July 14, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Ashok Kapur, professor, University of Waterloo, Canada

'Kashmir will be the last issue to be resolved'

Ashok Kapur, professor of political science at Canada's University of Waterloo and Indo-Pak analyst, has commented extensively on India's foreign policy. An expert on nuclear issues, he has been very critical of the non-proliferation treaty and calls himself a hawk.

In a conversation with Ramesh Menon, Kapur says while the United States was repositioning itself as far as India was concerned, a stronger Pakistan, was in the interest of both the warring neighbours. Excerpts:

How do you see the relations between India and Pakistan changing?

The relations between India and Pakistan have been one of conflict. Since the mid eighties, people like General Aslam Baig and Zia-ul-Haq altered Pakistan's strategy in a big way. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was interested in the liberation of Kashmir. But there was a big difference between the rhetoric of Bhutto's claim to wage a 1000 years war with India and the actions of Zia and Aslam Baig. Bhutto was just a talker. But, both Zia and Baig really applied their mind to the idea and worked out a military strategy.

Afghanistan played an important role in creating a strategic depth for Pakistan. So did the insurgency in Kashmir.

Pakistan has never been interested in Kashmiri autonomy. The Pakistani agenda was the Valley. Their ambitions increased in the mid-eighties. They thought they would break up Kashmir. What you have seen in Kargil was the continuation of a story that began in the mid-eighties.

Remember how Khalistan was encouraged? In the early eighties there was a three pronged action by Pakistan: the liberation of Afghanistan, support to the Khalistan movement and activating insurgency in Kashmir. Along with this came the ISI. They were building cells in India, particularly in the Northeast, Nepal and Bangladesh. The ISI has ambitions even in Central Asia. Their geo-political strategy is not just focussed on India. It is much larger. But, the strategy failed.

How do you see the visit of the Pakistani President to India?

The big change behind Musharraf’s visit to India is a recognition that the Indian Army has staying power and no matter what Pakistan does, Kashmir cannot be taken by force.

The second recognition is that the Kashmiris themselves cannot liberate Kashmir. Relying on militants from foreign countries is no good as they have no commitment. They are just doing it for money. There is no common support for the militants anymore.

Pakistan thought that India will not fight in Kargil fearing a nuclear war. But instead, India controlled escalation and fought back against very heavy odds. India brought in air power but there was no nuclear war. This came as a great surprise to the west.

Pakistan thought their nuclear capability gave them an umbrella to intensify their conventional intervention strategy. Kargil was planned on that basis. But that idea failed. That became a turning point in understanding that Kashmir could not be liberated by force.

Both the countries have constantly suffered…

If you are building the chronology of events, look at this: In 1947-48, Pakistan got one third of Kashmir. Then, it felt it could get more. In 1965, they thought Kashmir could be liberated by force. But it failed. They also expected that China would help Pakistan. But China was very sensible. It did nothing.

But after the 1971 defeat, there was a mood for revenge. Kargil was one such attempt.

When Vajpayee went to Lahore, Musharraf was already planning Kargil. This was what I call 'Musharraf I' in action.

Nawaz Sharief welcomed Vajpayee when he stepped out of the bus but 'Musharraf I' was not there to welcome him. He was busy with the army who were plotting with the Chinese.

Now, at Agra, we have 'Musharraf II.' He is fed up with the ISI as he has realized that it will not be able to do anything substantial. He wants to talk to India as he realizes that the reality has changed.

What should India keep in mind while talking to Pakistan?

In Pakistan, the nerve-center is the army. India should be looking at the Pakistani Army as the primary negotiator. They have the power to deliver results. But Musharraf will need something in return. Something has to be done to show that the Kashmir issue is being taken seriously by India.

India has to create an institutional framework to talk of Kashmir and associated issues. Just saying we will talk only of economic linkages or so on, is not enough.

What do you think the summit will deliver?

It depends on the personal chemistry of the two leaders. It is out of the hands of the bureaucracy on both sides. It is now in the hands of the highest political powers. Which is a good thing. Bureaucracy should not be involved in the early stages of rapprochement, as they have fixed ideas.

