On bumpy road to peace

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE bon-homie witnessed between visiting delegates from India and their counterparts from Pakistan generally gives one a good feeling. Last week was one such occasion when 34 Indian parliamentarians who were in Islamabad on the umpteenth round of Track-II diplomacy received a rousing welcome.

The star of the occasion was of course the inimitable Laloo Prasad Yadav, the former chief minister of Bihar, whose simple and rustic ways won the hearts of the people here — who according to The Economist of London are used to politicians being invariably patrician, bearded or in uniform. The fact that Laloo Prasad faces corruption charges in his own country made little difference to his image in a country where few politicians can boast of a clean bill as far as integrity is concerned.

The South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) conference in Islamabad produced the same outpourings of appeals for peace, dialogue and good neighbourliness as has been the wont of such meetings in recent years. It is a fact that when the two governments are locked in a stand-off, the greater is the desire for peace expressed by the people of the two countries. This is a clear indication that the policies of those in power on the two sides of the border have not really been reflecting the wishes of their people.

This is indeed regrettable. More so, because when they adopt a hard line on the disputes which divide them, the governments of India and Pakistan take shelter behind what they describe as the will of their people. Track-II diplomacy has proved beyond doubt that the people are now keen to explore new options for peace as political fatigue has set in. They no longer want to be stuck in the same rhetorical groove which reflects the official line adopted ad nauseam by the spokemen of the two sides. While India never tires of demanding an end to cross-border terrorism, Pakistan’s persistent demand has been for a settlement of the ‘core issue’ of Kashmir in accordance with the will of the people.

Some recent interviews and statements by key leaders in this context carry much weight and should be taken note of by the governments. The head of the unofficial Indian Kashmir Committee, Ram Jethmalani, who is a member of the Indian parliament and a highly respected figure, made some telling points in an interview he gave to a local newspaper in Islamabad.

First, he pointed out that India is now willing to discuss extra-constitutional options in Kashmir which are good for the people of that state. This is a major departure from the traditional Indian line that Kashmir is an integral part of India. But it would be unrealistic to expect India to hand over Kashmir to Pakistan. This is not to be expected even when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is making friendly overtures to Islamabad and inviting President Musharraf to walk the bumpy road to peace with him. Why?

Mr Jethmalani provided the answer in very rational terms. “If you cannot solve the issue through war or terrorism, then you must understand that you cannot get 100 per cent results in your favour on the negotiating table,” he explained while appealing to Pakistan to understand the realities.

This is such an obvious fact that one wonders why it has not been understood in Islamabad. The armed struggle in the Indian- held state is now proving to be counter productive. True the Indian army continues to be tied down in the Valley and in the process New Delhi gets a poor international image in terms of its human rights record as the authorities attempt to suppress the insurgency brutally. But the violence and the casualties that come in the wake of the Indian approach are alienating the people from not only the Indian army but also the militants. Recent internal developments in Kashmir provide enough evidence of this.

The government of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, which has sensed the mood of the people, is now working to restore normality in the state. Had it not been succeeding in its mission, it would not have been possible to revive tourism in the Valley which is described as a ‘paradise on earth’. According to prime minister Vajpayee 100,000 tourists have so far visited Kashmir this year and 6,000 students from all over India are studying in the educational institutions of the state.

More importantly, a dialogue is under way in the disputed state which could sideline Pakistan. Oddly these developments have not been taken note of in Islamabad. This policy of self- denial does not mean that nothing is happening in the Indian-held Kashmir. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference is now actively engaged in talking with various political elements in New Delhi and the message its chairman, Maulana Abbas Ansari, is sending to the world is that the APHC wants a peaceful resolution of the dispute. In fact, the Hurriyat is working for a ceasefire and has offered to persuade the militants to call a truce if New Delhi also agrees to hold fire.

But unlike the ceasefire in 2000, this time the truce should be monitored to ensure that it is really observed. With the political process receiving more attention and the indigenous leadership taking the initiative, Pakistan’s role will not remain the same as before. Small wonder Maulana Ansari said recently that he and his colleagues were in no hurry to visit Pakistan. He seems to be keen about resolving the differences between some of the constituent members of the Hurriyat. The Jama’at-i-Islami’s militancy is now becoming unacceptable to the others because the people are tired of violence.

Where does all this leave Pakistan? A confrontation between the Islamic militants and the politically oriented APHC, and the parties in the political mainstream in Kashmir is something which Pakistan would not find in its interest. On the one hand a split in the Valley would weaken Islamabad’s position on the matter. On the other hand, it would make a solution more difficult.

All this calls for a major shift in stance on both sides. Is this forthcoming? With India as the party actually holding a substantial part of the territory under dispute, it is under no compulsion to relinquish its control. As for Pakistan, being the smaller power it has more to gain from peace than from this no- war-no-peace state which teeters towards a war every few years. It is a positive and significant development that the people of the two countries have begun to understand the peace dividend and its implications. The SAFMA conference in Islamabad last week left one in no doubt about the direction in which the wind is blowing. But the two governments will have to move faster on the “bumpy road to peace”, to use Mr Vajpayee’s words, if they are to keep pace with their people’s aspirations.