streets to oppose Vajpayee's visit to Lahore in February 1999, chose to endorse the peace moves.

In the post-September 11 era, there is a growing worry among political parties, the intelligentsia and civil society that, after Iraq, it could be Pakistan's turn, especially in view of its status as a nuclear weapons state.

The common refrain is that it is wiser to make peace with India than provide an excuse to the US and its allies to intervene in the internal affairs of the country. High-ranking military officers in Pakistan recognise that peace with India is a necessity.

Ever since the Pakistani Government decided to change its policy on Afghanistan within days of President George Bush's statement that "either you are with us or them", there has been a furious debate in a section of Pakistani civil society on the need to seriously rethink the Kashmir policy. Its argument is that jehad is no longer fashionable in Western capitals and, unless Pakistan reverses its policy on Kashmir, it faces a serious risk of isolation.

It is against this backdrop that one would have to evaluate the shift in nuance on the Kashmir issue made by Musharraf. He is talking about Pakistan's willingness to look beyond the UN resolutions on Kashmir in the quest for a solution.

It is true that a plebiscite was indeed the solution mutually agreed upon in 1948, and that India has reneged on a solemn commitment. But the passage of five decades and drastically changed geo-political circumstances demand a reappraisal.

Today, a plebiscite is no longer the obvious way of determining the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For example, it clearly excludes a major section of Kashmiris who would opt for independence today but who, in 1948, may not have wanted it. More frightening is the likelihood of a plebiscite igniting communal passions, leading to horrific Gujarat-style bloodshed across the subcontinent.

Moreover, at a practical level, there is no agency, including the UN, which is able and willing to implement a task that all nations see as impossibly difficult. Therefore, to insist on a plebiscite is the surest way of guaranteeing that a bloody standoff continues.

"While the division of Kashmir is unfortunate, it is better to accept this reality rather than live with endless suffering that has consumed nearly 90,000 lives since 1987", argues Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist at Quaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad and a peace activitist. Kashmir cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of India and Pakistan and the Kashmiris.

As the forces of globalisation erode concepts of national sovereignty and the Indian and Pakistani economies become integrated, new politico-economic realities will emerge. Those new realities will shape the future of India and Pakistan.

For a number of years, some Indian analysts have been arguing that a link exists between Pakistani and Indian security. A weakening Pakistan, in their view, could have repercussions for India, including the revival of fissiparous tendencies among some states. To avoid such an eventuality, they have always favoured a correct if not cordial relationship between the two South Asian states.

Such a view is supported by business groups, which highlight the economic complementarity between the two states. They argue that an economically integrated or cooperative South Asia would be able to play a stronger role in the global economy than a divided region.

These considerations have emerged as India is poised now to take up its role as an aspiring great power. Without settling the disputes externally with Pakistan, and internally with the Kashmiri resistance fighters, Delhi cannot reach the status of a global power.

The recent Indian army deployment along the Pakistani borders proved that war is simply not an option to settle scores with each other. No country can afford rivalry for an indefinite time.

In the long run, India's interest lies in a moderate, modern and politically stable Pakistan, which is friendly to its neighbours. The potential peace dividend is tremendous in every conceivable way.

There is no reason why India and Pakistan should not return to the situation prevalent in the 1950s when half of Pakistan's exports went to India and 32 per cent of its imports came from India.

Again, with a peaceful border, both sides can reduce their troop deployment by 200,000 or more and their military spending by 20 to 30 per cent. Politically too, peace between them will help break the toxic link between communalism and mutual hostility. Phobias and hatred towards each other are crucial to stoking religion-based politics in India as well as in Pakistan.

It will take a great deal of effort, and not a little imagination, to sustain the peace process and make it yield positive results until a durable reconciliation is reached.

Dr Sharif Shuja

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