Let the feel-good factor work -- by M B Naqvi Back   Home  

THERE are two ways of looking at the Summit between the Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Pakistani strongman President Pervez Musharraf. One is from the viewpoint of Pakistani rightwingers for whom the only criterion is Kashmir: if it does not somehow promises to become a part of Pakistan, there is no point in talking about anything else. There are others who clearly realise that no early solution of the Kashmir problem is likely that can satisfy Pakistan's hardliners. No Indian government is going to hand over Kashmir by which most Pakistanis mean the Muslim-dominated valley while Jammu and Laddakh areas are simply not in their minds after fighting four wars that Pakistan could not win. So, they set a great deal of store by 'other things'. And there are many many other things to be sorted out urgently between Pakistan and India. Insofar as the intractable issue of Kashmir is concerned, despite heavy foreign pressure for some modus operandi to be worked out by the two estranged nuclear capable neighbours, it will be a notable success if the talks do not breakdown soon after they start and are hopefully continued.

As they say in official idiom, a modicum of guarded optimism can certainly be entertained. Maybe, just maybe, the two sides after saying their set pieces hand over the problem to the particular group for Kashmir that was set up in 1997 by the two countries' foreign secretaries (along with seven other groups for other matters). And, hopefully again, if they are careful and wise they will authorise the group to consult widely in the two countries and in South Asia's diaspora for examining "all" possible solutions by being truly flexible. With the best will in the world, Kashmir issue will be a long haul and shall require a lot of qualities in the negotiators in addition to being flexible and open minded, such as their actual allegiance to democratic values and the ability to do what is right by going beyond mere power politics. It is only fair to say these qualities are in short supply on both sides; few officials can think of going beyond realpolitik.

There is a rich agenda awaiting Vajpayee and Musharraf, if the latter actually remains flexible and cares for the 'other matters'. Prospects of finalising mutually beneficial agreements are good. One will take up just two out of the many that demand serious attention. One is the subject dearest to the hearts of the US and other great powers as well as the hardliners in both India and Pakistan. It is the question of preventing nuclear accidents, the safe handling of nuclear weapons, safe command and control system, avoidance of accidental or unintended war and an understanding on how are these weapons intended to be used and on which targets. Whether or not the people of India are informed by their government about which precise or kind of targets it will select when and if it has to use atomic weapons against Pakistan, Musharraf's uniformed bureaucracy has to know for certain. Musharraf's delegates will have to do the same to their counterparts in India, whether or not are Pakistanis told.

All sorts of CBMs (confidence building measures) exist in the form of well-drafted agreement; courtesy the US diplomacy, the Indian and Pakistani officials have already studied them or can quickly agree on minor adjustments, changes or adaptations at expert level. A whole sheaf of agreements can easily emerge from, or as a result of, the Agra Summit negotiations. Nudged by Rice and Powell, the two can shower the news reporters with a number of agreements, bonhomie and the feel good factor. But the fledgling peace lobbies in these two countries where their governments actually exulted over the "achievement" of conducting nuclear test explosions and sang songs to glorify the mass destruction weapons run the risk of being marginalised further. For both governments can go on a PR offensive of claiming a breakthrough of trust and confidence in each other by showing the concrete agreements (CBMs). Doubtless, if there is no war these agreements will stick. From peaceniks' viewpoint CBMs have the effect of making nuclear weapons permanent in the arsenals because they are inherently fragile and apt to be ignored in a real crisis, just as previous CBMs were totally ignored by both sides in the Kargil crisis.

Pakistan Peace Coalition officials (an apex body of several groups) have been saying so, if only anyone will listen to them. Their case in Pakistan is that let us forget about what India does or says. Nuclear weapons have actually degraded Pakistan's security, Pakistan was actually more secure before 1998. These MDWs are evil and simply should not be. Pakistan must quickly return to its traditional stances of South Asia and Indian Ocean should become NWFZs. Permanence of the two nuclear deterrents in South Asia is a harbinger of new and uncontrollable arms races in Asia and perhaps globally. Let India do what it pleases, Pakistan has no business getting mixed up with all that; its economy, already teetering on the brink, shall quickly collapse.

The another subject where an agreement is easy and benefits both sides is deployment of troops at unsuitable heights by both sides on the Siachin glacier region. Indeed an agreement had been concluded way back in 1989 by the Indian foreign secretary S.K.Singh. The treaty was ready. Singh made the mistake of confirming it to newsmen at Islamabad airport. PM Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv had plans of signing the agreement with a great hoopla in Delhi. Rajiv was angry with his foreign secretary and virtually forced him into an early retirement. Both armies and governments are anxious that such an agreement be signed. It is a ridiculous situation in which General Winter kills more Indians than Pakistan Army can and similarly more Pakistani soldiers become casualties than Indian Army's panoply of armaments can cause. This correspondent has heard the laments of an Indian defence secretary about the high cost and needless casualties India is taking from the cold weather. Pakistani generals have no reason why they would not again sign that already drafted concordat. They too will save some pointless casualties and costs.

For Messrs Vajpayee and Musharraf, it is the most cost-effective agreement. At minimum political cost they can garner many more PR points and spread the feel good factor all around. It requires Mr. Vajpayee to ignore the question of face over a supposed retreat that some had created vis--vis Siachin agreement. Similarly there are a few ultras in Islamabad who think that since India will save more money and lives and limbs, therefore, "we" should not help it through this agreement. If Musharraf is really flexible he will not hesitate to sign it if it is mooted. There are many more agreements of the kind that can strengthen the feel good factor behind which some tougher decisions can be taken. Wuller Barrage and Sir Creek issues belong to the genre on which both sides stand to gain from flexibility and reasonableness.

This article was published in dailystar.com website and is written by M B Naqvi. He is a noted columnist in Karachi.