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Friday, May 09, 2003

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The eternal triangle

G. Parthasarathy

What direction will the India-Pakistan peace initiative take? While Islamabad wants the talks to resume from where they were left in Agra, that would mean New Delhi accepting that Kashmir is the core issue. For New Delhi, the central issue must be terrorism, and Washington should not be left in any doubt on this, says G. Parthasarathy

WHEN TERRORISTS, quite evidently from the Lashkar-e-Taiba, massacred innocent Hindus in Nadimarg on March 23, they sought to shatter the credibility of the newly-elected Government in Jammu and Kashmir and establish that they could undermine efforts to restore peace and normalcy in the State. The Lashkar leader, Hafeez Saeed, proudly announced that killing Hindus was a legitimate action for people devoted to jehad.

Having achieved so little by its attempts at "coercive diplomacy" by withdrawing its forces deployed on the border after the December 3 terrorist attack on Parliament House, New Delhi came under severe pressure to respond to the terrorist outrage by strikes across the Line of Control. Not surprisingly, Pakistan condemned the terrorist outrage, denied involvement and demanded that accusations against it be backed with evidence.

This was entirely predictable, as "denial diplomacy" is its standard stock in trade. Whether the accusations pertain to its missile and nuclear links with North Korea, its ties with the Taliban and Hekmetayar's Hizb-e-Islami in Afghanistan, or its love and support for its jehadis let loose in J&K, Islamabad gets into the denial mode, proclaims its innocence and demands "proof".

Recognition of the dangers arising from the Nadimarg massacre was evident when the US President, Mr George Bush, and the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, met at Camp David at the height of the Iraq war on March 27.

Rather than outright condemnation of the massacre, the State Department had earlier urged India to resume "dialogue" with Pakistan. This response is believed to have been drafted by the Assistant Secretary of State, Ms Christina Rocca, who is widely regarded in New Delhi as anti-Indian, like her predecessor Ms Robin Raphael.

Sensing the outrage in New Delhi at this insensitive reaction and the possibility of retaliatory strikes, the US Secretary of State, Gen Colin Powell, and his British counterpart, Mr Jack Straw, were directed by their bosses to set out measures to de-escalate tensions.

The Powell-Straw Statement of March 27 condemned the Nadimarg massacre, urged respect for the LoC, called on Pakistan to end infiltration across it, and urged Islamabad to do its utmost to discourage acts of violence by militants in J&K. The two countries were not asked to resume "dialogue" but to resolve differences through a peaceful means and "engagement" including by moves within SAARC. The Statement also reflected the Anglo-American willingness to "facilitate" this process. What the US seeks today is not to "mediate," but "facilitate," on India-Pakistan relations.

Despite denials in New Delhi and Islamabad, there is little doubt that subsequent developments leading to the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee's speeches in Srinagar and in Parliament, holding out the olive branch to Islamabad, were substantially influenced by Washington's calls for "engagement" between India and Pakistan.

It is a pity than rather than taking such measures as sending a new envoy to Pakistan, restoring people-to-people links earlier and appearing pro-active on such issues, India was seen as responding only when the international community grew concerned over the possibility of the situation spinning out of control. But this has been somewhat redressed by the positive international perception that Mr Vajpayee has the courage to swim against the tide, when it comes to holding out the olive branch to Pakistan.

Mr Vajpayee told Parliament that while one must learn from history, one should not become immobilised by it. He was responding to those who urged caution, given what the nation had experienced after the Lahore and Agra Summits. While the Lahore Summit certainly taught us that eternal vigilance is the price for security, the Agra Summit did teach us a number of lessons that we should not forget.

First, the summit established that wishful thinking is no substitute for hard and realistic assessments. Second, that Summit diplomacy is doomed to failure unless there is meticulous preparation and one has a clear idea of what is to be achieved. Third, gestures of goodwill and forbearance are often regarded as manifestations of weakness by military dictators, who after all, have no compunctions in bullying their own people.

Finally, negotiations of Joint Declarations should be left to officials with experience, who are careful about the long-term implications of what they are doing and not undertaken by Ministers having no experience of such negotiations. Mr P. N. Haksar negotiated the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration was concluded under the directions of Mr Brajesh Mishra. Mercifully, no Joint Declaration was concluded at Agra, given the inept manner in which the negotiations were conducted there.

It is obvious that the US is going to take a keen interest in how India proceeds with its "engagement" of Pakistan, even as it seeks to become a "facilitator" in this process. Gen Pervez Musharraf is scheduled to visit Washington in June. He is having problems with the Bush Administration arising from attacks on American forces in Afghanistan by elements of the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami, operating from Pakistan, quite obviously after receiving substantial assistance on Pakistani soil.

Gen Musharraf will doubtless ensure that a few Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are arrested before he leaves for Washington, where his hosts will then shower him with fulsome praise. Mr Bush cannot after all now tell the American people that a country that he has described as a "staunch ally in the war against terrorism" is double crossing him.

At the same time, the infiltration across the LoC will be regulated to keep the heat on, but without letting the water boil over. New Delhi should, therefore, accept that there has been a change of direction in Islamabad only if there are visible signs that Gen Musharraf has acted to irrevocably end cross-border terrorism and also to end the vituperative propaganda against India on the state controlled media and through ISI funded news agencies.

Islamabad is preparing to receive Mr Vajpayee for the postponed SAARC Summit. Its strategy will be to show some cosmetic progress in negotiations for establishing a South Asian Free Trade Area. But the question that should be asked is whether New Delhi would accept such cosmetics as a substitute for the agreement by SAARC members in Kathmandu that a Draft Free Trade Agreement would be finalised in 2002. It is Pakistan that has deliberately stalled progress on this.

Assuming Mr Vajpayee goes to Islamabad for the SAARC Summit without cross-border terrorism having ended, how will he fulfil his pledge in Parliament, that he will not hold talks unless cross-border terrorism ends and the infrastructure of terrorism is dismantled? Finally, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mr Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri, and others would like us to commence talks from where they were left at Agra. Are we prepared to move ahead on a dialogue framework that omits all mention of the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration and attaches the highest priority to talks on Jammu and Kashmir, while relegating other issues to the periphery?

Are we going to accept the Pakistani thesis that Kashmir is the "core issue" that divides us? If this is indeed the case, the question that arises is why is it that Pakistan never once raised the Kashmir issue in any negotiations with us between 1972 and 1988. For us, terrorism and not Kashmir is and should remain the core issue. There can and should be no compromise on this. And Washington should be left in no doubt on this score.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

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