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Indo-Pak ties: Seeking new horizons

G. PARTHASARATHY

Like Pakistan's proposal for `demilitarisation' of Jammu and Kashmir, Dr Manmohan Singh's idea of a Treaty of Peace, Security and Friendship will have to await more propitious times. This can happen only when the present atmosphere of mutual suspicions and differences is replaced by a sustained period of trust, confidence and extensive bilateral and regional cooperation, says G. PARTHASARATHY.


It should be possible to find some common ground on issues pertaining to J&K, though one is still not clear what Pakistan's end game is.

Diehard members of the Pakistani establishment have been lamenting for the past year, over what they say is India's "insincerity" in resolving the Kashmir issue and in not responding to Gen Pervez Musharraf's oft-repeated proposals for "demilitarisation," "self-governance" and "joint management" in Jammu and Kashmir. Being a cautious and thoughtful person, not given to knee jerk reactions, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, was evidently waiting for an appropriate occasion to outline his vision of the future of India-Pakistan relations.

In the meantime, a wide-ranging dialogue had been initiated with all sections of public opinion in J&K. One "round table" was held and another such meeting is scheduled to be held in Srinagar in May when, hopefully, the increasingly marginalised members of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, who do little except faithfully endorse everything that Gen Musharraf says, will participate.

LUKEWARM IN PAKISTAN

With the November 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control holding and with a series of new initiatives such as the reestablishment of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service and the Khokhrapar-Munnabao rail service being welcomed internationally, Dr Manmohan Singh evidently saw the inauguration of the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service as an ideal occasion to spell out his vision for the future.

While the bus service was inaugurated in India with great fanfare, the Pakistan side chose to treat the event in a very low key manner, without the customary welcome that one would have expected from at least Punjab's Chief Minister, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.

I have been witness since 1982 to Sikh pilgrims headed for Nankana Sahib being received by not only the Punjab Chief Minister, but also by Pakistan's President and Prime Minister, along with "Khalistan" activists from abroad such as Ganga Singh Dhillon, with gurudwaras in Lahore and Nankana Sahib full of posters and banners demanding the creation of "Khalistan". It is no secret that the family of the Pakistan Muslim League President, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and his cousin, Mr Elahi, have been responsible for inciting Sikh pilgrims visiting their shrines in Pakistan since 1979.

Why was the inauguration of the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service virtually boycotted by high Pakistani functionaries? With Dr Manmohan Singh inaugurating the service amidst tremendous enthusiasm in Punjab, it is evident that New Delhi is confident that Punjab is going to be in the forefront of the national endeavour for accelerated economic growth and that Pakistan cannot significantly exploit any residual separatist sentiments in the State. Pakistan evidently realises this, but continues to harbour activists of terrorist groups such as the Babbar Khalsa.

COMMON FUTURE

In his address in Amritsar, Dr Manmohan Singh reflected India's confidence in the strength of its pluralistic society when he spoke of encouraging "people to people contacts" and urged that through such contacts we should "explore a vision for a cooperative common future for our two nations". The Prime Minister envisages a peace process that is peoples driven. But is such a peoples-driven process possible when our security establishment advocates rigid visa and police reporting procedures for ordinary Pakistanis visiting India, be they artistes, businessmen, academics or tourists?

Dr Manmohan Singh will first have to persuade his security establishment and drastically change existing visa and police reporting procedures, if necessary unilaterally, if we are to win the goodwill and understanding of ordinary Pakistanis visiting India. This, I have found, in practice, is easier said than done.

Pakistan has reacted cautiously to the references made to the issue of J&K in Dr Manmohan Singh's carefully-crafted address in Amritsar. While rejecting his assertion that it "is a mistake to link normalisation of other relations with finding a solution to Jammu and Kashmir," Pakistan has made generally positive noises about other proposals he made. While Gen Musharraf has spoken tirelessly of "self-governance" in J&K, he has remained vague on what constitutes "self-governance" and whether "self-governance" will be equally applicable to both Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and the Northern Areas.

GOOD GOVERNANCE

Dr Manmohan Singh has, however, come forward with the call that "both sides should begin a dialogue with the people in their areas of control to improve the quality of governance so as to give people on both sides a greater chance in leading a life of dignity and self-respect". Thus, while Gen Musharraf has spoken vaguely of "self-governance," Dr Manmohan Singh has spoken of "good governance." "Self-governance" is just one aspect of the comprehensive concept of "good governance". This thinking will hopefully be reflected in the next roundtable conference in Srinagar. Gen Musharraf will perhaps, in the meantime, ponder how he can move towards "good governance" in POK and the Northern Areas. Dr Manmohan Singh also responded in Amritsar to Gen Musharraf's call for "Joint Management" of J&K. He proclaimed: "I also envisage a situation where the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir can, with the active encouragement of the Governments of India and Pakistan, work out cooperative, consultative mechanisms so as to maximise the gains of cooperation in solving problems of social and economic development of the region".

While Gen Musharraf's proposal of "Joint Management" opens up touchy and irresolvable issues of sovereignty, the economist in Dr Manmohan Singh envisages a situation where borders and boundaries between India and Pakistan, including in J&K, become as irrelevant as they are increasingly becoming elsewhere, in a world economic order dealing with the challenges of globalisation.

But, given Pakistan's inhibitions in even abiding by commitments it has made while signing the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), will Islamabad show the necessary statesmanship to implement its commitment in Kathmandu to move towards a South Asian Customs Union and thereafter towards a South Asian Economic Union, where borders become porous and irrelevant?

Dr Manmohan Singh hoped the peace process would "ultimately culminate" in a "Treaty of Peace, Security and Friendship" with Pakistan. Indira Gandhi had sent the Draft for a Peace and Friendship Treaty to Islamabad in July 1984 through the then Foreign Secretary, Mr M. K. Rasgotra. Gen Zia-ul-Haq made a few positive noises, but soon buried the proposal. It is evident that like Pakistan's proposal for `demilitarisation' of J&K, Dr Manmohan Singh's proposal can be described as one that will have to await more propitious times before it can be discussed. This can happen only when the atmosphere of mutual suspicions and differences is replaced by a sustained period of trust, confidence and extensive bilateral and regional cooperation.

Scope for optimism

While there is scope for optimism now in moving ahead in the peace process with Pakistan, it would not be prudent for Dr Manmohan Singh to visit Islamabad without proper preparations that ensure a positive outcome for his visit. The Sir Creek issue seems to be moving toward a resolution, with comprehensive surveys being carried out. The Siachen issue can be resolved if the agreement leaves no ambiguity about existing ground positions and the precise areas to be demilitarised, along with foolproof procedures for verification.

Further, given that Gen Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh appear to agree that there can be no change of existing boundaries, it should be possible to find some common ground on issues pertaining to J&K, though one is still not clear what Pakistan's end game is.

In the meantime, one hopes that despite the large Jihadi presence now in POK, Gen Musharraf will fulfil his January 6, 2004 commitment of not allowing territory under Pakistan's control to be used for terrorism.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

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