The 'deadline' Episode
2 April 2004
Karachi: The foreign office spokesman's clarification on the 'deadline' episode should serve to remove any misunderstandings that might have been caused by President Pervez Musharraf's purported remarks. A deadline coming from the president after all the good things that have happened in South Asia would have sounded incongruous. The incongruity would have been greater because it was supposed to have come from a leader who, despite being a military man, has been fully a part of the current process to move Pakistan and India away from the path of confrontation. The foreign office says the president never used the word 'deadline', that he was misquoted, and that all he had done was to refer to the ministerial-level talks scheduled for July and August. The foreign secretaries are to meet in May and June and prepare the agenda for the foreign ministers' meeting. At this meeting, a composite dialogue that would include Kashmir, would be taken up. The president was not wide off the mark when he said that without a solution of the Kashmir issue, it would be unrealistic to expect normalization of relations between the two countries. South Asia now looks forward to what the foreign office called 'forward movement' in the on-going peace process. Ever since Mr Vajpayee offered talks to Pakistan without any preconditions in his Srinagar speech last April, things have moved the way even the most optimist among us would not have expected. Air and land links have been restored; businessmen, parliamentarians and show business personalities have exchanged visits, and diplomatic mission chiefs have returned to the two capitals. This was all topped off by the Saarc summit in January. The summit turned out to be a great success not only because the Indian prime minister attended it but also because the two sides agreed to begin a composite dialogue to solve all issues, including Kashmir. At the same time, the Indian government has begun talking to at least one section of the All Parties' Hurriyat Conference. There are now two overriding considerations that Islamabad and New Delhi must be clear about. First, the confidence-building measures have been a great success - something which can be gauged from the popular response on both sides of the border to the recent developments. On a larger plane, the world has welcomed the detente and wishes that the two continue on this path of sanity. At this critical juncture, thus, both sides should continue to exercise restraint in rhetorics and follow policies that would consolidate the ground already covered. Secondly, there is need for New Delhi to have a more constructive approach to the situation in occupied Kashmir. The valley continues to be in a state of turmoil and violence, and not a day passes without casualties on both sides. Those who die include civilians. Shooting between freedom fighters and the Indian security forces continue, and every now and then one hears of some Kashmiri leader arrested. This way, the overall atmosphere does not reflect the ambiance of goodwill and relaxation that exists at present in Indo- Pakistan relations. If allowed to continue, this could upset the detente and prevent 'forward movement'. One hopes that New Delhi, as the stronger of the two sides, will take CBMs on its own to instil confidence among the Kashmiris about India's interest in finding a just solution of the Kashmir problem.