Home Minister Chidambaram has delayed visiting Pakistan to discuss 26/11. The SAARC summit is postponed. Meanwhile India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao had contacted her Pakistani counterpart for a foreign secretary-level meeting. That meeting later this month will precede the SAARC summit. It is a good sign. Substantive issues need to be cleared before tackling terror. Quite possibly US urging to both governments behind the curtain has been at work. Even as Delhi and Islamabad were finalizing dates for the talks, Kashmir militants held a televised conference in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) propagating jihad against India until Kashmir was liberated. Pakistan Foreign Minister Quraishi blandly claimed ignorance about any such conference. Despite such brazen conduct India is proceeding with talks.
Critics would justifiably carp over these developments. But there would be no harm in talking provided India makes this its final attempt. It is time to end fruitless interaction with Islamabad that refuses to lead anywhere. Therefore, first of all India should recognize Pakistan’s minimum precondition for a substantive dialogue. The POK meeting of militants propagating jihad to liberate Kashmir was in all likelihood a calibrated ploy by Islamabad to send a message: No progress can occur unless the Kashmir issue is resolved. This message was reinforced by Pakistan’s military Chief General Kayani. According to Karachi’s Dawn he said that the Pakistani Army will remain "India-centric" until the Kashmir issue and water disputes are resolved.
The first question that New Delhi must address before resuming any serious talks therefore is whether it is ready to alter the status quo to resolve the Kashmir dispute. It is futile to pander to sections in India that claim that there is no Kashmir dispute. The dispute is undeniable when Pakistan claims all Kashmir, India claims all Kashmir, Kashmir remains divided, and there is continuing cross-border terrorism. The question is what should be India’s minimum preconditions before an agreed solution can emerge. It is with regard to this that India must be blunt and candid.
The formula for a Kashmir solution can wait. President Musharraf and PM Manmohan Singh had reached near agreement on a formula involving autonomy for both sides of Kashmir, free movement that renders borders irrelevant and joint management of Kashmir by New Delhi and Islamabad. The formula was bound to fail. How could it be implemented unless there was complete trust between New Delhi and Islamabad? How could there be trust between both governments unless there was total trust between their two armies? Clearly, for such trust to be created Pakistan’s civilian government must first be capable of exercising full authority over its army. Because before the Kashmir issue can be resolved India must insist on a joint security system with Pakistan as a precondition. For starters joint security may be accepted only in principle for its full implementation in a phased manner by a prescribed date. Obviously, before that date terrorism would have to end. But the commitment must be public and immediate. That this commitment would inevitably lead to a broader arrangement encompassing trade and tariffs is obvious. Only in the light of such a committed sub-continental arrangement could India take a radical view about a formula to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
The implications of such an arrangement would be clear. And New Delhi should not hesitate to elaborate on them during talks with Pakistan. By entering into joint security with India, Pakistan would have to sever its defence ties with China. There would be no point beating about the bush. New Delhi would have to tell Islamabad that complete trust between India and Pakistan could be achieved only if relations between both nations are so special that no third power – not China, America, Russia or Europe – could become as close to either of both nations.
Pakistan has excellent relations with China. Most likely it will balk at the suggestion of severing defence ties with Beijing in favor of joint security with India. It must be explained to Pakistan that China’s trade and security relations with the whole of South Asia operating as one block would be more stable and friendly than at present. It must be stressed that only under such an arrangement would undue interference by any world power in the affairs of both India and Pakistan be checked. It must be pointed out that if Pandit Nehru erred in refusing the joint defence offer by President Ayub Khan because of his concern about relations with China, Pakistan will err if it refuses joint security between the two South Asian nuclear powers because of similar concern about relations with China. The plain truth is that lack of trust between India and Pakistan renders both nations vulnerable. It harms the interests of both.
Despite this reasoning Pakistan may remain obdurate because of rigid dislike for India. In that case not only should effort for a dialogue with Pakistan be abandoned, New Delhi’s entire approach to relations with Islamabad and to the SAARC Conference should be revised. There are alternate policies and strategies that can be successfully pursued. Enough time has been wasted on the so-called peace process. It is time to end it one way or the other. It is time to move on.