Kashmir diplomacy moves into higher gear
14 September 2005
The News International
New York: It will be their third meeting within a year. And not in vain. When President General Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meet here over dinner, they would have much to be cheerful about. Pakistani officials say the peace process is on track, and may now be moving into higher gear. In other words, the two sides have moved beyond broad rhetoric and small CBMs Ñ important nonetheless Ñ and are now speaking in specifics. According to senior level sources, the two sides are now exchanging very detailed and very specific proposals on the very intractable issue of Jammu and Kashmir. By any standards, this is quite a leap forward. At the operational level, this leap has been crafted by two men: Tariq Aziz, Secretary of Pakistan's National Security Council, and S K Lambah, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan. In a series of meetings spanning Dubai, London, Islamabad and New York, the two men have been able to formulate a broad framework of understanding on key issues like Kashmir. By doing so, they have been able to gain diplomatic traction for result-oriented negotiations. These talks have gone on quietly, with the full blessing and knowledge of their leaders, and are now at a stage where a degree of realistic optimism has begun to creep in. Lambah paid a discreet and unannounced visit to Islamabad last month where hard preparations were made for the meeting of Musharraf and Manmohan Singh in New York. The Islamabad meeting was kept under strict wraps by both sides. Aziz and Singh then flew into New York a few days ago where they have been continuing their negotiations on the quiet. It is not known what specific agreements they have been able to achieve, but officials here say enough progress has been made to take the process forward in the third round of composite dialogue which will begin in January next year. One specific issue on which serious negotiations are underway is the withdrawal (or reduction) of Indian troops from certain areas of Occupied Kashmir. President Musharraf also brought up this particular issue in his meeting with President Bush on Tuesday. The Indians may not have agreed to this proposal as yet, but the very fact that they are engaging Pakistan on it is a huge development, say Pakistani diplomatic sources. There has also been some broad discussion the President Musharraf's seven proposals for a regional solution to the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan is now keen to invite Dr Manmohan Singh to Pakistan, say officials. The recent meeting between the leadership of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and the Indian prime minister is a key development in the process. By talking seriously to the APHC led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq India has tacitly accepted a trilateral arrangement in the context of Kashmir. Pakistan, for its part, has sidetracked Syed Ali Gilani for long its main man and thrown its support behind the more moderate, and more acceptable, Umar Farooq. This has been received well in New Delhi. The Mirwaiz-led APHC is expected to play a crucial role in the Pakistan-India dialogue on Kashmir in the coming months. This backchannel diplomacy has however not reached a stage where some dramatic results may be in the offing. 'Don't expect any major breakthrough in the Musharraf-Singh New York meeting,' said a source. Meanwhile at the UN The summit of world leaders opened with heightened fanfare and subdued expectations. The international body was able to agree on a document, but its final version is much more diluted than the original draft. There is widespread dismay at the failure of the UN to build consensus on key issues. President Musharraf is spending busy days in the city, shuttling between the UN headquarters and other meeting venues, most of which are located in the vicinity of the UN. He was the first speaker at the Interfaith Dialogue which was sponsored by President Of Philippines Gloria Arroya. Playing the host, President Arroyo walked about the ECOSOC hall in the UN, greeting guests and posing for photographs with delegates as well as journalists. The presidents of Indonesia and Tajikistan and the prime minister of Thailand also spoke at the meeting after President Musharraf. At the meeting on Science and Technology, the infamous UN inefficiency was on full display. President Musharraf was seated alongside Queen Noor of Jordan, and was the first speaker to address the meet. However, when he began his speech, his words were inaudible to all except those who were seated near him. The reason: faulty sound system. The mike did not work properly, and once the president began to speak, there was no one to come forward and adjust it. So the president's speech was in some ways spoiled because the UN organizers could not get their act together.