January 2004 News

India-Pakistan Pact Reflects A New Mood

7 January 2004
The Washington Post

India and Pakistan have a sad history of failed peace initiatives. At least three times in the last four decades, leaders of the two countries have formally pledged to work peacefully to resolve their differences. One such initiative, in 1966, collapsed after the Indian prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died of a heart attack within hours of signing the document.

But the landmark accord between Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan`s president, and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India -- reached here Tuesday on the sidelines of a summit of South Asian leaders -- could prove more durable than its predecessors, according to diplomats, analysts and politicians and officials from both countries. The single biggest reason for that improved outlook, by all accounts, is the changed political climate in Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Though Indian officials have long been skeptical -- in fact, openly contemptuous -- of Musharraf`s stated commitment to ending Pakistan`s support for extremist groups, they have recently begun to take a more sympathetic view of the Pakistani leader.

India`s national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, told Indian newspaper editors in New Delhi on Wednesday that `India truly believes Musharraf is a changed man` after narrowly escaping two recent attempts on his life blamed on Islamic militants, according to one of the journalists present. Mishra also told the editors that Vajpayee is now inclined to believe that Musharraf is sincere about curbing militant activity in Kashmir -- the divided Himalayan region at the center of the 56-year rivalry between India and Pakistan -- and for that reason agreed to start formal peace talks next month.

Other factors contributed to the accord, analysts said, including: the emergence of India and Pakistan over the last decade as nuclear powers, which has greatly raised the stakes in their conflict; the desire of both governments to cultivate good relations with the United States and to open up trade within the region; the domestic political strength of both Vajpayee and Musharraf, which has rendered them less vulnerable to hard-liners who may oppose peace; and the proliferation of private media outlets on the Internet and cable television in the region, which has greatly increased the flow of information across their border.

In many ways, analysts said, the agreement is the natural outgrowth of a trend that has been building since Musharraf made a historic U-turn and pledged after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States to abandon Pakistan`s support for the Taliban and other extremist groups and to cooperate with the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Many governments, especially India`s, have challenged the sincerity of that pledge in light of evidence that Pakistan was continuing to support militant activity in Kashmir. As recently as a few months ago, according to an associate of Musharraf`s who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Pakistani leader had continued to argue privately that his country could balance its need for good relations with the United States with continued, discreet support for militant groups cultivated by Pakistan`s security services as an irregular army against India.

`He was wavering,` the associate said. `He was double-minded. He was under different competing pressures, and he was trying to please both parties, both internally and externally.` More recently, Musharraf has begun to argue publicly that the groups, some of which have been implicated in sectarian killings, pose a greater threat to Pakistan than they do to India -- a conviction that has deepened since the recent assassination attempts, which Musharraf has blamed on Pakistani militants. At the background briefing, Mishra said that `India has assured Pakistan that tomorrow if there is a deadly attack in Kashmir, New Delhi would not go hysterical and call the talks off,` according to the participant.

`India told him that we know there are already some` militants in the part of Kashmir that India controls and `they will try to create trouble as a protest,` the participant quoted Mishra as saying. `What we will be watching is what you do on your territory to stop the activities, how you shut it down.` Mishra also told the editors that Indian officials insisted Musharraf give a written commitment to dismantling terrorist groups -- he has previously given verbal assurances -- and Musharraf agreed to do so. In part because it was so unexpected, the statement that grew out of Vajpayee`s and Musharraf`s hour-long meeting on Monday and a telephone conversation the next day has sent hopes for a peaceful settlement soaring across South Asia.

It was less than two years ago that the two rivals were poised for an all-out war that many feared could escalate into the world`s first nuclear exchange. `It`s fantastic, unbelievable, extraordinary,` said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and former defense secretary who writes frequently on security issues. `If it really is implemented in its true spirit, it will seem like a dream come true.` Masood and other analysts tempered their exuberance, knowing that the two sides remain far apart on the terms of any settlement for Kashmir, which is known formally as Jammu and Kashmir. India, which controls the bulk of the region, considers Kashmir an integral part of the country, while Pakistan since 1989 has backed an Islamic insurgency in the mostly Muslim Kashmir Valley.

Some leaders of the insurgency have condemned Tuesday`s agreement as a betrayal and vowed to keep fighting; Musharraf acknowledged at a news conference Tuesday that `extremists on both sides` may try to block any progress toward a settlement. `Any Pakistani leader who sells out the Kashmiri freedom struggle will not survive,` said Qare Subhan Ahmad, a senior figure in Lashkar-i-Taiba, one of several militant groups that Musharraf banned after the Sept. 11 attacks. `Musharraf must remember the Indians are talking to him only because thousands of Kashmiris gave their lives fighting Indian forces in the valley,` he said in a telephone interview. Tahir Amin, an MIT-educated professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, warned that the accord could prove to be another `false start,` especially if the United States failed to buttress the effort with vigorous diplomacy. `If you leave India and Pakistan alone, they will never be able to resolve the dispute,` he said.

`Even now there are so many slips between cup and lip. Anything can go wrong.` For the moment, however, many Pakistanis and Indians appear to be celebrating the agreement, which follows a series of efforts by both governments to normalize relations in areas such as transportation, cultural exchanges and trade. `How can we say we are against this great move for peace?` said Fazlur Rahman, a hard-line cleric with close ties to Afghanistan`s Taliban movement and leader of one of Pakistan`s most prominent religious parties. `I have no doubts in my mind that Vajpayee is a visionary and is making a sincere effort.

 

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