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M.L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur

The Vajpayee initiative must be welcomed as a sincere effort to build a new and sound Indo-Pakistani security architecture.  The forthcoming meeting is an opportunity to build a new relationship by starting a serious dialogue now.  To succeed it must rely on the continuous involvement of the Indian military leadership and its political masters on the Indian side, and the thinking of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments and their Islamic constituents within Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Non-governmental organisations, well meaning journalists with “Indo Pakistan friendship” credentials, civil society advocates and Track II advocates have no meaningful role.  They are unelected, self-appointed intermediaries, who do not speak for the principals and who more often than not confuse and distract rather than settle issues.  They do not face the bullets and talk is cheap because they do not have to take any risks in deadly quarrels.  The main stakeholders are the governments on both sides because it is now in their interest to find common ground for regional peace. Track II agendas have more to do with the agendas of the participants than with the development of a win-win situation for the collectivities in India and Pakistan.  The real dialogue should be private, both sides should spell out their wish list in a low key manner, and once the agendas are on the table, it may be possible to create the basis of a discourse.  The general idea is to first tone down the deadly quarrel in the form of killings and firings over the Line of Control.  This is happening .  The next logical step is to convert the deadly quarrel into a ritual confrontation where “talk, talk is better than fight, fight”.  Once the structure of conflict is stabilised, and it is now in the sense that Indians and Pakistanis are aware of the danger of the escalatory potential of conflict in the area and as Kargil showed they acted to contain it even as they fought hard. 

The principals in the discourse are Indian and Pakistani government practitioners.  For instance, the Hurriyat has no role to play.  Kashmiri “liberation” forces have lost their influence.  They can neither fight successfully nor deliver a political deal i.e. they can neither strike or negotiate successfully.  Politics is about strategies which are effective and appreciated.  Hurriyat has dealt itself out of the decision loop because it is a side kick and the negotiations requires the attendance of the principals at the bargaining table.  The presence of the Indian armed forces under the continuous direction of the Indian political leadership is now a must because they carry the main burden of the fighting and they have much to gain from ceasefires which lead to a political settlement.  There is no danger that the Indian armed forces will run out of threats because China and the Bay of Bengal or Burma and Indian Ocean environments will require the full time attention of the armed forces.

The Vajpayee-Musharraf dialogue has potential now because both have domestic compulsions and both see an opportunity to develop a new framework of action.  The new Bush administration is encouraging discourse privately and it is doing so maturely by shunning the crudity of Madeleine Albright-style pressures.  Pakistan is bankrupt economically.  No one of stature is electable from Pakistan’s political class; the Sharif and Bhutto families have been marginalized, Musharraf cannot extend himself as Army chief when his term ends and he seeks a major role as a civilian, like Indonesia’s Suharto, and he needs political legitimacy.  Talibanised Islam and Pakistan’s support of Afghanistan is giving the Pakistani military a bad name, and the military and the ISI can shed Indian blood but they cannot win Kashmir by force.  Moreover, the Indians have staying power and the costs of military operations is higher for Pakistan’s defence establishment than they are for India.  At the same time, Musharraf must also calculate that Vajpayee too has his compulsions with pressure from the Congress Party, state election losses and as is typical in the subcontinent there are many aspirants for the Prime Minister’s job in the inner circle.  At the same time Vajpayee has courage and imagination.  The Pakistani establishment know him as the author of Pokhran II, Kargil containment, opening up with America, pushing Indian economic reforms and seeker of a dialogue with Pakistan through the Lahore bus diplomacy.  For Pakistan, the plus is that Vajpayee is not interested in breaking up Pakistan because it is in the Indian interest to secure Pakistan as a buffer with Afghanistan.  Vajpayee knows a cardinal rule of statecraft.  Do not create a vacuum in the neighbourhood unless one can fill it.  Right now Vajpayee and Musharraf need each other for their political futures and the well being of their countries.  The answer does not lie in US mediation which General Colin Powell has sensibly ruled out.  The answer lies in a high level discourse, not shrill public diplomacy, and here scholarly background assessments can help define the issues and the arenas for developing multi-pronged channels of building economic cultural and inter-military linkages.  The minus for Pakistani military establishment is that, it cannot win Kashmir militarily, there is no fatigue on the Indian side, the Indian public identified with the Indian armed forces’ commitment to territorial integrity and national security.  The alternative to a negotiated settlement is a costly fight which Pakistan cannot win and which may cause Indians to consider counter-measures in the future.  So the time is right for a serious and on-going discourse which should cut out the distracters and the confusing noise makers from the process.

The dialogue will likely be an extended one.  It should be multi-dimensional.  It is necessary to bring a variety of issues and social forces on the agenda.  Can economic linkages between the two be created?  Can the Line of Control be considered the international border with friendship huts and an open border, or a customs or an economic union of some kind?  Can the activities of “guest mercenaries” be curtailed because they are there because insurgency is good business, not because they care about Kashmiris?  What can Musharraf do to give Vajpayee a stake in the former’s political future?  Can the Pakistani Corps Commanders Committee become the instrument of Pakistani economic reform and Indo-Pakistani bilateral trade and investments?  Can Indo-Pakistani normalization become the basis of the world community’s bigger engagement in the subcontinent’s economic reforms and nation building?  If such questions are considered, the approach to dialogue can be businesslike, not emotional or sentimental and the baggage of the past can be gradually reworked into a proposition that the two countries must share the neighbourhood for their mutual benefit and the collective well being of the people.

The dialogue should rest on several realities.  First, the world community is tired about the Kashmir issue.  The German problem was solved, the two Koreas have begun a discourse and the situation there is stabilizing, so why not try the same in the subcontinent.  The prospects of UN or US mediation are nil and any advocacy along these lines is counterproductive.  China has nothing constructive to offer in the subcontinent.  It is interested more in dangerous meddling in sub-continental affairs rather than in conflict resolution.  Secondly, self-determination is not accepted by the world community as an international norm.  The overriding principle in international law and in international relations is to support territorial integrity and sovereignty.  So the issue is not one of Kashmiri self-determination.  It is to find a realistic basis for an Indo-Pakistani political settlement.

Pakistan is a failing state but it need not fail.  It can reform itself in the economic, social and political spheres with outside help.  Pakistanis are cosmopolitan people, they are talented and motivated.  They can be active partners in shaping a dynamic and a challenging regional environment that touches Central Asia, China, the Indian Ocean area and Southeast Asia.  Instead of canceling each other out the two should be developing regional synergy that advances their interests in a non-zero sum manner.  The costs of Indian defence in Kashmir and Siachin and elsewhere, are less for India than for Pakistan and India has the option to escalate its military strategy if peace diplomacy fails. Vajpayee and Musharraf must not fail to rise to the occasion and avoid their temptation to play to the gallery when history beckons to a higher calling.

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