COMMENTARY
 
India Dithers on Kashmiri Settlement
The Nation
September 26 , 1997
From the outcome of the third round of foreign secretaries’ talks between India and Pakistan, it is clear that the Indians are following a two-pronged approach in the negotiating process: continue to talk but dither on Kashmir.

Then, what should we do? Abandon the parleys and revert to the multilateral option on Kashmir? Not necessarily. We must as well continue to talk to the Indians—as foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmad said at Lahore airport after returning from Delhi—but, at the same time, we should try to expose India before the international community, as it backtracks from bilaterally negotiating with us on the Kashmir dispute. Let’s not miss this unique opportunity at a time when the world community—the Western states, in particular—is not as critical of India on its human rights violations in occupied Kashmir as it was prior to the elections that India stage-managed last year.

In the second round of foreign secretaries’ talks held in June in Islamabad, former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haider had agreed with his Pakistani counterpart Shamshad Ahmad to form separate joint working groups on all the unresolved issues between the two countries, including one on Kashmir.

In the Delhi round—which was meant to operationalize the mechanism agreed in the last round, that is, to set up these working groups—the Indian side has refused to form a joint working group on Kashmir. Despite this, the Pakistani side has preferred to continue the talks in the hope of achieving progress on this front in the future rounds of these talks.

In the nearly three months following the second round of talks, Indian leaders had tried their best to stall the process. Within a week after the conclusion of this round, the Indian foreign secretary told press-persons in Delhi that the agreement between the two sides on placing Kashmir on the agenda of talks referred only to Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas.

In July, prime minister Gujral seconded his opinion. Storing Prithvis in Julundhar in late June, engaging in massive mortar and artillery fire across the Line of Control in late August and early September, hedging on the formation of a joint working group on Kashmir in the same period—were some other steps taken by India, indicating its backtracking from the talks.

In fact, until a few days before the third round of talks, it was uncertain whether the talks would resume or not. One reason for this uncertainty was obviously the public perception about India’s backtracking from the talks. There were two more immediate reasons. One was the tragic incident in occupied Kashmir, in which the heads of the three Kashmiri Muslim women were shaven off by Indian security personal on the charges that they were providing food to freedom fighters.

In the second incident, which was reported after one week, India expelled two staff members of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi on the usual charges of spying. In a tit-for-tat reaction the same day, Pakistan also announced to expel two staffers of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on similar charges.

Since the third round of talks had started in an atmosphere marred with such hostile acts, there was already not much public hope about its successful outcome? During the three days of this round, the Indian media reportedly remained unanimous about its unsuccessful outcome. Then, in a face-saving bid, prime minister Gujral said his government would continue the dialogue with Islamabad.

The same day, however, Indian state minister for external affairs Saleem Sherwani stated categorically that India would not agree to constitute a joint working group on Kashmir. These two conflicting signals from Indian leaders—Gujral being soft on the dialogue, and, simultaneously, the external affairs minister being hawkish about Kashmir—sufficiently explain what the Indians are up to.

One of the much talked about reasons for the resumption of bilateral talks between India and Pakistan is that, in the post-Cold War period, Western states—the United States, in particular—have been gravely concerned about the existence of a Cold War type climate in South Asia, which, they think, threatens regional and international peace and security.

If officially as well, the two sides perceive this to be the major reason why they are negotiating, then they can delay their parleys as long as they can. For even if the talks make no head way, the fact that they are talking to each other may be enough to satisfy the West.

The fact, however, is that more than the international community, it is India and Pakistan themselves and their people who need a peaceful and prosperous South Asia. This has exactly been the main theme of the initiative that prime minister Sharif had taken right after coming to power, and due to which a negotiating process that had stalled in January 1994 finally resumed last March.

Since March, however, if we look at how the Indian rulers have behaved, Pakistan has all the right to take the credit for sustaining the spirit of dialogue despite Indian high-handedness. Understandably, one of the reasons why a person like Gujral—who is otherwise believed to be a leader of pacifist nature—will backtrack from any movement towards peace between the two countries is the precarious government he heads.

Had Gujral, like Sharif, been facing a weak opposition and heading a strong government, the Indians might not have backtracked on the working group on Kashmir. As long as Gujral faces a political dilemma at home, he may continue to lack the political will to be bold on any item in his country’s external agenda which can create trouble for his rule. Thus, in the next round of talks, the Indian backtracking on Kashmir is bound to continue.

The more India dithers on Kashmir, the more we are in a position to expose the Indians in the world. We should never forget the fact that, unlike most of the past, it is for the first time that our leaders are showing all the willingness to discuss, negotiate and settle bilaterally, repeat bilaterally, the Kashmir issue with the Indians.

For most of the time, since the 1972 Simla accord until Nawaz Sharif came to power last February, Pakistan had followed a “top-down” approach on the issue of Kashmir: that it won’t negotiate any other unresolved matter with India unless the latter agrees first to sort out Kashmir.

Sharif took a U-turn in this position, and we decided to discuss Kashmir as well as other unresolved issues, although in an integrated manner—which means that progress on one unresolved issue has to be accompanied by a parallel progress in other unresolved issues. Unlike the past, Pakistan does not demand first and foremost a settlement on Kashmir and then something else, what it wants is simultaneous progress on all the fronts.

Seen in this light, even India’s further backtracking on Kashmir goes in Pakistan’s favour, provided our diplomats, based in the Foreign Office or those posted in Western states, particularly the United States, are sharp enough to exploit this opportunity. Pakistan’s traditional stance on Kashmir has been to settle this issue through multilaterism—through UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, which provide for the holding of a UN-sponsored plebiscite in both Azad and Occupied Kashmir.

But India opposed the multilateral option, including any external mediation. After losing its eastern wing, Islamabad had obviously signed the Simla agreement from a position of weakness. Twenty five years after the Simla agreement—when we are in a position of negotiating with the Indians on an equal footing—Sharif has accepted to pursue the bilateral option on Kashmir.

This is a development that cannot be underestimated. Now if India dithers even on the bilateral mode of Kashmir settlement, then the world community has to blame only India for worsening the security climate of South Asia. With this message, our diplomats and politicians should try to change the existing perception about South Asia of the international community—which puts Pakistan and India in the same basket insofar as the causes of hostility in this region are concerned, and whose concern about the unending tragedy of Kashmir has waned just on the pretext of a stage-managed election.