India-Pakistan deadlock

Tuesday 25 February 2003, by Imtiaz ALAM

While all eyes are focused on the possibility of war against Iraq, India-Pakistan relations continue to deteriorate, despite the withdrawal of troops from the borders. Few are prepared to meet the eventuality of a spark igniting a prairie fire.

All those who matter are too much embroiled with Iraq and, if some time is left, partially attend to North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship, diverting attention from the sub-continent altogether. Imagine, if some rogue element or an agent provocateur threw spanner in the works, as was successfully done in the past. What will happen? A potentially more devastating sub-continental war, no one has the time to pre-empt this time!

When BBC Channel-4 film, ’Situation Room’, based on such a, not so hypothetical, provoked-war between India and Pakistan was shown in Lahore, a very representative intellectual audience was stunned by more questions than actually raised or overlooked by the documentary. Most critically being, among others: how far effective could be the US intervention in case of Pakistan and more powerful India; why will not US neutralise Pakistan’s nuclear capability; why should not India be choosing the option of a preemptive nuclear strike as opposed to Islamabad’s First-Use Option; how would the dynamic of a war unfold; and how exactly the interplay and co-relation of forces would evolve in a given and most variable time-space.

Although the hawks were happy over the reinforcement of their entirely flawed strategic assumptions by the fictional war scenario of the film, despite the negation of the hallmark of their nuclear doctrine — the deterrence — they had to concede to some well-informed cautions against a likely scenario emerging in such an unpredictable situation. The consensus among both the hawks and the doves was quite astonishingly reasonable: a) Situation had to be normalised, before it took an ugly turn; b) an initiative for confidence building measures should be taken by Islamabad to create room for the supporters of negotiations and squeeze the space for religious extremists in India and also in Pakistan; c) the government must implement President Musharraf’s pledge not to let use Pakistan’s territory for terrorism against any country, including India and; d) Islamabad must not indulge in a tit-for-tat response to the Hindu extremists’ bellicosity, who are now calling the shots for electoral gains in the Vajpayee coalition.

The current situation is even more dangerous on more than one strategic count than even perceived by the scriptwriter or quite authoritative participants of the ’Situation Room’. It becomes even more intractable when quite ’independent’ commentators on both sides are overtaken by the compulsions of one-sided positions or futile point-scoring, as seen in Ejaz Haider’s polemical response to Bharat Bhoshan’s apologetic defence of India’s refusal to talk to Pakistan (Daily Times, February 20). No doubt India’s ’no-talk’ position is not tenable, but can be justified by passing the buck of terrorism to Pakistan. But the conflict in Islamabad’s stated and actual positions is least defensible, not even by its official spokesmen. When former information minister Mushahid Hussain was blamed by one member of the audience that he failed on the propaganda front during the Kargil war, he won applause from the audience by replying that a policy based on lies can’t be defended and projected effectively.

The situation is even more mind boggling than perceived by the authors of the film. The facility of the ’Situation Room’, in the White House around which the film revolves, may not be available now as the US is too busy with its war plans against Iraq while the onus of causing conflict, as in the film, will entirely remain on Islamabad-sponsored infiltration across the LoC. The international community may remain divided on the Iraq issue, but not against what it agrees to oppose cross-border terrorism. Despite a repeated show of confidence of the Bush administration in General Musharraf and a very useful visit by Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri to the US, both foreign relations and intelligence committees of the US Senate have warned against not only cross-border terrorism, but also against a section of the government backing up Taliban and Hekmatyar elements in Afghanistan. Similar are the views of any western ambassador you meet in Islamabad.

Without a complete, and I repeat complete, cessation of cross-border infiltration and terrorism that the international community verifies as well, Islamabad cannot escape the blame for any subversion, even though it might not have been mediated by any official quarter as was the case when the Indian Parliament was attacked by the terrorists who also duly took the responsibility while sitting in Pakistan. Last time a border war, to start with, was postponed by a very active US involvement and General Musharraf’s pledge against terrorism. This time it may not be as forthcoming as would require. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan has lost the credibility of its principled stand on Kashmir due to the over-extension of its pro-militancy policy which can no more be sustained, nor can be defended. The discrepancy of our stated position against terrorism, including across the LoC, and actual infiltration, even though much reduced as admitted by the command of the Indian army, has to be resolved in favour of a peaceful solution of the dispute.

By pledging to, and actually, stop infiltration across the LoC, we can snatch moral high ground from New Delhi while forcing it to address the human rights violations in the Indian-controlled Kashmir, besides agreeing to accept it as an unresolved dispute. A quid pro can make India recognise the dispute and commit to resolve it peacefully and according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people. The status quo will have to be respected till the settlement of the dispute. In the meanwhile, Pakistan can continue to morally and politically support the Kashmiris’ struggle that must remain indigenous and political. An all-sided and integrated dialogue should not only not ignore the Kashmir issue, but also not make all other areas of cooperation and confidence building a hostage to one issue.

The future of South Asian and its more than 1.30 billion people should not be kept a hostage to the eight million Kashmiris. Rather, a broad-based foundation of peaceful regional collaboration can provide a strong material basis for meeting the aspirations of the Kashmiri people and solving many a disputes that are even greater than the Kashmir question, such as an unresolved communal question in the sub-continent. To start with, Pakistan must overcome its split-policy and take an elaborate peace offensive. We must unilaterally take following steps: a) Unconditional offer for talks to India; b) announce to revive air, road and rail links; c) offer full ambassadorial relations; d) allow as many people-to-people contacts and a liberal visa policy; e) take more measures against terrorist outfits that threaten the security of the state itself and; f) offer some tangible measures on the safe management of nuclear equation.

In the meanwhile, we must overcome the hangover of the Kargil and recalibrate our strategy and tactics towards India. We must move forward in regional cooperation from Saarc platform. While proposing a comprehensive package and integrated dialogue, General Musharraf should invite US, Russia and European Union to mediate the current standoff between India and Pakistan and revive a comprehensive dialogue. This will leave no room to the Hindutva zealots to manoeuvre. Instead of strengthening the Safroon parviar, we must disarm it and reach out to a larger democratic and secular India. The political fight for a peaceful and just sub-continent will have to be fought in India and for that we have to snatch the initiative from the religious extremists of both sides. Create space for peaceful settlement of the dispute and isolate the extremists to win the Kasmiris and other oppressed people their due. That is a win-win formula against a defeat-defeat recipe of a nuclear disaster.

Published in The News International / February 23,2003

À propos de Imtiaz ALAM

The author is the The News International’s Editor.

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