Prospects after Agra -- By Dr Aftab Ahmed Back   Home  
THE Agra summit between the leaders of Pakistan and India to resolve their differences did not produce any tangible results except an agreement to continue the dialogue. However, it did bring the divergence of their approaches on Kashmir into sharp focus.

While Pakistan regards Kashmir as a dispute or an issue between the two countries which needs to be resolved in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people, who have risen in revolt against the Indian occupation, India insists on treating Kashmir as integral part of the India Union and the freedom struggle of its people as an insurgency inspired, aided and abetted by Pakistan and terms it a problem of cross-border terrorism. In other words, while for Pakistan Kashmir is a disputed territory whose future has to be decided through some mechanism in consultation with its people, for India it is an internal security problem, which it is trying to sort out by the might of the Indian army.

These are two diametrically opposed positions. The efforts to find a meeting ground met with no success at Agra. One wonders if the meeting between Prime Minister Vajpayee and General Musharraf in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York will be of any substantial nature and produce any positive results. Nor will perhaps the meeting on Mr Vajpayee's return visit to Pakistan break the stalemate, taking into consideration what happened when the Indian prime minister addressed his party members and their negative response to the proposed visit. Even some former Indian prime ministers have advised Mr Vajpayee against it. However, his personal commitment to carry on the dialogue still stands which he is likely to honour, but it is difficult to pin much hope on it. At best the dialogues at New York and in Pakistan may produce agreements on some confidence-building measures and other issues but Kashmir will perhaps continue to hang fire.

One tends to take this rather pessimistic view about bilateral talks because of India's obstinacy on the Kashmir Issue, cultivated and nourished over the last half a century. After occupying Kashmir by force India has never shown any inclination to resile from its position. Pandit Nehru publicly committed himself to a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir saying that if the people of the territory decide not to join India, 'they will go their way and we ours'. He withdrew from this stand in the mid-fifties on the pretext that Pakistan had entered into military pacts with the US and the West. In the 1960s, long drawn out negotiations between our foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and the Indian foreign minister, Swaran Singh, produced no results. The stalemate has continued ever since in spite of the Simla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1999.

The Indian attitude alluded to above was manifest in what an Indian former prime minister, I. K. Gujral, told a former Pakistan prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, that India and Pakistan could develop friendly relation in other fields but Kashmir was an integral part of India and there was no question of any compromise on that score. Gujral is a liberal Indian and supposed to be a friend of Pakistan who had developed a personal rapport with Nawaz Sharif, but he was not prepared to make any concession on the Kashmir issue. What he said to Nawaz Sharif was confirmed to this writer in a private conversation by a senior Muslim League leader who held a high position in the Nawaz Sharif government. He had it from Nawaz Sharif himself.

This is the Indian attitude at the liberal political level. The same is true of the attitude of the liberal bureaucratic level. My friend and class fellow at the Government College, Lahore, M. K. Rasgotra, a former Indian foreign secretary, told me in 1987 when I was visiting New Delhi that India would never accept the Pakistan position on Kashmir and that we should adopt means to normalize relations between the two countries leaving Kashmir aside because that was a settled issue as far as India was concerned. He repeated the same when he visited Islamabad a few months ago. A revealing passage is to be found in a despatch of M. Ziauddin, Dawn's resident editor in Islamabad, who covered the Agra summit. He writes to say:

"Even the most liberal, the most enlightened and the most emancipated among the Indians still seem to believe that the partition of the Indian subcontinent was wrong and that we should go back to being one country again. And in the meanwhile they would like Pakistan to forget Kashmir. That is the mindset Mr Vajpayee is trying to change". (Dawn, July 20)

A stupendous task indeed! But does Mr Vajpayee has it in him to change this mindset? That is the question. With his RSS background, one is not quite sure whether he is a prisoner or one of the creators of this mindset in the past. This mindset is not confined to the Indian intelligentsia but is quite common among Indians of all variety. This indeed is the core problem or the main obstacle in normalization of relations between Pakistan and India.

The basis of Indian attitude to the Kashmir issue as sometimes expressed even explicitly is that if India were to concede the right of self-determination to the Kashmiri people then other ethnic and religions communities would also demand the same right resulting in India's fragmentation. It is a spurious argument in which it is not realized that Kashmir is an entirely different case. It constitutes an unfinished agenda of the partition plan of the subcontinent. India accepted the UN Security Council resolutions for a plebiscite through which the people of Jammu and Kashmir would decide whether to join Pakistan or India.

At Agra Gen Musharraf in his public statement is not reported to have mentioned the UN Security Council resolutions, thereby conveying Pakistan's willingness to consider other solutions and to adopt other means to ascertain the wishes of the Kashmiri people. But India was adamant in its 'atut ang' (integral part) policy and its stance on the so-called cross-border terrorism.

If India had to stick to this rigid attitude, why did Mr Vajpayee invite Gen Musharraf for talks? Some of the Indian analysts are of the view that he wanted to find a distinguished place in history in the last phase of his long political career by normalizing relations with Pakistan and by getting Kashmir out of the way of realization of India's ambition to be accepted as a regional power with a possible seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Coupled with it was perhaps the tacit assumption on India's part that Pakistan, because of its current economic difficulties, was weak and that India would be able to strike a bargain from a position of strength.

This analysis of the situation ignores the role of the superpower facilitator in bringing about the two countries to the conference table. One does not have to recall the events of recent history. It was after Clinton's visit to the subcontinent that things started moving. Gen Musharraf's repeated statement that Pakistan was prepared for a dialogue with India at any level, any place and anytime was finally responded to by Mr Vajpayee in spite of his earlier stand to have no dealings with the present-day Pakistani rulers and New Delhi's refrain of "cross-border terrorism." All this happened as a result of behind-the-scenes prodding and nudging done by the United States and some other major powers.

In this context, American Secretary of State Colin Powell's latest statement expressing his "willingness to do everything the US can to lend our good offices to the difficult outstanding issues whether it is Kashmir or the nuclear issue" is noteworthy. It is in the light of this statement that one of our former foreign ministers, Mr Agha Shahi, posed the question: "Can the US in its role as facilitator provide an input to find a compromise that would be acceptable to both Pakistan and India? This does not of course imply US mediation which is anathema to India, its strategic ally. Also, mediation may well evoke reservations even in Pakistan because of this new Indo-US alliance."

But if "US facilitation as distinct from US mediation", in Mr Shahi's words, does not find it feasible to suggest a compromise formula of its own then the other alternative is mediation by the UN or a third party consisting of eminent world leaders known for their neutrality. Such a mediation is a universally recognized procedure for settling disputes between nations.

Pakistan has been asking for a third-party mediation on Kashmir. The Indus Basin dispute between India and Pakistan was settled through the good offices and mediation of the World Bank. India accepted it then but it is not prepared to accept it in the case of the Kashmir dispute. But is it beyond the growing US influence as a strategic ally to persuade India to agree to mediation in the interest of peace and security in Kashmir and in the region as a whole?

Publised in Dawn, Pakistan. This is the THE Most Liberal attitude of Pakistan..otherwise.. their articles usually are full of hawkish approaches.