February 2000 News

Stand on Kashmir must be defined clearly

10 February 2000
The Hindu
By K. K. Katyal

NEW DELHI: India's concerns on terrorism are clearly understood by most of the world community but the stand on Kashmir is not fully appreciated. The Government needs to recognise this and treat it as the central point of its Pakistan- related diplomacy. To the extent the two issues are inter- related, it may be easy to carry conviction with others, but when the Kashmir problem is viewed in isolation, India's stand would need to be defined with greater clarity.

As the date for the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton's visit draws closer, it is becoming increasingly evident that Kashmir and terrorism would figure in his talks here. To say that India would reiterate its stand against any third party role and in support of a bilateral approach is to stress the obvious. But the matter may not end there and certain consequential issues may have to be tackled. For instance, India has sought - and secured - U.S. cooperation in dealing with the menace of terrorism. How would New Delhi deny Washington a say in the Kashmir problem to the extent that it is intertwined with terrorism? And in case this aspect is considered fit for discussion with the Americans, how would the other aspects of the problem be shut out of it? Secondly, how would New Delhi reconcile its emphasis on bilateralism with a reluctance to do business with the present Pakistani regime?

To raise these questions is not to suggest a lack of force in India's stand - that trans-border terrorism has to end and a suitable atmosphere created for a dialogue - but to draw attention to the need for formulating a comprehensive strategy and an approach that takes care of all aspects of the matter.

New Delhi could draw comfort from the outcome of the inaugural meeting of the India-U.S. counter-terrorism group in Washington earlier this week. Especially this formulation: ``The two sides unequivocally condemned all acts, methods and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.'' This clearly covers the orgies of murder and other acts of violence, committed in the name of ``freedom struggle'' in Kashmir, as also the ``political, diplomatic and moral support'' given by the Pakistan Government. That is one side of the coin. The other side is represented by the latest statement by Mr. Clinton and the U.S. Secretary of State, Ms. Madeleine Albright - that ``Kashmir is the fuse that makes the situation dangerous''.

Now that Pakistan and a re-active India have gone through the rounds of bilateral rhetoric, the chances of their addressing the task of finding the basis for resuming the dialogue are not considered totally non-existent. New Delhi needs to take into account this assessment by others in the world community. It is based on the following elaboration. Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, wants Kashmir to be given ``priority in emphasis'' in a simultaneous discussion of all issues. Kashmir was the subject of ``back- channel'' diplomacy, initiated at the instance of the two Prime Ministers, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee and Mr. Nawaz Sharif after their Lahore meeting. There were reasons to believe that Mr. Sharif kept Gen. Musharraf posted with the developments then.

There is force in this point. But New Delhi had not said ``no'' to talks on Kashmir in the past, though there had been suggestions from important quarters - by the Chinese President, Mr. Jiang Zemin - that this contentious issue be put on the backburner and efforts made to resolve differences on other matters.The willingness to discuss Kashmir remains unchanged. New Delhi is puzzled at the reasons for the step-up in the Kashmir-related rhetoric by the new regime in Islamabad. It is, perhaps, meant to promote acceptability of the military ruler.

As in the past, the talks on Kashmir have to be ``without prejudice to the recognised position of each side'', - a formulation to which both the countries are committed. Not to be underestimated is the importance of other commitments, including the decision not to seek to alter the Line of Control unilaterally, and to prevent the organisation, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful relations. As such, India is not to be blamed if it expects Pakistan to take credible steps to end trans-border terrorism. That, and not the priority or otherwise to the Kashmir issue, is the crux of the problem.

It will be futile for Pakistan to demand that the Kashmir talks be held on its terms, just as New Delhi would be unrealistic to insist that only its position be the basis for the dialogue on the subject. The former Pakistan Prime Minister, Ms. Benazir Bhutto, had come out with a suggestion that envisages, among other things, acceptance of the de facto partition of the State (along the LoC), opening up of the border and facilitating contacts between the people. During the negotiations for the Shimla Agreement, Z. A. Bhutto, then President of Pakistan, recognised that the settlement of the Kashmir issue along the present line was ``the only feasible one''.

As Prime Minister, Ms. Benazir Bhutto, took as inflexible a stand as the present rulers. At one stage, it was her address to the nation on the Independence Day that led the then Prime Minister, Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao, to declare that the discussions could be held only on the future of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Yet the same Ms. Benazir Bhutto has taken a different line now. This background could not be ignored by Islamabad - and by New Delhi.


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