January 2004 News

Conditions Are Conducive For A Ceasefire That Holds

2 January 2004
The Times of India

New Delhi: I watched a quiz show for secondary school children on one of the TV channels. One of the questions was: What was the reaction of the young participants to the recent ceasefire between India and Pakistan? The team which gave the winning answer said: 'We do not understand what is happening. We read reports that both countries are making suggestions for peace. Then there are wars like Kargil. Vajpayee and Musharraf keep fighting. We feel the ceasefire should hold. More importantly, our leaders should realise that young people of both countries do not want war. We must have good relations based on mutual accommodation.' It is my gut feeling that young people in Pakistan are equally in favour of peace and normalcy. Are the mutually offered ceasefire proposals going to translate into discussions on substantive issues and a cooperative relationship between India and Pakistan? Prime Minister Jamali offered ceasefire proposals on November 24. By November 26, India had accepted, extending the ceasefire to the Siachen sector beyond the point up to which the LoC was demarcated in detail. The ceasefire has come into force since the night of November 26. A curious aspect of the ceasefire is the emotionalism which characterises relations between peoples of all categories in India and Pakistan. Members of the Indian and Pakistani security forces who have fought many wars since Independence, and who continue to fire on each other whenever the necessity arises, met each other on Id to exchange sweets. All this within a matter of hours of the confrontationist posture being ended by government orders on both sides. People of both sides who are involved in Track II contacts returned to their countries touched by the warmth shown by the other side. Pakistan's prime minister made the ceasefire offer just before Id to match Prime Minister Vajpayee's offer to normalise Indo-Pakistan relations just before Diwali. It could be considered a message to the people of India in general and to the people of J&K in particular, of Pakistan's desire to generate an atmosphere of peace. It was interesting that he did not link this to the pre-condition of discussions on Kashmir. India responded positively to Jamali's offer. An additional reason for this could be the increasing pressure on India by world powers to resume dialogue with Pakistan and similar pressure on Pakistan to dissociate itself from terrorist activities. There are also indications of increasing opposition to Musharraf engineered by extremist Islamic groups within Pakistan moving the government to take sterner action against them. Thus, the punitive government decisions against the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Another reason is the groundswell of public opinion in Pakistan to have peace with India to which Jamali is more sensitive than Musharraf. Musharraf, for his own survival, might have endorsed the ceasefire initiative. There is also the reported gesture from him that he will relinquish the post of chief of army staff by the end of 2004. Last, but not least, the Pakistani initiative must have been animated by the desire to show that the Pakistani government is desirous of creating a positive atmosphere for the SAARC summit. India's response is also rooted in similar considerations. Vajpayee would like to project the image of being a statesman committed to resolving Indo-Pakistan ties before the general elections of 2004. This is a distinctly positive development. Civil aviation talks between India and Pakistan held in December have now resulted in the restoration of civil aviation contacts and overflight facilities. External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha has confirmed that India is serious about moving towards a dialogue based on the Jamali-Vajpayee proposals. All major powers have welcomed the initiatives. The media, in India more than in Pakistan, is gushing with optimism. These developments are positive and could become the basis for meaningful discussions for peace in the sub-continent. This reasoning, however, has to be tempered with realism. The ceasefire has not resulted in any great reduction in cross-border terrorism in J&K. In any case there is always a downscaling of such cross-border violence during winter. The question is whether there are indications of any change in Pakistan's views on dealing with Kashmir, and about their support to violent militancy in J&K. President Musharraf's press interview of December 17 shows a positive shift. He has said that Pakistan will set aside the view that the UN Security Council resolutions should form the basis for a solution of the Kashmir issue. He added that he is willing to come half way if India shows some effort to come to a compromise on the Kashmir issue. Prime Minister Vajpayee, on his part, has moved away from his old stand of not meeting Jamali or Musharraf during the SAARC summit. J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed contributed to this optimism when he announced that the LoC may not be the basis of a solution, but it could be part of it. Clearly, any Indo-Pak dialogue would take off from the ground already covered at Lahore and Agra, and on the tentative agreements reached earlier between the two countries on issues related to Siachen, Wullar Barrage, demarcation of the boundary at the Sir Creek and so on. Kashmir and the management of the results of the nuclear weaponisation of both the countries should be prioritised in this agenda. Despite the long history of adversarial relationship between India and Pakistan, one phenomenon underlines public feeling in both countries. First, the pre-Partition linkages still have some emotional resonance in relations between the two peoples. Second, in more recent times there is genuine desire for normalcy and peace, and in not letting them become hostage to concerns like Kashmir. One accepts that the issues affecting Indo-Pak relations are complex and need patience. Discussions on these should be undertaken realistically without illusions, taking into account developments on the ground as separate from policy pronouncements. The ceasefire provides an opportunity for governments of the two countries to reason together. Hopefully, they will do so.


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