February 2000 News

Getting Kashmir issue out of the way

16 February 2000
The Hindustan Times
By Rakshat Puri

Some interesting statements have followed Pakistan’s Islamist-held military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s recent provocative statements joining Kashmir to the use of nuclear weapons. The first was by former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto, followed by one from Prime Minister Vajpayee. Bhutto expressed her regret to an interviewer on BBC for her anti-India belligerence on Kashmir when she was Pakistan’s Prime Minister. She recalled how she had vetoed a Kargil-like operation proposed by the army generals in 1996, and suggested that borders between Indian and Pakistani administered parts of J and K be opened. She even suggested provisional acceptance of de facto partition of the State on the Line of Control.

It is entirely possible that Benazir Bhutto is bidding for Pakistan’s prime ministership after Musharraf’s rule ends — she estimates, possibly, that it cannot last too long in the face of international disapproval. Perhaps she calculates also that her peace-making formulae for nuclear-endangered South Asia will be effectively appreciated in the international community, primarily of course in the US. Vajpayee’s statement was not calculated to instil confidence in the international community about India’s continuing restraint. It was intended probably to tell Musharraf’s Islamabad that recourse to nuclear weapons would not satisfy its “core craving” for Kashmir. Musharraf may actually have wanted Vajpayee to use such terms in reaction. Vajpayee rose to the bait. The General then cleverly showed himself as peaceable. He ruled out war between Pakistan and India, saying he only wanted the Indo-Pak dialogue to be resumed.

Then some well-timed statements came from American leaders. Madeleine Albright dashed Indian optimism and hope about a page-turn in Indo-American relations and about politico-economic advantages following Bill Clinton’s visit next month. She indicated that the visit did not show US approval of the Indian stand on CTBT and Kashmir. She tied the issues of Kashmir and nuclear weapons and cautioned bluntly against expecting too much from the visit. About the same time US Defence Secretary William Cohen stated in his annual report to the Congress that the lone super-power, United States, had to “play an active role” for promoting stability in regions such as South Asia to advance “the cause of peace”.

Clinton himself was led to place high value on his visit. He expressed “profound concern” on the discord in South Asia and its “enormous implications for people in the US”. He is said to want an active mediatory role between India and Pakistan. India rejects third-party mediation on Kashmir. Pakistan wants it desperately. What precisely does mediation in this context mean? How can Indo-Pak differences be resolved without direct discussion? The fact is that a stable settlement of the Kashmir issue seems possible only in the context of SAARC’s growth.

Three ways towards settlement come immediately to mind — there may of course be also others. First, as Benazir suggested, the LoC might be frozen as the border for reconsideration after a specified number of years, while India and Pakistan turn urgently to development concerns, and build up SAARC. This seems the most practicable way. The second way may broadly be for all the members of SAARC to agree to have an Indo-Pak condominium of the Kashmir Valley as member of a SAARC-driven South Asian union, following amendment of the organisation’s statute to stipulate that no member-territory shall opt out of the union without unanimous agreement.

The third way, extending from the first and second, would be for India and Pakistan to start concentrating on development to hasten a closer South Asian community, in which the Kashmir issue would become irrelevant. Europe’s one-time intractable Alsace-Lorraine issue provides a historical example. It became irrelevant with the emergence of the European Economic Community. There may be other ways too of getting Kashmir out of the way of Indo-Pak relations. War is not one of them. But does Musharraf have the guts and imagination first to liberate himself for this from Islamist organisations and to halt cross-border-terrorism.


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