BERLIN: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) a German think tank, has been in the forefront of promoting Track II dialogue between Indians and Pakistanis with a view to exchanging out-of-the-box ideas to help the peace process. They started the initiative in 2003 when relations between the two countries were at their nadir in the aftermath of the failed Agra Summit, December 13 Parliament attack and full mobilisation on the border.
The first such dialogue organised by FES in Kathmandu in the summer of 2003. The fifth such dialogue was held last week at Asia’s commercial showpiece, Singapore. The most significant assessment from the two-day meet is of the distinct lowering of tensions between the intelligentsia of the two countries since the first conference. Indians and Pakistanis, especially when they interact on foreign soil, strike a note of cordiality and fellow feeling that is altogether absent in their normal dealings or official responses. This does not necessarily mean acquiescence in each other’s viewpoints. But once you have agreed to disagree on contentious issues, personal equations develop easily.
But any dialogue between Indians and Pakistanis is weighed down by the history of the last 60 years. Perspectives diverge, assessments differ, problems are viewed through rival prisms and hence suggested solutions vary diametrically. The Singapore dialogue was no different. What was apparent, however, was that despite the diverse backgrounds of the Indian delegates, they seemed to all push for peace and that too quickly. Pakistanis were more skeptical (or, should I say realistic?) especially in light of uncertain conditions in their country. The presentation that caused maximum debate was that by Indian Express columnist C Raja Mohan who now teaches at a university in Singapore. He and The Pioneer columnist Gen, Ashok K Mehta, the moving spirit behind the gathering, pointed to the five-point formula currently being finalised between Tariq Aziz and Satish Lamba, special envoys of the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India respectively.
According to the blueprint that has apparently emerged, a solution to the Jammu and Kashmir imbroglio is proposed on the following lines:
There shall be no change of the existing territorial boundaries
There will be an open border between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir
All parts of the (pre-partition) State of Jammu and Kashmir will enjoy autonomy
A Cross-LoC consultative mechanism will be established to jointly decide on issues pertinent to the State
A mechanism will examine and propose steps to reduce violence and staged troop reduction in the entire State.
These proposals have been exchanged through a series of non-papers presented by both sides. The underlying principle of the proposed deal revolves around Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s suggestion that while borders cannot be changed they can be made irrelevant. Although I believe this proposal will never pass political muster and the Indian people will never accept the US-sponsored idea of joint control of the Kashmir Valley, it was surprising to note the vehemence of Pakistani delegates rejecting it. As a retired army official present said, the trust deficit between the two countries is so intense that immense suspicion of each other’s intent engulfs every specific peace formula: “If we say anything enthusiastically, you think we have a motive in pushing it and if you show eagerness we suspect you stand to gain from it,” he observed perceptively.
Pleading for an inclusive approach to the issue, Navnita Chadha-Behera, professor at Jamia Millia, argued that every political solution to the State’s problem has foundered on the issue of inclusiveness. She powerfully contended that it is a mistake to view the issue as hinged on religion as Pakistan often tends to do, mistaking the preponderant Muslim presence in the Valley as the overwhelming reality of the State. Ms Chadha pointed out that President Musharraf is probably the first Pakistani leader to acknowledge the plurality of the State; hence his suggestion to approach it as sub-regions such as Jammu, Ladakh, Kashmir Valley, Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas.
Interestingly, one session was devoted to discussing the possibility of India and Pakistan cooperating on Afghanistan among other things. A former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Tanvir Ahmed Khan, powerfully argued for precisely such cooperation in order to help rebuild Afghanistan as a state since it had ceased to be one after the Soviet Union’s retreat.
He contended that NATO (read US) domination of that country had failed to revive the “Afghan compact” and titled the balance of power away from the numerically pre-eminent Pushtoons. Taking the argument further, Gen Mehta suggested that the eight-point India-Pakistan Comprehensive Dialogue could consider adding cooperation on Afghanistan as the ninth point. However, finally it all boiled down to the “core issue”. London-based Kashmiri NGO delegate Tahir Aziz disagreeably said, according to him Kashmiris wanted dignity before economic well being. That observation, made towards the conclusion of the conference, underlined the enormous difficulties that still lay ahead despite the growing cordiality of interactions on Kashmir.-SANA