Water from India, terrorism from Pakistan
23 January 2002
The Indian Express
K P FABIAN
New Delhi: It was British premier Harold Wilson who once said that a week is too long a period in politics meaning thereby that a week can make a lot of difference. He has been proved right. It was a week ago that President Pervez Musharraf made his much-awaited address to his nation and the tension in the subcontinent has come down to the relief of all of us who did not want to see another war between India and Pakistan. Such a war might have killed hundreds before the UN Security Council would have called for a ceasefire and return of forces to pre-hostility positions, virtually neutralising any advantage India might have gained on the ground. It is amusing and at the same time sobering to reflect that itís none other than US Secretary of State General Colin Powell who is serving as a conduit for exchange of messages between India and Pakistan. Of course, the American general is more than a postman. When India mobilised its forces along the border, it appeared that Musharraf had to make a choice between going to war against India and taking measures asked for by India. The general has been clever enough to create fresh space for himself to manouevre. In fact, he did an Indian rope-trick on India. He put out that he was going to make an important, path-breaking speech, consulted the Americans at the drafting stage of the speech and delivered a speech cleverly calculated to diminish Indiaís room for manouevring. He projected himself as the Kemal Ataturk of Pakistan chosen by destiny to take Pakistan from theocracy to modernity. The Americans and the rest of the West have not ceased praising him. For once India took time for reflection before responding to the speech. In fact, the Cabinet Committee on Security met to consider the speech. Finally, New Delhi has responded rather positively, but without enthusiasm. New Delhiís dilemma is understandable. If it agrees to talks, it will have to start pulling the battle-ready troops from the border. For a long time to come India will not be able to deploy troops along the border and derive diplomatic mileage out of such deployment. What is it that India could have done in response to the speech? Let us conduct a thought experiment: India welcomes the positive elements in the speech and announces that it is ready to send Jaswant Singh to Islamabad for talks to create conditions for the pull back of the troops. India is prepared to pull back the troops provided Pakistan demonstrates its willingness and ability to prevent the flow of terrorism from Pakistan or Pakistan-controlled territory. India cannot accept a state of affairs where life-supporting water flows from India to Pakistan for Pakistanís use under the Indus Water Treaty of 1960, uninterrupted even by the wars of 1965, 1972 and the Kargill war whereas life-destroying terrorism flows in the reverse direction. It is for Pakistan to choose whether it wants to live as a good neighbor, but it cannot pick and choose areas for cooperation. But before Singh goes to Pakistan, as a demonstration of its seriousness of purpose Pakistan should send to India the Indian nationals who have taken refuge in that country after committing crimes including acts of terrorism. As regards the negative elements in the speech, relating to Kashmir, while India understood the domestic compulsions for a tough talk on Kashmir, it had no hesitation in telling Pakistan that by sponsoring terrorism Pakistan has not earned any right to be a valid interlocutor on Kashmir, an integral part of India. It does not need hindsight to realise that India should have sent out signals about its intention to renegotiate the Indus Water Treaty right at the beginning, instead of mobilising troops, recalling the High Commissioner and cutting the rail and road links. It is common sense on the one hand and on the other a simple application of Kissingerís famous theory of linkages.