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The Indo-Pak Peace Charade

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October 23, 2003 16:50 IST

It's a huge gamble.

But whether it reflects the desperation of the Vajpayee government to score a success in Kashmir before next year's general election or a well-thought out policy with exit clauses in case of failure remains to be seen.

Resumption of sporting ties, a bus service to Muzafarrabad -- (are we finally, formally, recognising the reality of 'Occupied Kashmir'?) -- and other initiatives including Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani's talks with the Hurriyat 'aimed at taking the peace process forward' are all laudatory steps, no doubt.

It is now rather obvious that the only thing that is still held ransom by cross-border terrorism is summit level talks between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

What precisely had Pakistan done over the past days to deserve these gestures?

Has there been a sudden decrease in infiltration? Not if you believe the army.

Has there been a recent unilateral gesture of goodwill from Islamabad? None that I can think of.

What Pakistan has done is test a few more missiles. (So too did India). What Pakistan has done is enter into a 'nuclear weapons for cheap oil' deal with Saudi Arabia, another nation which faces tremendous internal and external pressures. And what Pakistan has done is step up terrorist activities in the Kashmir valley.

So after days of harping on how the prime minister's peace initiative was faltering because of Pakistan's refusal to stem cross border terror, what made India suddenly decide to initiate further peace moves?

Is there a long-term strategy at work here? Are we seriously hoping that just 'people-to-people' contact will be enough to erase the half-century of suspicion, strife and sordid swagger that mark relations between the two nations?

Were these initiatives pre-planned, and waiting to be announced at the right moment? Why is this the right moment?

Were these steps just 'part of that normalisation process' as Yashwant Sinha put it, which had begun before the December 2001 attack on India's Parliament?

Were they prompted on the assumption that Pakistan would then find it hard to show the world that it was still an aggrieved nation, when India repeatedly and unilaterally keeps making the peace moves?

Here's the 12-point initiative announced by Yashwant Sinha on Wednesday afternoon, courtesy CNN.

1. Resume talks to restore civil aviation links, including overflight rights.

2. Discuss a resumption of rail links, following aviation talks.

3. Resume bilateral sporting encounters, including cricket.

4. Issue visas in cities outside the two countries' national capitals, to shorten travel.

5. Permit individuals aged at least 65 to cross into India by foot. Previously only groups could walk across, while individuals had to be on a bus.

6. Run more buses on the New Delhi to Lahore, Pakistan route that now operates.

7. Establish links between the two countries' coast guards, before and after fishing season.

8. Have India and Pakistan stop arresting each other's fishermen within certain sea areas.

9. Provide free medical treatment to 20 Pakistani children.

10. Have India and Pakistan increase the staff of each nation's embassy.

11. Consider ferry service between Bombay and Pakistan's Karachi city.

12. Start new bus services, one between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the respective capitals of Indian-and Pakistani-controlled portions of Kashmir. The other would be a bus or rail link between Khokhropar in Pakistan's Sind province and Munaba in India's Rajasthan state.

The revival of sporting ties, particularly cricket, will of course put tremendous pressure on athletes on both sides. It will also bring back a lot of money and excitement into the game. Both legally and illegally.

On the communications front, air links have been held up because Islamabad wants iron-clad guarantees which New Delhi is loath to give. But I suspect a deal will be brokered soon.

As for the bus to Muzaffarabad, this is said to be longstanding demand from Kashmiri families on both sides of the line of control, who have been separated since soon after Partition.

But at the same time, there's that nagging Indian parliamentary resolution which declares that the entire undivided Kashmir belongs to India. (that's why it's called Pakistan occupied Kashmir ). That brings up a host of interesting situations which legal luminaries are better suited to address.

Is this the first step towards declaring the Line of Control as the official border? If yes, will that in any way ease the terrorist traffic?

Questions, questions, and more questions. All with more than one correct answer.

I could be hopelessly wrong, but I suspect that what we are seeing is a an elaborate tit for tat charade being played out in the corridors of power in Washington and New Delhi, which essentially boils down to something like: 'You declare Dawood Ibrahim a terrorist, and I'll announce a few more peace measures.'

It's that old game called 'You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.'

If that is indeed the case, Indian diplomacy has truly come of age.

Troops for Iraq, anyone?

Ramananda Sengupta