By their very nature they are fomenters of instability, mistrust and tension. So long as these weapons are there, the prospects of peace and de-escalation of tensions and economically productive political cooperation will continue to recede. So a détente, while it may be necessary, has to be handled with extreme care: it should be made a first step toward peace, reconciliation and friendship. Without this latter aim, a détente will be dangerous and maybe a self-defeating exercise.
FOREIGN Minister Abdus Sattar asserts that Pakistan never promised not to raise Kashmir at the international forums and added without Kashmir issue being resolved in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiris, normal peaceful and good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan cannot be established. India's junior Foreign Minister Omar Abdullah said with Pakistan raising Kashmir issue at Durban and elsewhere and linking normalisation with the Kashmir solution, he doubted whether New York's Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting will take place at all or will produce any positive result, if it did take place.
That is the sort of things being said by the two Foreign Offices. That is their idea of the conducive atmosphere for the New York's Sept 25 next meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. Can it be said that these 'contributions' confirm what the Indian columnist Kuldip Nayar has disclosed and which has been reinforced by several Pakistani newsmen: that the two heads of governments seem to have some channel(s) of communication between them and that the two Foreign Offices were not involved. If so, it is an interesting development. It is a conspiracy theory. It assumes a third party in some way mediating between Messrs Pervez Musharraf and A B Vajpayee to obvious effect.
This is freely being assumed by many in this country. But there is not much agreement on the identity of this party. Some say it is the US experts of the region who somehow are master minding this dialogue process despite the extra rigid official position. Others say it is track II diplomacy. Authoritative Indians have denied any 'foreign pressure' and emphasise local statesmanship. There are no authoritative Pakistani comments on this subject so far. How the painful and ill-tempered travel from Agra to New York is to be explained with so much evident ill will on both sides, not to mention the absence of results at Agra?
Whatever the answer to this query and whether or not there is a third party, how can the outcome of another Summit be different from the previous one if the actual governments in both countries continue to believe, act and propagate their hardline stances? Suppose Mr. Vajpayee's personal statesmanship succeeds and a modus operandi is agreed upon. Can that agreement necessarily some compromise stick in either country? Will the two Summiteers who are so clearly unable to make their governments help create a friendly and expectant atmosphere for their upcoming meet be able to sell that agreement? Who will popularise it, if indeed it will be the effort of just two men? Insofar as it can be adjudged here, the bulk of Indian opinion i.e. of its political class and the security community no one is ready to make any concessions to a Pakistan that is neither militarily very strong nor is its economy in a shape to sustain a conflict. Opinion in Pakistan, even among moderates, requires a Kashmir solution that is substantially different from today's status of Kashmir. A concession of some substance not being available, the outlook can only be bleak. Which is what the two Foreign Offices reflect today. But then what was all the ballyhoo about in Lahore in '99 or even at Agra? As some assert that there appeared to be reasonable grounds for expecting a breakthrough between Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee then. But the basis for that belief rests on the assumption that the US is almighty and that a solution that its experts suggest is sure to find buyers in the top echelons of the two governments.
In other words there is, it is assumed, a certain via media on Kashmir not quite a neat solution with which both sides can live with if the two governments are willing to be cooperative and are ready to moderate their maximalist positions. It is being supposed that American experts have sketched out this middle path and that both Nawaz and Vajpayee had bought it. That was what the Lahore process was all about except for a détente on the nuclear weapons and perhaps also the missiles. If this set of assumptions has any validity, then there is hope of success at New York or later. For, the process through which Nawaz had accepted the statesmanship of Vajpayee would also make Musharraf do the same. Basic military and economic situation of this country, relative to India, can only be worse than what it was two years ago. Indeed many believe that just as Nawaz was on board vis-ŕ-vis Kargil, Musharraf should have been or would be forced to be of the same general view on all Kashmir-related issues as Nawaz had come to be. Similar causes should produce similar effects and consequences.
But there is a separate basis for suspecting that the supposed Vajpayee statesmanship concerns the nuclear détente rather than Kashmir or other matters. On this there is near consensus among the Bomb loving security thinkers of India as well as of Pakistan; both want a strictly limited understanding on nuclear-related matters again thanks to American good offices and their expertise. A series of agreements can easily be expected if Musharraf drops his Kashmir first talks only and not a solution insistence or India concedes separate talks on Kashmir to go on endlessly while the much desired on both sides détente is worked out and is put in place.
It should be clearly noted that Pakistani hardliners are just as much anxious to have this détente on the nuclear subjects, as distinct from friendship with India, as are the Indians. It is only a small peace lobby which is suspicious of this enthusiasm for détente. What these peaceniks want is a thoroughgoing and profound people-to-people (at grassroots level) reconciliation of the kind that France and Germany agreed to formalise in 1963. Even this wholly inadequate thing the détente over nuclear weapons will require a Herculean effort to implement and sustain. This is because of the level of present ill-will and mistrust on both sides which the nuclear weapons will go on increasing. If such an effort is to be mounted, and it should be mounted, the goal had better be higher and more comprehensive so that all real problems of the common Pakistanis and Indians can be tackled cooperatively in a more conducive political atmosphere. Their real argument is that the kind of nuclear détente that the two governments are likely to agree on is, even if it initially succeeds, will make the nuclear weapons permanent in South Asia. By their very nature they are fomenters of instability, mistrust and tension. So long as these weapons are there, the prospects of peace and de-escalation of tensions and economically productive political cooperation will continue to recede. So a détente, while it may be necessary, has to be handled with extreme care: it should be made a first step toward peace, reconciliation and friendship. Without this latter aim, a détente will be dangerous and maybe a self-defeating exercise.
This article was published in Bangladesh Newspaper DailyStar. Author is a columnist in Karachi.