Post-Summit Directions for Pakistan-India Relations

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While the debate will continue – at least till all the notes taken at the one-to-one meetings are made public – as to whether Agra was a success or failure, let us identify some developments that happened at Agra and which, in my opinion, have started to redefine the course future Pak-India dialogues will take.

To begin with, in an environment where suspicion and mistrust rule, the transparency of the diplomacy – and General Musharraf’s “brutal candour” as one TV analyst put it – has brought a new tone into the Pakistan-India relationship. Pakistan has suffered at the hand of backdoor deal making and secret agreements secretly arrived at. Hence, the “open covenants, openly arrived at” approach was desperately needed. Such an approach can at least begin to erase decades of mistrust not only between Pakistan and India, but also between the state and the nation within Pakistan. Secret, backdoor diplomacy, including Track II efforts that have been funded by third parties like the US, and closed-door deals have caused harm to the country’s national interests as well as increasing suspicions between the government and civil society. We are only too familiar with the whole issue of Ms Bhutto’s government handing over the list of so-called Sikh terrorists to the Rajiv Gandhi government (what actually happened is not as important as the perception that continues to prevail even today), as well as the whole confusion and drama during Kargil that surrounded Mr Naik and his projection of himself as a backdoor channel of communication with India – to name just two instances. Equally disastrous for the country was Mr Nawaz Sharif’s sudden dash to Washington during the Kargil crisis where he made commitments without totally taking into confidence either the Foreign Office or his Cabinet colleagues, barring two or three of his close associates.

So it was essential for General Musharraf to negate the impression that he was going to “sell-out” or do a third party’s bidding, as many of his predecessors had done. That he did as he said he would, was reflected in his candid session with the Indian press (the now-famous breakfast meeting) – which was targeted as much for Indian civil society as for his own people. In the process, he put across Pakistan’s case in a way that is beginning to be understood, at least, in India – if the press reports in India can be an indicator.

Equally important, for those who have always insisted that Kashmir should be put aside simply to sustain a dialogue with India, the Summit showed that Kashmir could be centre-stage in a Pakistan-India meeting without the dialogue being scuttled. If anything, Agra has shown the Indians that while Pakistan does not have a unidimensional agenda in relation to India, yet all other aspects of normalization are logically linked to positive movement on resolution of the Kashmir issue. While Pakistan was committed to a composite dialogue, Pakistan wanted to see some Indian acceptance of the Kashmir issue as a dispute between the two sides and thereby some move towards seeking a resolution of this conflict. And this the Indian leadership did concede at Agra – despite the failure of a final consensual document. Otherwise, the Summit would have been over the first day – with the one-on-one between Musharraf and Vajpayee certainly not lasting beyond the formalities. At the end of the day, there is now a realization within India that unless there is movement on the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan and India will continue to remain locked in an adversarial relationship which will continue to deny South Asia peace and development. One may wish that this was not so, but that is the reality.

Also, the Summit showed that national compulsions were the driving force in the interaction between the two sides – no matter what forces had led the two sides to the dialogue. For Pakistanis it was gratifying to see that there was no priority accorded to “issues of concern to the US” – which some American analysts, with a pomposity that has become an intrinsic part of their tone given that they have been pampered by many quarters in Pakistan, declared Pakistan “should” focus on (for example, Stephen Cohen in a BBC discussion)!

Of course, the scepticism and caution that had surrounded the beginning of the Summit had begun to dissipate into increasing optimism especially with the announcement that a joint declaration was in the offing. Hence, there was the feeling of a letdown when the declaration was scuttled, even though the Indians had stated that there would not be a joint press conference or declaration before the Summit had begun. The rapport between Vajpayee and Musharraf took the Indian hardliners, led by Mr Advani, by surprise. In fact, had they anticipated this they may have sabotaged the Summit before it had begun.

