Army is the key

Indo-Pak dialogue

When New Delhi and Islamabad have not been able to agree upon the place of meeting for foreign secretaries, it does not augur well for the future. It is difficult to imagine anything tangible coming out of their talks. Both sides had to fall back on the venue of the non-aligned summit in Egypt and accept the dates of the latter’s meeting because that was the only recourse left to them.

In fact, two opposite viewpoints were voiced even in mid-June when Pakistan high commissioner Shahid Malik called on Indian foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to fix the date and place for a meeting. The 30-minute-long arguments failed to produce anything concrete. Malik reportedly gave the impression that Pakistan would not be interested in the talks if they were to discuss terrorism alone.

India’s stand is that the meetings of foreign secretaries should be devoted only to terrorism, particularly the Mumbai carnage which the men operating from Pakistan planned and executed from beginning to end. New Delhi does not want the meeting to be taken as the resumption of composite dialogue which got snapped following the carnage.

No doubt, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari must have discussed at Yekaterinburg in Russia the respective stands and many more things in the one-to-one talks. They are the ones who instructed the two foreign secretaries to meet before the summit in Egypt. Their talks would be of little use because one should have time to work on the points raised by the other.

‘Kashmir, the core issue’

Unfortunately, Gilani is the person who will pick up the thread from where Zardari had left it. He has said the core issue is Kashmir. One does not see how the point of terrorists’ attack on Mumbai can be stretched to a solution of Kashmir, however important the latter is.

Islamabad should also realise that it cannot win Kashmir at a conference table after it lost it at the battle field. Pakistan has to create confidence in India that it is willing to take into account the thinking in New Delhi which feels that it has been wronged again and again.

Coming to Kashmir, the main objection of India is to the division of the state on the basis of religion. This objection may not fit into the two-nation theory, the principle on which Pakistan was constituted. But then its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself reinterpreted the theory after partition and made the Pakistanis and the Indians as two nations on the basis of territory, not religion.

Another difficulty New Delhi faces is that boundaries of Kashmir cannot be redrawn. Indian parliament, the ultimate authority, will not agree to a constitutional amendment that the alteration will entail. What can come in handy is Gen Parvez Musharraf’s reported formula which made the borders redundant and divided the state territorially. Retired officials from India and Pakistan, who constitute the back channel, have gone on record saying that they had covered 80 per cent of the journey on ways to Kashmir’s solution.

If this is true, there is every chance of the formula to be retrieved and pursued. At some stage, the people of Jammu and Kashmir should be associated because there can be no solution without their concurrence. Yet it is a pity that some leaders in the valley are bent upon stoking parochial fires, trying to give an Islamic edge to the Kashmiriat, a pluralistic concept, that the people follow.

In fact, India is worried over the brutalisation of its society. Happenings in Kashmir have contributed towards it the most. The common man has suffered from the untrammelled powers in the hands of police. Democracy loses its content if the laws of an authoritarian state become part of governance.

Elimination of Taliban

Yet when cross-border terrorism becomes a menace, fear takes over the society. It pawns its liberty to those who assure it security or a semblance of it. Kashmir has dulled the sensitivity of even the liberals. The support to Pakistan by India against the Taliban is natural. Defence Minister A K Anthony has said that India too faces the danger of Taliban.

This makes the elimination of Taliban the topmost priority. At present, the Pakistan army and America plan, control and pursue the operation. Were India to send its forces, as is the reported request by the US, it would be a development which the Pakistan army might not like. Still the Indian and Pakistani forces fighting side by side against the Taliban would create a climate where Kashmir, the water dispute and other problems would find consensus in no time.

The solution lies in both civilian and military wings in Pakistan agreeing to a detente with India. But the army has given no evidence that it wants to bury the hatchet. Its proximity to America and the military aid it is getting from it has made Islamabad stiffer than before.

The Manmohan Singh-Gilani meeting in Egypt or the meeting of foreign secretaries would be successful only to the extent Gen Parvez Kayani is willing to go. Can he look at Pakistan’s relations with India without bringing in the past? Normalcy between the two countries depends on that. Washington can play an important role.

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