Issue No 69, Nov 30-Dec 6, 2003 | ISSN:1684-2075 | satribune.com

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Opinion

 

Read Praful Bidwai's Column on the Same Subject

Read an Indian Scholar's Views

Don't Read Too Much in the New Peace Initiatives

By Shaheen Sehbai

THE NEW SET of peace bombs hurled at each other by Pakistan and India, the “Ceasefire” in Kashmir making the most noise, should not be considered a major breakthrough as the real intent is not peace but to acquire domestic political mileage and befool the West, if possible.

It is more so because there was no war being fought in Kashmir as such. Using the term “ceasefire” is thus misleading and self-serving. For years no party has ever admitted that it was carrying out a war on the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed territory of Kashmir. The LoC is actually a ceasefire line and was known as such before it was renamed.

The fact that Prime Minister Jamali of Pakistan made the ceasefire announcement reveals more about the move than what he said. Mr. Jamali has been very humble and subservient to the military regime and in 12 months, has not taken a single decision, big or small, without the express permission and prior approval of President Pervez Musharraf.

Foreign policy, of all the subjects, has been such a forbidden zone that once Mr. Jamali made an announcement by mistake, of appointing Riaz Ahmed Khan as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India and within 12 hours the name was changed by the Foreign Office. Jamali was left with egg on his face. A major initiative like a ceasefire by Mr. Jamali has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

India has responded by offering a ceasefire at Siachin, the war zone closest to the Heavens or Hell. Again no war was going on there and neither of the “warring” parties was actually interested or willing to continue this high cost occupation of a useless glacier. In fact in Benazir Bhuttos’ second government, an agreement had been discussed, drafted, initialed and was waiting for the final official stamp when the Pakistan Army derailed the process, in an earlier version of Kargil. That agreement would have pulled back both the armies from the bone chilling heights to more hospitable levels.

The real purpose of these initiatives is thus to assure the concerned West, led by Washington, that the two governments are ‘serious’ about peace and are moving in that direction. The widespread media coverage to the imaginary ceasefire would then be very reassuring for Mr. Jamali. Mr. Vajpayee, who has already declared that his initiative was the last attempt for peace, would also try to make the most of it.

The only real difference the new ceasefire on the LoC could make is speculative. India says Pakistani troops open fire to provide cover to infiltrators to enter Kashmir for terrorism. If India is satisfied that infiltration from the Pakistani side would stop, then Mr. Jamali may have provided New Delhi a face saver for moving forward with a dialogue. But to determine whether cross border infiltration has stopped would take weeks and months. The extreme cold winter months are in any case a lean period for such infiltration. This is also true for Siachin where in winter life freezes.

What then will be gained by the big hoopla about these peace bombs, and by whom?

In Pakistan General Musharraf is under increasing pressure to allow the elected government some space and he has decided to let Jamali share some limelight in a non-domestic sector. It is more of a face saver for Mr. Jamali than for Mr. Vajpayee. And General Musharraf can also get up and tell any foreign journalist that the elected PM was in control, even of such sensitive subjects as relations with India. Practically this would all be a farce.

Mr. Vajpayee, on the other hand, has committed to visit Islamabad in January for the SAARC summit and is looking for some gestures, which may provide him the justification, at least to meet and talk with the Pakistani leaders. So far the Indians have strongly denied that SAARC will be used for any bilateral Indo-Pak negotiations. The Indians, in fact, are so cautious they did not allow Pakistan’s publicity-seeking Information, Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, more than 20 seconds with Mr. Vajpayee at the last SAARC ministerial meeting in New Delhi.

The real issue between India and Pakistan is credibility and trust. Both sides want peace and are ready to offer concessions. But to whom, is the big question. Mr. Vajpayee knows that General Musharraf is the man who sabotaged all his previous initiatives, Lahore Bus Diplomacy and Agra included, bringing him to a point where he was forced to announce that he would make his last peace bid and then give up. For a politician this is a major admission of failure.

For General Musharraf the issue is how not to give up power to a political leadership but use the same leadership to convince the Indians and the world that he is sincere for peace. His job is doubly difficult. Using Jamali as the front man further strengthens the perception that Musharraf has not closed his petty (read dirty) tricks department. It erodes confidence in him as a sincere leader who is not trying to insult the intelligence of others.

If Pakistan Army has really decided to have peace with India, the most credible and honest way would be for General Musharraf to re-establish his credibility first, come clean on what happened in Kargil and who derailed the Lahore process. He should then discuss with the entire political leadership of the country, opposition leaders in Pakistan and in exile included, to agree on the policy bottom line for Pakistan on Kashmir.

Once this is set, Mr. Jamali should be given a free hand to negotiate, like in 1988 when under another military dictator General Zia ul Haq, the then Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo negotiated the Geneva Accords with the Soviets for troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. A deal with India, which has the support of the Pakistani people, will last. Nothing else will change the status quo.

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