Once the positive developments had become clear – immediately in the wake of the long one-on-one that began the Summit – the sabotage process began. The Indian Information Minister, belonging to the Advani group, fired the first salvo on TV. When that was countered effectively, the final stand was taken on the declaration and no matter how things may have proceeded, it was evident that the hardliners would not allow a joint declaration that accommodated both sides concerns. That Mr Vajpayee finally fell victim to the hardliners within his party is unfortunate, but in many ways it is better for Pakistan and India to inch towards formal agreements rather than seeking them in a hurry only to find them discredited with the passage of time.

Despite the growing negative statements that have come from the Indian side after the Summit, the fact that both sides have committed themselves to continued dialogue and future Summits shows that neither is prepared to slide back to the pre-Summit deadlocked position. In other words, both countries have moved away from the zero-sum posture towards the beginnings of a positive-sum environment. The cautious, laying-no-blame position taken by both Mr Jaswant Singh and Mr Abdul Sattar, in their first post-Summit press conferences, reflect a recognition of sustaining this mood.

So what happens now?

Well, one thing is clear and that is that the freedom struggle on the ground in Kashmir needs to continue till such time as there is a substantive political move between Pakistan and India towards seeking at least a timetable and modalities for resolution of the dispute. This will happen once the composite dialogue is restored. Any premature calling off of the struggle would simply freeze the stalemated position. After all, without the reality of the mujahideen struggle on the ground – along with the nuclearisation of South Asia – the international community would not have felt the need to push India into a dialogue with Pakistan.

Will it take another Summit to restore the composite dialogue? If so, then the positive spirit shown by both Musharraf and Vajpayee should act as an accelerator for the next Summit. However, Vajpayee has problems within his party where there is an obvious tussle for supremacy between the hardliners, led by Advani, and the moderates. Then there is the pressure from the opposition, which is calling for his resignation in the face of what they are calling his “failure” at Agra.

India also needs to realize that while Mr Jaswant Singh may condemn the “segmented approach”, India is following that very approach when it seeks to deal with specific issues like trade or nuclear security rather than dealing with all issues and their conflictual core, which is the Kashmir dispute. The linkages are there and Pakistan is the one that is adopting a more holistic approach.

One immediate step that both sides need to take – until such time as the next Summit or the restoration of the composite dialogue – is to lower the rhetoric against each other. While Pakistan has reaffirmed its win-win position post the Summit, there is no need to make an issue of it. So far, it is the Indians who are feeling the need to use increasingly negative rhetoric against Pakistan.

Given Mr Vajpayee’s delicate political position at home, a more productive direction for the immediate future may be to have the Jaswant Singh-Sattar meeting which will not be under so much public and media glare – and see whether the composite dialogue can be restored. Mr Singh has accepted Mr Sattar’s invitation, so things should move on from there. Of the eight baskets of the original composite dialogue formulation, at least two – that is peace and security and Kashmir – need to be discussed at the political, ministerial level and it is evident that that much was agreed to, in principle, at Agra. Another basket was also added it would appear – that of narcotics and terrorism, which it was felt should also be discussed at the political level. Nuclear risk reduction is also an issue that would become a part of the composite dialogue – perhaps as a topic on its own or as part of the peace and security basket – although it would be more practical to link peace and security with Kashmir and have the nuclear dialogue separately.

The tone has been set at Agra and now the thread needs to be picked up again and a little out of the public glare – but within the overall premise of open covenants since the negative legacy of secret deals will take time to be erased. The Indian MEA’s claim that a future dialogue should pick up the threads of Simla and Lahore has obviously been made more for domestic political compulsions. The reality is that it is the Indians who have destroyed both Simla and Lahore – the former by the Siachin invasion and the latter by Vajpayee’s statements immediately on his return to Delhi from Lahore that he had not touched on Kashmir at all except in relation to AJK! But in any event, both Simla and Lahore refer to bilateral dialogue to resolve issues – and Simla also categorically refers to the principles and purposes of the Charter of the UN as governing the relations between the two countries. In relation to the LoC, Simla declared that the two sides shall respect the 1971 LoC resulting from the Dec 17, 1971 ceasefire “without prejudice to the recognized position of either side.” But after Agra, the “spirit of Lahore” has been left behind and it is the spirit of Agra from where the dialogue must begin again.

