COMMENTARY
 
Preserving the Peace Process
The Nation
August 31, 1997
While the third round of India-Pakistan foreign secretaries’ talks in New Delhi was only a few weeks away, India started a propaganda campaign. On August 23, the Indians started claiming that their troops posted along the Line of Control had killed some 20 Pakistani troops. A few days later, they were claiming to have killed 50 more Pakistani soldiers.

The alleged killing of some 70 Pakistani soldiers was justified with an earlier alleged killing of an Indian Major by Pakistani troops across the Line of Control. The exchange of fire along the Line of Control did take place. The Indians claim to have killed Pakistani soldiers in the sub-sectors of Kargil and Uri, while the Defense Ministry of Pakistan denies any exchange of fire in these sub-sectors.

According to the Defense Ministry, the exchange of fire involving heavy artillery and mortars did take place in the sub-sectors of Chakothi, Pandu, Keran and Sankh. But, each time, the offensive came from India. Consequently, some five Pakistani civilians were killed and another 19 injured. As regards the actual happening during these three days, Islamabad has invited India to let the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) determine the facts.

If, on the one hand, these latest incidents of tension along the Line of Control have once again aroused international concern about Indo-Pak hostility; on the other, they have marred the renewed spirit of détente between the two countries. Interestingly, if one goes through media reports about what happened on the Line of Control during these three days, it becomes quite clear that the Pakistani side was consistently trying not to highlight the incidents of tension; while the Indians tried their best to highlight them.

The question is, why? The answer is not difficult, if the incidents of tension along the Line of Control are linked to the holding of the third round of foreign secretaries’ talks in New Delhi next month. Who wants to sabotage these talks? Pakistan? Or, India?

Well, Pakistan has no reason to undermine the peace process. It has a strong and stable civilian regime. The sole reason why the foreign secretaries’ talks had resumed last March after three years of stalemate was a number of bold initiatives which prime minister Nawaz Sharif had taken right after coming to power.

He had gone to the extent of proposing the virtual elimination of visa restrictions between the two countries to ensure greater interaction between the people of the two countries. During his initial two months in power, Sharif had to deal with premier Deve Gowda and foreign minister Inder Kumar Gujral. Both were quite reluctant in responding positively to Sharif’s peace overtures. Finally, India and Pakistan agreed to resume the Foreign-Secretary level talks.

In the first round of these talks in Delhi, the Pakistani side proposed the formation of working groups on unresolved matters between the two countries, the Indian side rejected the offer. By the time the first round of these talks concluded, Deve Gowda’s government fell. A deep political crisis prevailed in India in the following couple of weeks, and, then, Gujral was appointed prime minister.

Both Sharif and Gujral met at Male’s SAARC summit and agreed to set up a hot line between them. In the second round of talks, held in Islamabad last June, Indian foreign secretary Salman Haider and Pakistani foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmad reached a historic decision to include Kashmir in the political agenda of talks.

They agreed to set up working groups consisting of officials from the two countries to specifically discuss the key unresolved issues, including the core issue of Kashmir. The two prime ministers were already talking to each other on the hot line when the talks between Salman and Shamshad began.

In the current phase of Indo-Pak ties, what is important is not what was agreed during the Male summit or in talks between the two foreign secretaries, but how the Indians have behaved all these days. While prime minister Sharif was making bold moves to normalize and improve his country’s relations with India soon after coming to power last February, the Indians remained busy alleging that they had shot down a pilotless Pakistani intruder.

While the second round of foreign secretaries’ talks between the two countries had just ended, the international media reported about India’s deployment of Prithvi missiles in Julundhar. The Indians clarified that the missiles were only stored there and not deployed. Finally, within a week after concluding his talks with foreign secretary Shamshad in Islamabad last June, former Indian foreign secretary Salman made a press statement in New Delhi saying that he had agreed to discuss with Pakistan only “the Pakistani part of Kashmir’ and not the Occupied Kashmir. Despite the fact that India was dithering on the peace process, Pakistan announced its new trade policy, in which it allowed the import of some more Indian products.

Now if we compare the Indian attitude with that of Pakistan from February up to now, it’s India not Pakistan which is reluctant in opting for peace. And why the Indians are doing this is quite understandable. I K. Gujral faces the same dilemma which once confronted former Indian premier Gowda. The dilemma of a coalition government.

Politically weak governments survive on diverting public attention from key domestic issues, on creating the bogey of an external threat. That’s the Indian dilemma. Occupied Kashmir is not the only place where the unabated uprising threatens Indian unity. Secessionist tendencies are on the rise in India’s north-eastern states as well.

The Indians know that if Kashmir issue was politically settled—of course, through a UN-supervised plebiscite—it will play havoc with whatever federation they have. So, better, for the time being, continue highlighting the fact that Kashmir uprising is only the making of Pakistan, that 20 Pakistanis troops which were killed on 23 August were trying to cross the Line of Control. Nonsense.

Why should Pakistani soldiers try to cross the Line of Control? Did, on that day, Pakistan declare war on India? The fact is that the Indian establishment will continue to mislead the world public option on Kashmir by making false allegations against Pakistan. If it does not do this, then the future of the state of India will be at stake.

Interestingly, the day Indian media was informing the world about Indian claims for having killed 70 Pakistani soldiers, Indian defense minister Mulayam Singh Yadev stated that the incidents of tension along the Line of Control would not disturb the third round of foreign secretaries’ talks scheduled to take place in Delhi in September. India’s claim and Yadev’s statement reflect a contradiction in Indian policy vis-a-vis Pakistan.

On the one hand, India takes pride in killing Pakistani soldiers and, on the other, it hopes that this killing will not disturb the peace process between the two nations. The question that the Indian leaders should ask themselves is, how can they expect to talk peace with a country after killing some 70 of its soldiers in a matter of three days, a country whose leaders have talked nothing but peace with India in the last over six months?