It is the responsibility of the top leadership to come up with a realistic process. If they can come up with a few ideas to deal with tough issues and create some economic linkages, it will be a success. But it has to be an ongoing process. The US-China dialogue took many years. So did Camp David and the German unification.

What you are saying is that no one should expect a miracle in Agra?

We should not expect miracles. It is a question of creating space for both sides. It will be futile for one side or the other to rush claiming victory. It has to be mutually advantageous.

And Kashmir?

Kashmir will be the last thing to be resolved as it is the hardest. There is too much of emotion involved on both sides. You have to heal the wounds through other means first and keep the dialogue going. This is the only thing that India and Pakistan can do together. It is for the political leadership to provide the necessary direction to their bureaucracy.

Social forces can be great motivators.

Absolutely. The business community is very important. Then, the press is very important. The press can be propagandist but it can also educate people. The press does not make policy but it can give the complete picture.

What about academic exchanges. India has already made some moves to get Pakistani scholars.

It is an excellent idea. If they come and study in India, they will see both good and bad things. They will see the working of a democracy. They will see the huge Indian Railways at work, they will see information technology at work.

Maybe, we should think in terms of a joint Indo-Pak information highway. The web can do wonders not only for spreading information right now, but also for future generations. Scholars can provide a database on conflict resolution. It can be used to learn useful lessons.

There is a lot that the two countries could do.

India and Pakistan are not just two countries. They are a quarter of humanity. So it is a big challenge before Vajpayee and Musharraf to deliver. So they should rise to the occasion. They are capable of doing it.

How has world perception changed as far as India is concerned?

The BBC still uses the term 'Indian subcontinent.' The realities are evident. It is clear that India is now a military and economic power. A high level Pentagon study shows that assuming a six per cent growth of the Indian economy, India and China will be two world-class economies by 2025 overtaking Germany and Japan.

This is one of the major inputs propelling United States-India repositioning.

It is not only India that is repositioning itself in relation to the United States, it is America which is repositioning its relations with India.

Only the Chinese have a problem with India. They will probably be the last ones to come around. It is going to be very painful for the Chinese.

Is this going to help peace?

The Europeans have accepted the proposition that India is now in a strategic position, has staying power and despite corruption and inefficiency, there is something good going on. America, Europe, Japan, Australia are all repositioning... all this has an impact on the Indo-Pakistan dialogue. Pakistan knows that it must come to terms with India and if synergy… if economic linkages can be developed then the world community will develop a strong incentive for investment.

In both countries?

Yes, in both countries. There are pockets of excellence in Pakistan. But there is also a high degree of feudalism. It will be easier in India because there is greater diversity. If the Indian economy becomes efficient, it becomes a powerful engine. All this has made Pakistan realize the facts. Building cooperative links that are mutually beneficial will go a long way.

Would you say that a stronger Pakistan is in India's interest?

Very much so. Because even if we look at a Talebanised Afghanistan, Pakistan is a wonderful buffer for India. The Pakistani Army is still a professional army. There maybe some Islamic influence in the lower ranks, but in the officer core, the top brass is professional.

It is one thing to use the Taleban in Afghanistan and another to have a Talebanised Pakistan. Even the Chinese five years down the road, will stop fishing in this neighbourhood because at some point the militants will move into the minority Muslim pockets there. It is already there.

So you are saying that a professional Pakistani army is a good negotiating partner for India.

Yes. India has several negotiating partners in Pakistan. So, links with the military should be developed. Economic linkages between the business communities. Press, social scientists should be roped into finding solutions. Then we have women who are a very important force. Women can be mobilized and gender issues addressed.

It has never happened before.

It has never happened before. But look at this: the two Koreas can start talking at the state level and people to people level. The Germans developed a network of agreements before the Berlin wall came down. The Egyptians and the Israelis can have a cold peace, which is better than war. The Chinese and the Americans could overcome such deep hostility. They fought each other in the Korean war. If Vietnam and America can make peace, why not India and Pakistan? Once you get the ball rolling, it will work.

A military option is too costly. It is counter-productive. The unilateral moves that the Vajpayee government is making are great.

Indo-Pak summit: The complete coverage
The Bus to Pakistan: The complete coverage

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