4 August 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: Why is Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf insistent upon a timeframe for the resolution of the Kashmir issue? In a newspaper interview, he has been quoted as having told External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh that a year-an-half could be the 'reasonable timeframe'. On his own admission, he had a 'wonderful interaction' with Mr Singh during which he reacted to the latter's suggestion that 'we should not be in a hurry'. In what is a quotable quote, President Musharraf, according to the interview, replied: 'Hurry is a comparative term. I don't think hurry means five or ten years. What I mean is it may be months or up to a year or a year-and-a-half should be enough. We must have a definition of hurry'. Only the generals can argue like this. The politicians will be more tactful and certainly the members of the diplomatic corps to which Mr Singh basically belongs will be extra careful. They know that solving the contentious bilateral issues is like walking a tight rope. One has to perform a balancing act particularly when there is a possibility of even a small misunderstanding triggering all-round tensions. So much venom has been spread against each other in the two neighbouring countries during the last five decades that it would take long before a congenial atmosphere is created. Cricket and other exchanges have certainly helped in improving the atmosphere but clearly much more such purposeful interaction is required to change the perverted mindset on either side. There are deep-rooted hostile sentiments that must be uprooted lock, stock and barrel. This is the most significant job that should be addressed first. It is only possible if the leadership both in India and Pakistan persists with their current well-intentioned exercise to give a fillip to the people-to-people contact. Given the fact that President Musharraf's own contribution in encouraging the peace process is extraordinary, it is indeed surprising that he should now be looking for a deadline. Have the sporting, cultural, business and even diplomatic ties become totally normal? At best, one can notice a promising movement in that direction. It ought to be carried to its logical conclusion so that mutual distrust and hatred disappear altogether and everybody concerned is able to think in a cool and dispassionate manner. It appears that President Musharraf is addressing the critics on the home turf. There are elements in Pakistan who feel that he is compromising the country's stated position on Jammu and Kashmir by entering into agreements on other matters which, in their view, are less important. That is why time and again he suffers from the Kashmir itch. On more than one occasion he has kicked up the storm over the future of this State in a diversion from his own purposeful actions. Of course, he had stated at one time that if there was no progress in addressing the Kashmir question, he was out of the peace process itself. No purpose is served by such misplaced demonstrations of anger. President Musharraf can't be unaware that for every opponent of his effort to restore normalcy and tranquility in the sub-continent he has at least two supporters in his country for certain beneficial measures that none of his predecessors had dared to take for the eventual betterment of Pakistan including waging a war on sectarian and religious extremists. There is no dearth of the citizens in Pakistan who want to progress like the rest of the world. There are many who want to benefit from India's information technology revolution. All this is possible if the leaders in the two countries relentlessly pursue their goal. The danger in President Musharraf's occasionally disturbing utterances about Kashmir is that they may act as spoilers. Not many are able to forget that he has been after all the author of the Kargil conflict. This raises apprehensions that he may not be averse to acting out of impulse again. One hopes that he realises that the history has given him a rare opportunity to fully redeem himself in the eyes of the global community. He should not let it go. Having taken upon himself the responsibility of building peace in the sub-continent, he should not become desperate. If the intentions on both sides were honest and sincere, he would find the deadlines automatically chasing them.