Agra put the main contentious issue in focus – Kashmir – and now there can be no turning back. Future discussions will have to focus on Kashmir even as other issues are also discussed. As for tokens like easing travel procedures and people-to-people contact – these are not issues but matters of policy – and in relation to the latter there is a lot more people-to-people contact than is realized – and once detente begins, this will automatically increase. But CBMs have not worked in the past – and there are many that have evolved since 1948! The most viable CBM would be movement towards resolution of the Kashmir conflict.

Here Indian proposals to try and make the LoC an international border – they are now trying to use the indirect approach (line of least expectation and least resistance) – cannot be considered as CBMs since this option is not acceptable.

Why?

Because the LoC is simply a ceasefire line – which in any case does not exist in the shape agreed to by Pakistan and India after 1971 at Simla.

It is a post-bellum CFL in which Pakistan lost territory as a result of war, so any acceptance of this as a permanent settlement would be legitimizing military aggression.

Kashmiris on both sides have never accepted the LoC as anything other than a temporary ceasefire line.

So Indian efforts to de facto have the LoC converted into an international border cannot be accepted – such as the Indian declaration that it intends to have a visa check post along the LoC, knowing full well that visas are needed at international borders! Other Indian proposals of first allowing greater movement between the people in both parts of Kashmir and increased trade, before talking of a settlement, fall in the same category.

As for the notion of allowing for a partition of Kashmir so that AJK goes with Pakistan and Jammu and Ladakh with India, and the Valley is given greater autonomy under Indian control – the Indians now use the word suzerainty, which basically still means overall Indian sovereignty – is also not feasible. While one can debate whether the Kashmiris want to go with Pakistan now or be independent, one thing is clear – the majority do not want to stay within India. India has lost Kashmir politically and it is debatable how long it can hold on to Kashmir militarily. It is not just a matter of financial resources – there are the non-material costs that the Indian army is suffering, such as morale and discipline problems.

So what is a rational framework for resolution of the Kashmir conflict (or “issue”, as the Indians would prefer!)?

Well, some formulation for allowing the Kashmiris their right of self-determination has to be worked out – and outside of the Indian Constitution.

There is the Owen Dixon formula of regional plebiscites.  

There is also a proposal of dividing Kashmir and only allowing the Valley a plebiscite, but after it has been put under UN Administration for x number of years.

As for whether the Kashmiris should be allowed the choice of independence as well as the original two-way choice of going with Pakistan or India embodied in the UN resolutions – this is a detail that can be discussed and negotiated, but it is India that will never concede to an independent Kashmir for then it would be opening a Pandora’s box. Also, an independent Kashmir would naturally have greater economic and political affinity with Pakistan! India’s economic neglect of Kashmir has further bolstered that premise! Incidentally, India’s claim that it cannot accept religion as a factor for deciding the fate of a people, contradicts what India herself did in relation to Hyderabad and Junagadh!

At the end of the day, while no one expects miracles, it is clear that India is finally realizing that they have to begin dialogue on Kashmir – even if they want to talk about infiltrations along the LoC! So a dialogue in that direction will happen whenever the composite dialogue is restored.

Finally, and most of all, both sides need to continue to move on their national compulsions rather than on agendas set by external forces. Here again Agra set the framework, which needs to be retained. The Pakistan-India rapprochement process is not a matter of hawks versus doves but of an acceptance of ground realities and a rational flexibility. Agra has shown that it is not hiding the signpost of Kashmir House that will bring peace to the region, but a conviction of the rightness of the cause along with an intent to seek peace within a rational and dignified framework.

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