Step Three First -- by Tavleen Singh Back   Home  
If Vajpayee wants Musharraf off his back, he better start speaking plainly too
It might seem an odd thing to say with the air still thick with debris from Agra's failed summit but, personally, I think we could have in General Pervez Musharraf our first honest interlocutor from the other side. Let me explain. In recent years, we have tried talking peace with Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in that order and in each case we have faced duplicity, dishonesty and deceit. Zia-ul-Haq wanted to come and watch cricket in India even as he was busy arming secessionist movements in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. Benazir, whom we liked best, because her Daddy and our Rajiv's Mummy signed the Simla Agreement, did nothing to stop the cross-border export of terrorism and Nawaz Sharif's betrayal in Kargil is too fresh in public memory to need repeating.

General Musharraf comes as a refreshing if ostensibly nasty change it's only because duplicity-or even diplomacy-is not a thing he has time for even when a bit of either could have saved the Agra summit. The general prefers to spit out exactly what he wants to say. So he tells us that he will not talk about friendship or anything else until we agree to tell him what we plan to do about Kashmir. Call it an issue or whatever you please, he says, but please admit that it is the root cause of our enmity and that it has to be the only subject up for discussion. What is the point of talking about commerce or cultural ties if we do not admit that we will be enemies until there is a solution in Kashmir? He was careful in Agra not to spell out exactly what he meant by a solution but anyone who has passing familiarity with public sentiment in Pakistan knows that the only acceptable solution in their eyes is for us to break India once more in the name of Islam.

Former ISI chief Hamid Gul, who incidentally served under the beauteous Benazir, spelled it out in a Pakistani newspaper recently. "I believe," he wrote, "India cannot live as a political entity as it is today. It has to be fragmented." He is far from being the only Pakistani who dreams of India's fragmentation. His words reflect a widespread view that this fragmentation hinges on Kashmir. Musharraf was careful not to go quite so far in Agra but did not hesitate to bring Bangladesh into his diatribe. Revenge is one of the things that inspires Pakistan's Islamic warriors.

Well, since the general likes plain speaking, let us stop pussy footing and spell out exactly what we want to say. Let us go to what he calls step three of finding a Kashmir solution: negating ideas that are unacceptable. Let us spell out in the plainest language that there will no more redrawing of India's borders in the name of Islam. Since Pakistanis are so obsessed with Kashmir what can be considered at some point, when the violence lessens, is a softer border. That is all. We could go on then to negate all possibilities-and all talk-of plebiscite and self-determination for the Kashmiri people. This is not going to happen and if the general does not know this already it is time he was told. Once these two possibilities are negated-to use his word-the general could find that there is little else to be discussed on Kashmir except the terrorists he likes to call freedom fighters. More than 80 per cent of them these days are not Kashmiri so it is not azaadi they are fighting for but some wider Islamic war whose heroes are Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. We should tell the general that we do not want them around and if he continues to send them into our territory we shall continue to kill them.

Unfortunately, what has inhibited such plainspeak is our domestic problem in Kashmir, which the Vajpayee Government has been singularly inept at handling.

It is a problem inherited from the Congress and the first thing that a BJP prime minister should have done was dissociate his Government from the mistakes of the past and look at Kashmir anew. He should have admitted to the Kashmiri people that he was aware that they had faced terrible injustice on account of 50 years of rigged elections. It was this denial of basic democracy that caused the armed struggle and now the unending bloodshed. Vajpayee should have attempted a new beginning but did not and if he wants Pakistan's plain-speaking general off his back he better make a new beginning now.

We need a serious effort, not some committee headed by K.C. Pant. If we can solve our internal Kashmir problem, we would have no reason left to discuss it with anyone else at all. Please remember that nobody was haranguing us about Kashmir in the 1970s and 1980s and memories of plebiscite and Partition had all but died. They were revived on account of mistakes made by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv, mistakes that Vajpayee has not distanced his Government from.


This article was published in IndiaToday. Tavleen is my favourite columist. I regularly read her articles in different magazines.