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June 8, 2001
The Rediff Interview/Kalim Bahadur, professor of South Asian Studies
What do you expect out of these talks?
Neither side has shown any change in their existing positions on Indo-Pak issues. By training, a military regime is a rigid. Its flexibility is very limited. But a democratic regime understands the importance of compromises. They can retreat in negotiations and understand political reality and situations better. But a military regime is trained to capture, not give away anything.
The issues are so complex that it is not possible to have a breakthrough in one meeting. The only outcome of the talks will be the fact that they have ultimately met.
Very pessimistic assessment there.
It might release the tension and improve the present environment in the subcontinent. General Musharraf may talk about cricket and India may make some concessions. That is the maximum that will happen in the talks.
India seems keen on peace. What about Pakistan?
Today, just around two to three thousand militants are holding up a big section of the Indian Army. It is actually a cheap war as far as Pakistan is concerned. So, Pakistan wants a low-intensity conflict without resolving it.
General Musharraf has said earlier that even if the Kashmir issue is resolved, the conflict will continue. It means Kashmir is not the core issue.
What, then, is the core issue?
There is so much both these countries could do together. Trade, for instance.
Pakistan said it would not grant India the 'Most Favoured Nation Status'. We granted it, but they are not ready. It is Pakistan and not India that loses in the bargain.
Between both countries, there is limited trade now. But the potential before both countries runs into several billion dollars. So if the two countries do not trade the way they should, there will be smuggling of goods. In the bargain, both countries stand to lose revenue.
But General Musharraf is under tremendous pressure at home after accepting the invitation.
He is under pressure on both the international and domestic fronts. On the domestic front, fundamentalists and militants do not want him to come to India for talks.
Pakistan's economic situation is very bad. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will not grant loans if they do not work towards peace. So General Musharraf is under international pressure to visit India.
Since the 1998 nuclear tests of Pakistan, foreign exchange reserves have come down. Foreign investments have gone down and international aid today is very meagre.
How will Pakistan manage with a situation like this?
Well, countries like Sudan are also pulling along though they are worse off than Pakistan.
Will the prime minister be able to pull this summit off?
The prime minister who runs such a diverse coalition is trained to consider compromises and flexibility. But a military leader looks at the issue in a rigid way and finding a common ground is not easy.
In 1977, there was an agreement between the foreign secretaries of both countries for a composite dialogue where committees would discuss various issues, including Kashmir. But this has really not gone forward, apart from one meeting in Lahore.
What about the common people in Pakistan?
The common people in Pakistan want peace. The political class wants relations with India only after the Kashmir issue is resolved to their satisfaction. We can only live with the hope that we see a solution.
Will the question of the LoC be addressed?
Pakistanis want to change the status quo in Kashmir. But if you want to keep the LoC as it is, it is like maintaining the status quo. They will not agree.
The core issue in Kashmir is the valley. It is not Jammu or the Leh areas. If the LoC is made a permanent border, then Kashmir stays with us. Why will Pakistan agree to this?
How did you see the cease-fire initiative?
It was hoped that the cease-fire would reduce violence and provide some relief to the people of Kashmir. But only the Indian Army was maintaining the cease-fire. We had to replace the cease-fire with a new initiative.
We did give peace a chance for six months. But it did not work. So, the best alternative now is to talk to Pakistan. We were looking for a genuine settlement and that is why we declared the cease-fire.
There is a lot of scepticism about the talks.
Yes, there is scepticism. It is bound to be there. It is a very complex issue with a lot of background and history to it. It cannot be solved in a day. After the Lahore Declaration, we saw Kargil happening. So, people are naturally watching. Everyone wants to keep their fingers crossed.
Any lessons here for Indian negotiators?
We must now look at our national interests. If we have to make concessions, it should be only within the parameters of our national interest. Nothing should be done to damage our secular democratic identity and there should be no compromise on this.
How would you rate General Musharraf's tenure?
General Musharraf has not shown any great initiative. Ever since he took over, it has been a poor performance. Today, he has no clue how to resolve the country's economic, social and political mess.
As soon as he took over, General Musharraf had promised to clean the country of corruption.
Corruption is very much there. He did not come to fight corruption. Every Pakistani ruler has made this statement and ended up becoming corrupt with even their relatives becoming millionaires. This is a systemic problem in Pakistan. No general has been able to clean Pakistani society. In fact, they left the country in a bigger mess than before.
Does not the military regime realize that supporting militancy and terrorism can ultimately backfire?
Of course, they realize that terrorism is going to backfire. But the military cannot stop the militants. The political situation is such in Pakistan that the military regime does not want to tackle the jihadis. Then there are many sections clamouring for the restoration of democracy.
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