July 2001 News

The summit

4 July 2001
The Hindu
Kanti Bajpai

NEW DELHI: PEACE RARELY comes as a whole. More often than not, peace comes in parts. The outlines of an India-Pakistan peace as a whole are visible, if somewhat remotely. In all likelihood, it will depend centrally on accepting the Line of Control (LoC) as it is - as a temporary if longish term measure (for the next 25 years perhaps, without prejudice to the competing claims of Indians, Pakistanis, and Kashmiris) - and instituting arrangements that will soften this defacto boundary line and thus serve to unify the social and economic life of Kashmiris. What about the parts that hopefully will take the two countries to this - or some other - mutually acceptable final settlement? The forthcoming summit between the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistani President is about the construction of some of these parts. The summit is unlikely to deliver a full-blown peace agreement given the complexity of issues, the burdens of history, and the difficulties of domestic politics. It can however make a beginning in reducing the level of tensions and charting out a pathway towards a more thoroughgoing peace. What should the Prime Minister and the President do in their three-day meeting? There are four modest but important things and, additionally, three rather more ambitious things they should and can do. First, the two leaders should agree to appoint a special representative or envoy to carry the agenda of discussions forward in the months and years to come. This plenipotentiary should be a person who has the ear and confidence of his or her leader, to be sure, but also commands respect across the political board. He or she should be a political figure, in the best sense of the term, with stature and gravitas. Indian and Pakistani diplomats are amongst the best in the world, but it is unfair to burden them with the very hard decisions that must be made, in the end, by the political leaderships. Nor is it possible for the Prime Minister and the President to meet on a regular basis. That would be straining the limits of diplomatic convention in South Asia, as thing stand, and in any case is not feasible given their other commitments, both domestic and international. Second, Mr. Vajpayee and General Musharaff should announce that their special representatives and their diplomatic/expert teams will meet on a continuous and regular basis, without interruption. As Mr. Mani Shanker Aiyar argued several years ago, the two sides must insulate the talks from the daily ups and downs of domestic politics and bilateral interactions. The special representatives should meet according to a mandated schedule, say three or even four times a year - four would be safer for equity's sake! Third, if nothing else, the two leaders must commit themselves once again to ending hostile propaganda and scoring cheap debating points. Politics is politics, and we must accept that a certain amount of grandstanding is inescapable. Indeed, to some extent, it is vital if a leadership is to ward off the usual chorus of domestic lament and criticism. At least in private, however, the two sides should agree on what is off limits and what is more or less impermissible from now on in terms of official pronouncements and rhetoric. There is a subtler issue here as well, namely, preparing public opinion for the peace process. Gen. Musharraf has spoken out against the jehadis in Pakistan and may even move against them. Mr. Vajpayee is more constrained in what he can effectively do given the wide-open politics of Indian democracy, but as a leader he must lead, and leadership demands that he speak out publicly against those who demonise Pakistan and inflame public opinion on a critical issue of public policy. A fourth agreement relates to military restraint along the LoC. The Pakistanis have already been helpful over the past several months in stopping artillery fire across the LoC. They may also have pulled army units back from forward positions in some areas. Gen. Musharraf could help matters greatly by affirming the continuance of this posture. On the Indian side, Mr. Vajpayee should make a statement committing India to military restraint in Kashmir. India's ceasefire in Kashmir, however imperfect, was the correct step. While New Delhi has terminated that initiative, it must understand that some visible lowering of military force, quantitatively or qualitatively, is a necessary quidproquo for the General. If the summit does no more than this, it will probably have done quite a lot. Rumours suggest that the two sides may discuss and agree on a number of more substantive things - Siachen, confidence building, trade, people-to-people exchanges - all of which would be wonderful bonuses. Of these, Siachen is the most urgent. The cost in blood and treasure is unconscionable given that, in the end, the glacier is strategically speaking irrelevant. The notion of turning it into an ecological/scientific park is an imaginative one and could turn this killing zone into a valuable common resource. However, there are three other areas where progress may be easier. The first of these is arms control. With nuclear weapons about, both sides have an interest in reassuring each other and the world at large that they are attentive to the dangers that these weapons pose. The Lahore agreements, which made Gen. Musharraf and the Pakistan Army so neuralgic in 1999, contained useful ideas on arms control. At least three things are vital here: a nuclear hotline connecting not only political leaders but also military personnel and nuclear scientists; a nuclear risk reduction centre where the two sides, on a continuing basis, monitor each other's nuclear plans, programmes, and postures; and discussions on doctrinal and command and control issues. The second substantive agreement that Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf should aim for is a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar. This idea is already doing the rounds and is a small enough venture, one that probably does not require any inordinate expenditure in terms of political capital. It is a simple, modest initiative and has the advantage of not hurting anyone's interests. On the other hand, it is symbolically rather significant in terms of the softening of the LoC and vitalising a common social life for ordinary Kashmiris. A third substantive accord would be much more ambitious, but one that has been in the wind for some years, namely, the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan. The summit is an opportunity to move this idea towards realisation. India and Pakistan should announce their determination to see the project through and to hold serious, expert discussions on the security and other implications of the scheme. Both countries have at various times supported the idea. Today Islamabad is more enthusiastic in signing an accord, mostly because of the financial benefits that would accrue at a time when the Pakistani exchequer is broke. New Delhi is more sceptical, understandably enough, given that the pipeline must traverse Pakistani territory. However, India should take comfort from the following factors. For one thing, Pakistan has an economic stake in the pipeline. Second, it has a diplomatic interest in a good relationship with Iran. Third, pipelines are not easy to tamper with or destroy. Fourth, Iran has insisted it would guarantee supplies should they be interrupted. Fifth, India could in any case build up a reserve stock to tide over interruptions. Last, historically, India and Pakistan have shown that they can be pragmatic and honourable under duress. A cardinal instance is the Indus rivers treaty which neither side has violated even in wartime. Never in the 50 years of Indian and Pakistani post-independence history, except for the briefest moment in 1947-48, have the two countries had at the helm strong leaders on both sides of the border. Whatever one's political estimation of Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharaff, they are firmly in charge. Strong leaders can make and carry through tough but rational decisions. The upcoming India-Pakistan summit is an opportunity to do just that for the good of over one billion struggling people.

 

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