Anticipating the broad themes of Musharraf’s summit meeting with Vajpayee

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Thani 24, 1422 2001-07-16


by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 10, Rabi' al-Thani, 1422)

As Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf headed for Agra for another summit-meeting with Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the divergent expectations of the two countries became clear in the manner in which they formulated their respective approaches. Musharraf said he would discuss Kashmir as well as other issues with India at the summit during July 14-16 (after Crescent International press time); Vajpayee said he will discuss all issues including Kashmir. While an account of what will take place cannot be given yet, a reasonable guess can be hazarded.

Before heading for the summit, Musharraf sought the opinions of a broad cross-section in the country. He received almost uniform praise for his efforts to seek peace, but Kashmir remains the single most important issue for everyone except a tiny group who simply want to enjoy life. Without resolving the Kashmir dispute, however, nothing can move forward; all other issues flow from it. The Indians see the matter differently. They want to sideline Kashmir, describing it as a “contentious issue” that can be tackled once confidence-building measures have been put in place. It means that while they will talk about Kashmir at some stage, at present they would like to leave it alone.

The fact that there is no set agenda for the summit is also revealing. Given the mistrust on both sides, it may have proved difficult to agree on one. In the new arrangement, each side can raise any issue it wants; at the same time, if either party were not serious, that party could waste a lot of time in irrelevant discussions. It will be interesting to see how Musharraf deals with this. Similarly, no post-summit press conference had been scheduled by a week before the summit. Would it not be advisable to arrange one so that both sides can present their perceptions of what transpired and how they hope to move forward from there?

Musharraf has repeatedly stressed that he is willing to be “flexible” provided he sees some flexibility on the other side as well. Different interpretations have been offered of this. For some, flexibility means a willingness to consider novel approaches to the Kashmir dispute without abandoning the fundamental principle of respecting the wishes of Kashmir’s people. Musharraf has said as much. For other observers flexibility is the first step in a retreat from the principled position Pakistan has adopted so far. Which of these observations is nearer the mark will not become clear until after the summit. Only the Pakistani secularists want the Kashmir dispute buried as quickly as possible so that they can resume their musha’iras, so rudely interrupted by the intrusion of the Kashmir dispute into relations between India and Pakistan.

While Kashmir remains the principal issue to be addressed, India wants to broaden the scope of the discussions. This will dilute the significance of the Kashmir dispute and relegate it to the background. This perception was strengthened when Vajpayee decided on July 6 to send his director general of military operations to Islamabad to try to consolidate the recent calm along the Line of Control (LoC), with the idea of extending it to the Siachen Glacier as well. A tenuous peace has held there since the Musharraf-Vajpayee summit was announced. Delhi has attempted to broaden the scope of discussions by suggesting a resumption of dialogue on nuclear issues. Some Pakistani commentators have advised Musharraf to accept this proposal. Such a deal may already have been struck in the pre-summit parleys.

That India wants a “composite dialogue” instead of a Kashmir-specific discussion is also evident from Vajpayee’s invitation to Musharraf “to pick up the threads again [from Lahore], including renewing the composite dialogue, so that we can put in place a stable structure of co-operation and address all outstanding issues, including Kashmir.” It is important to note that Vajpayee referred to Kashmir as an outstanding “issue,” rather than as “disputed territory.” Pakistan has insisted all along that it is a “dispute” to be resolved, taking into consideration the wishes of the Kashmiri people; India insists on referring to it as an “issue.” It may be recalled that earlier summit proposals foundered on precisely the same point.

The “composite dialogue process” also carries some unfortunate historical baggage. It was agreed between Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif in New York in September 1998, after which their respective foreign secretaries formulated an eight-point agenda. This included issues such as Siachen; the Wuller Barrage; Sir Creek; Jammu and Kashmir; peace and security; terrorism and drugs; economic and commercial co-operation and cultural exchanges. All of these are loaded terms and require careful consideration. For instance, Siachen is India’s Achilles heel; it costs India nearly 10 times as much as it does Pakistan to maintain its military presence on the forbidden peaks. It was, however, India that set off the crisis by occupying parts of Pakistani territory in 1982. Since then, Pakistan has stabilized its position and inflicted considerable damage on the intruders. The Kargil drama in May-July 1999 was part of this game, but ended with Pakistan’s retreat because of Nawaz Sharif’s weakness.

There has been much discussion in the Pakistani media in the period leading to the summit. There are those who believe that India is ready to resolve the Kashmir dispute because it wishes to play the global role intended for it by the US. In this scenario, India may agree to the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir along the following lines: Jammu and Ladakh permanent parts of India; Azad Kashmir and Baltistan part of Pakistan; greater autonomy for Kashmir without being allowed to merge with Pakistan. India will still control Kashmir’s defence and foreign policies, although restrictions along the Line of Control will be eased.

Pakistan may accept this with some modifications: the Valley of Kashmir must become part of Pakistan even if no referendum is held there. This would be a quid pro quo for ceding Jammu and Ladakh to India. If Delhi does not agree to this, let a referendum decide the future of the whole of Kashmir, as stipulated in many UN security council resolutions. The trifurcation formula may be the best outcome in a difficult situation, but India is unlikely to agree because it has still not paid a high enough price for its occupation of Kashmir. Pakistan can wait this out because the tide of history is moving in its favour.

What is clear is that India’s policies have become hostage to the Kashmir dispute. The failure of the Indian army to crush the Kashmiris has encouraged other separatist tendencies across India. Unless the Kashmir dispute is resolved it will become impossible for India to conduct any sound policy; nor will India be able realize its dream of playing a global role. If Indian leaders have finally understood this, then there is hope for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. If not, the summit will be just a lot of hot air.

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