Volume 15-08 No:176
Except showing the intrinsic value of preferring talks to gun, Agra summit has not shown the way forward in Indo-Pakistan relations. But it did leave a silver streak on the horizon. The two sides have learnt well that progress in the relationship would remain hostage to their mental block on settlement of Kashmir question and cross border terrorism.
That the summit would not result in fireworks was not unforeseen. But people of India and Pakistan are saddened that it ended without a jointly agreed statement. It is now pretty clear that more homework is needed to soften rigid positions. There can never be any progress in the chicken and the egg argument. It amounts to as much if the current stances of the two sides could be put together. The positions is somewhat like this: “Terrorism has the support because no solution of Kashmir is being found vs. the problem in Kashmir is only because of terrorism.”
With 17 per cent of Indian budget and nearly a third of Pakistan’s being assigned to defence, it should not take long for the two poorest of the world nations, who now make almost one fifth of the total humanity, to realize that era of peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia will remain a mirage unless they patch up differences and stay away from the brink of war.
And in the case of war, there will be temptations to go nuclear, the catastrophic consequences of which need not be guessed. It was therefore imperative that nuclear risk reduction should have been delinked from Kashmir issue. This can be an important item on agenda if the two heads of state meet in future, hopes being kept alive from both sides.
It will be well worth recognizing that there is a dispute between India and Pakistan on Kashmir even from the Indian standpoint because Pakistan occupied Kashmir(Pok) continues to jeopardize the unity of Jammu and Kashmir. Secondly, at no stage India has asked for return of the UN Observer’s office. This, however, does not necessarily mean going back to 1948 UN resolution for plebiscite. There is no merit in continuing to consider religion as the criterion for vivisection of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan having failed in maintaining its integrity, the two-nation theory has been rendered a mere alibi for it to pursue its cause. Pakistan’s continued refusal to take back loyal Bihari Muslims from Bangladesh adds to the irrelevance of that theory where Pakistan could be considered as the natural homeland to the subcontinent’s Muslims. Thirdly, even the Indian Muslims, who are as numerous as Pakistanis are, are averse to healed wounds being ripped open once again.
But then how to deal with suffering of the people in the Valley? The killing of nearly 80,000 persons in the ongoing militancy, the disappearances, the jails brimming with undertrials, torture of innocents, daily house searches, identification parades, sulking widows, innumerable cases of human rights violation and a huge and weary army are issues that cannot be wished away. A solution must be thought out where the people of the divided Kashmirs could freely meet, interact, and elect representatives of their choice and international guarantees could be given for their well-being. At least a decade of interaction between the two sides might pave the way for a lasting solution of the imbroglio. This will soften the absolutist tendencies on the two sides, inject more rationale in the debate and enable Valley people to weigh pros and cons. In this regard, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s initiative in enabling travel facility on the LoC between two sides of a divided people must be welcomed as a courageous gesture. Similarly, President General Pervez Musharraf’s effort in reining in militant Ulama lobby in Pakistan was a laudable step.
It is in this context that ‘confidence building measures’ or CBMs merit the attention. Free flow of information through Internet since 1995 has at least proved beneficial in the sense that the two people are coming to realize the futility and horrors of war, cost of arms race, development backlog, and even how defence funds lubricate the corrupt political machine in the two countries. It is only when the people are engaged in dialogue that the rational solutions comes to surface. Imagine the uniformity of opinion and bonhomie that could result if the two people have free access to each other’s media, currently banned and travel, tourism and trade facilities. If this happens, Kashmir could be a bond rather than a bone of contention. What is needed is that we keep aside the national egos and look at the human tragedy which is unnecessarily polarizing the two people.