Roadmap to Peace?

Agra 2001 was one of the periodic highpoints of the India- Pakistan relationship, a similar climax of expectations was Vajpayee’s Lahore bus trip in 1999. The Indians had reason to feel aggrieved because of Kargil, when they received President Pervez Musharraf with open arms in New Delhi two years later that became a moot point. Or was their welcome feigned? There was expectation and excitement in the air in Agra that morning when the agreed draft was initialled, the gloom came later when it did not see the light of day, signalling a massive relationship slide. After 9/11 the world’s catchword was “terrorism”, the Indians soon realized that Pakistan’s stupidity in supporting the Taliban regime beyond a fail-safe point was being glossed over because of Pakistan’s primarily role as a US ally in the war against terrorism. The Indians hurriedly re-drew their gameplan to emasculate Pakistan, the raison d’etre the still unexplained attack on India’s Parliament. At the end of Dec 2001 the entire Indian Armed Forces (including the formations withdrawn from facing China and Bangladesh) was stationed en bloc in an offensive posture along Pakistan’s eastern border and along the LOC in Kashmir, subsequently the Indian High Commissioner was recalled permanently and in reciprocation his Pakistani counterpart asked to leave. There was a further low-point, the Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner was expelled because of concocted and childish allegations, subsequently proven patently false by Indian courts.

India had not catered for a long drawn out exercise. Other than giving the Pakistani High Command some very anxious moments, the very visible threat turned out to be meaningless in the end, it accomplished nothing. Unlike the Indian public that was fed by a daily diet of chauvinism, both by the BJP and the Indian media, the Pakistani public remained blissfully oblivious of the dangers of the nuclear war. When the tit for tat missile-tests between the two countries made it obvious Pakistan had nuclear-reach way beyond Calcutta, the jingo-istic propaganda back-fired by causing panic in the Indian population, it also caused a massive exodus of foreign expatriates and investment. 

The sheer logistics of keeping the entire war machine in a state of high alert several hundred miles from their peacetime locations is horrendous. In defensive positions over a long period of time, troops tend to make themselves comfortable but with 2/3 rds of the Army in an offensive posture this becomes very excruciating, the extremes of cold in winter and heat in summer debilatates both men and material, boredom acting as a further force-multiplier in eroding morale. Moreover wars have to be fought with motivation, the message of the India’s political bosses had not permeated down the line, the soldiers felt they were being used as pawns. In retrospect it is now clear that Indians were playing a gigantic bluff, trying to “win a war without bloodying swords”, to quote Sun Tse Tzu. India grandly announced an exception, the recall of its Navy to port as a “gesture for peace” during midsummer 2002. As far as Pakistan was concerned, with the whole Indian Army and Air Force camped on our doorstep and their aggressive posture showing no sign of abating, they were welcome to keep their seasick sailors tossed around in the high seas in the stormy summer months. Banning all overflights was rank over-kill by the Indians on the spur of the moment to embarrass President Musharraf who was about to leave for the SAARC Heads of State Meeting in Kathmandu. The Indians announced that if special permission was requested by the Pakistani President it would be given. Not well thought through, the ploy backfired. Pervez Musharraf, stubborn as usual and with plenty of self-pride, chose to go the long route through China. Banning of overflights by Indians is economically devastating for Air India. With 86 weekly flights westwards to Pakistan’s 8 flights eastwards, one doesn’t have to be a chartered accountant to describe what havoc the cancellation of all eastward flights because of SARS has now additionally done to Air India’s balance sheet. There is no reason to start overflights, this should be permanently linked to the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir. When India has taken all the initiative to reduce our mutual relationship to less than zero, why are they asking us to initiate CBMs and only those matters beneficial to them?

In fact the shoe is on the other foot, Pakistan should be asking for confidence measures from India, for starters zipping up LK Advani, Yashwant Sinha and George Fernandes from threatening Pakistan with extinction every other day. The wonder is that they get away with it in this day and age. Next, it would be nice to revive the SAARC process, first by convening the Heads of State Meeting in Islamabad as soon as possible, than opening up our cultural and sports ties etc. Our Parliamentarians have gone to India on a friendly “unofficial” visit, why not a reciprocal “unofficial” visit by Indian MPs? We may even take them by helicopter upto the LOC to see who is committing violence on whom? And if they can find Pakistani-sponsored “terrorist camps” in Azad Kashmir then that will be a bonus to them! Another confidence building measure would be for the Indians to tone down the rhetoric of “cross border terrorism” propagated so endlessly that even the discerning Indian public has become blind to the fact that in the freedom struggle in Kashmir several tens of thousands of innocents have been killed and maimed. India has said Pakistan’s nuclear program is India-specific i.e, only India has to fear from Pakistan’s nuclear program. While thanking the Indians for this “clean chit” vis-é-vis the rest of the world, one notes on the other hand that the Indians speak of multiple threats, in contrast to Pakistan the rest of the world has reason to fear from India’s nuclear potential.  Otherwise, why not de-nuclearize South Asia as per Pervez Musharraf’s offer?

Let see what a roadmap to lasting peace should look like, viz (1) restoration of full diplomatic facilities between the two countries (2) restoration of all air, road and rail links between the two countries (3) restoration of all sports and cultural activities (4) cessation of all hostile activity, including incessant artillery and machine gun fire across the LOC (5) placing of international monitors alongwith helicopters and sensor equipment along the LOC to interdict any crossing of the LOC from either side (6) placing of international monitors within Indian-occupied Kashmir to check the unrestrained violence  on non-combatants (7) simultaneous and separate talks on all issues including Jammu and Kashmir separately at the Secretary level (8) restoration of trade ties on an equitable basis, in fact making the whole of South Asia a free trade area, common currency in addition to the national currency and (9) negotiation of gas pipeline from Iran and Afghanistan through Pakistan to India. Pakistan has already showed its good faith by not bringing the Kashmir issue in isolation into the UN Security Council despite the fact that we have the UN Presidency for the month of May and can easily do so.

Peace with India must remain our topmost priority but it can only happen when the Indians accept that Pakistan has a place under the South Asian sun. While troops must pull back on both sides of the LOC, the road to peace lies in the Kashmir valley being fully demilitarised and policed by joint units from both armies. With free access to Kashmiris on both sides of the LOC, there will be no need for continued military confrontation. While hoping for a favourable solution of the Kashmir problem, we will have to engage in an exercise of give and take. Pakistan cannot avoid the fact that any solution has to be also palatable to the broad masses of Indians.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).