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July 17, 2001
Few steps backward
Indo-Pak talks have always been occasions when hype scores over substance, and the latest round in Agra has merely lived up to precedent.
Much as the human heart may have yearned for a 'breakthrough' in the bedeviled relations between the two co-sanguinous nations, a practical assessment of the situation would have neon-lighted the fact that there can be no 'solution' so long as the two choose the option of negotiations.
By its very definition, the talk process indicates and involves a degree of willingness to accommodate the other point of view. And by their very nature, neither nation is willing, or even capable, of resiling from its stated position on Kashmir.
Regardless of Pakistan's insistence that it be nominated so, and India's prudery when it comes to even mentioning the dreaded K-word, it is obvious to the world that Kashmir is not only the core issue that is fogging things up, but the one issue that needs to be tackled if progress is to be made on any other front.
India's stance at the recently concluded of non-talks is mystifying as it is bizarre. Having been frogmarched by the United States to the negotiating table, India had little reason to cringe from discussing Kashmir. After all, when you are keen on discussing cross-border terrorism, there is no point eschewing the context within which such a hostile act is committed -- which is Kashmir.
Thus, we have the strange sight of a man who, just weeks ago, was seen as an international pariah, walking away smelling of roses, while India has squandered the enormous advantage that Jaswant Singh's diplomacy had earned for it.
Of course it was wrong to have allowed the US to lead us to the negotiating table, but having agreed to the talks, India ought to have pulled out all the stops to ensure that the outcome -- while not matching the media hype -- at least meets it half way. Now it is back to the drawing board all over again for both sides, but with a difference: in this game of high-stakes diplomacy, Islamabad has once again put it across to New Delhi, quite effortlessly.
Which really takes one back to the question: given our innate inferiority when it comes to dealing with our western neighbour, is it any wonder that its people wanted to break away from us 54 years ago? I mean, who would relish the thought of being ruled by an establishment of cretins?
Where India has failed, and where Pakistan has scored over it, is in how they both perceive the process of talks. For New Delhi, talks are an end in itself. If it talks about Kashmir, then the state is as good as gone. But for Islamabad, the talks are only a means to an end, which is to gain legitimacy for its stand. Knowing India's weakness, it can raise the ante every time the two gird up for talks, secure in the knowledge that India is no match for its thrust and parry. Conventional warfare may give India a huge edge, but when was the last time any international dispute was sorted out satisfactorily through the barrel of the gun?
Given this chasm in their perceptions, is it any wonder that India has come off looking like a petulant child who is afraid that the neighbour will snatch its toy, while Pakistan seems to be the one bereft of its belonging, never mind the toy it is bawling over never belonged to it, and insha'allah will never belong to it!
But despite such a setback, if all is not lost for India, then obviously its case has some merit, even though it is being swaddled in the wreaths of sheer inefficiency. The thing to do, it seems to me -- and I say this with due apologies to the scholarly Arvind Lavakare -- is to play Pakistan on its turf.
Right now, the situation that is facing us is where there is no forward progress on any front, thanks to India's reluctance, I would even say obduracy, to not bring Kashmir under the ambit of any discussion with Pakistan. All along we kept turning down the offer of tripartite talks, before agreeing to talk to Pakistan -- before refusing to even mention Kashmir.
It doesn't matter what diplomatese says, there is only one issue between the two countries, and that needs to be discussed. If India's stand is going to be that even a discussion is not to be held, then let us all prepare ourselves for the long haul, for a crippling low-resolution war on the western front and the accompanying communal sabotage across the country. We have lived with it, and we can surely endure this war of attrition.
A wiser course would be to discuss the Kashmir issue with Pakistan, and in the meantime ensure a forward movement on other fronts, like the economy for one. Who knows -- and this is a fervent wish -- then perhaps a time will come when the two sides will have moved on so far that Kashmir, far from being a major hurdle to peace, will become a mere pebble.
There is no way of knowing unless we try it out. What we do know is that the last 50 or so years of behaving like an outraged virgin in a raucous prom every time Kashmir is mentioned, has not helped us one bit. To me it seems it is time to change our tactic.
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