We delude ourselves if we believe that Kashmir has remained a bilateral problem or that we have been able to keep away the association of a third party. Our claim may be correct rhetorically but not factually.
Kashmir is all over the front page of newspapers in the world. TV networks report on developments every hour. Even ordinary remarks abroad shows deep concern over the confrontation between India and Pakistan. Not many understand the rights and wrongs of the Kashmir problem. But their fear is the two countries have reached a flashpoint where the first nuclear war in the world can start. We may not like it but the problem has been internationalized.
Again, we go on saying that we will not accept mediation or arbitration because it impinges on our sovereignty. This is true in principle. No independent country can be forced to accept what it does not want to. Yet if we do a reality check, we will see that we have opened the door to anyone who knocks in the name of assessing the tension between India and Pakistan. There has been a caravan of top officials and leaders from all parts of the world, stopping first at Islamabad and then at New Delhi. Washington and London are constantly in touch with both of us through the phone or otherwise.
No doubt, foreign countries are talking to us separately. But they are the ones who are trying to devise an ever new formula to get our or Islamabad's assent. The formula is chiselled and chopped in the light of the reaction of the two countries and to see how far the two countries are willing to go.
None of us are visiting each other's country. It is the third party that is going back and forth to find out a common ground. What else is mediation if not effecting an agreement or reconciliation? At least that is what the dictionary says.
Take the verification proposal for infiltration. It was Washington that initiated the move. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw gave content to it by suggesting that 150 helicopters, manned by British and American soldiers, oversee the Line of Control (LoC) to check if there is any infiltration. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was amenable to the suggestion and agreed to a joint patrolling by India and Pakistan. But he is still squeamish about associating any other country.
I do not find any harm in having some force under the aegis of the UN along with Indian and Pakistani troops to oversee the borders so that there is no infiltration. One advantage is the recognition of the LoC. If UN forces are part of the patrolling parties, the LoC, which has become a de facto border, might one day become de jure.
There is a point when we say we do not want any third country. Its association may complicate the Kashmir problem. It may assume ramifications which are not acceptable to us. At least Washington knows that we can never accept formulations which may harm our polity. I wonder whether certain proposals have been conveyed to us unofficially or whether we have ever sounded America on what the solution it has in view.
I am not saying that we have not been wronged. Nor am I suggesting a dialogue with Islamabad if it does not stop the cross-border terrorism. But we should not shut our eyes to the fact that Kashmir has not remained hidden in the closet of India and Pakistan. The international community knows that the problem has been hanging fire for a long time. It believes that there has to be an amicable settlement if the two countries are to live in peace.
Our response has been that of a self-righteous person, who has been sinned against. True, Islamabad has been up to one trick or another to irritate us and keep the problem alive.
For some years, it has trained and armed thousands of young men and sent them across the border to indulge in terrorism, not only in Kashmir but also in other parts of India. In a way, we have faced an undeclared war for more than a decade and have lost thousands of our men. Probably we have not explained to the world properly to make it realize how we have been at the receiving end all these years. But that is the failure of our diplomatic endeavour.
Whatever the objective reality, the international community wants India to sit across the table with Pakistan to sort out all our problems, including Kashmir. Already some signs of exasperation with New Delhi are beginning to appear in the American and British press.
Unfortunately, there has been practically no condemnation in Pakistan of cross-border terrorism. Even when there were elected governments in Islamabad, we found very few eyebrows were raised. The military junta has increased the level of infiltration knowing well that the intelligentsia would keep quiet in the interest of the country.
Surely, it is not anybody's case that there is wide support for cross-border terrorism. Yet, there is hushed approval of what terrorists do as if they are freedom fighters or the ones who keep Kashmir on the front burner.
The Pakistan intelligentsia should feel embarrassed over President General Pervez Musharraf's admission of infiltration. He has himself announced that he has issued orders to end it. That means there must have been infiltration which he has stopped. I thought the disclosure would evoke some critical articles in the Pakistan press. There is hardly any. On the other hand, I have seen many responsible people appreciating Musharraf's compulsions and asking New Delhi not to ask for more than he has done. But has he done enough? That is the question. And that is what that India has been asking.
If terrorism was over, Vajpayee had said in his Kerala musings, he would settle the problem of Kashmir. His promise was to go beyond the "beaten track." He should pick up that thread again when he is convinced that Pakistan has stopped exporting terrorism to India. What Vajpayee can offer to Musharraf is difficult to quantify because Vajpayee has lost the stature he had even six months ago. The hardliners in the BJP are the real rulers. But they too realize that the status quo cannot continue.
The continued detention of Yasin Malik is not understandable if the peace process has to begin. Nor does the arrest of Iftikhar Ali, the journalist son-in-law of Syed Ali Shah Gillani, makes sense.
His writings could be outspoken but freedom of expression is one of our fundamental rights. If there are other 'charges' against him, he should be tried in an open court.
This is not the way to proceed to retrieve the Kashmiris most of whom are alienated from India. There have to be talks. During the regime of Nawaz Sharif the two countries had almost reached a settlement. Vajpayee had told me at that time that they had nearly found the formula. Musharraf reportedly pushed out Sharif at that time because the formula was not acceptable to the military, the real rulers of Pakistan. How would it agree to a settlement on those lines now? There is, however, one difference from the old days.
Washington never had so much clout in New Delhi as it has today. If American Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage could make Pakistan stop infiltration and tell India to respond, it must be admitted that America has the leverage to nudge both the countries to a settlement. Its main ingredients may well be autonomy for the valley, something New Delhi promised when it included in the constitution Article 370, which gave a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Published in Pakistan Daily Dawn, dated 15 June, 2002