Fresh hope

The confidence-building measures India and Pakistan have initiated this month offer fresh hope for peace and cooperation in a region vitiated by their enmity. It is a matter of relief that the two, who had nearly gone to war again in 2002, seem to have realised its futility. September 11 has exerted an important impact on Indo-Pakistani ties, and nudged by the US, both have agreed to talk peace. A week ago, both agreed to secure their nuclear arsenals, including setting up a hot line to prevent accidental nuclear war, and on Saturday they discussed conventional confidence-building measurers and steps to normalise their relations, including a bus service linking Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and the issue of infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir.

On Monday in New Delhi, the two foreign secretaries concluded their two-day meeting, with both sides agreeing to notify each other before testing missiles, open consulates and work toward settling Kashmir and other bilateral issues. The outcome is part of a step-by-step, composite dialogue process that began last year. A joint statement said the ongoing discussions “would lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides.” Both sides said the talks were productive. India and Pakistan have gone to war over Kashmir twice, besides fighting the Kargil battle. What both sides have lacked so far is a willingness to appreciate each other’s point of view and take into account the aspirations of the Kashmiri people themselves. Some sort of honourable compromise is therefore required to win a lasting peace. Pakistan has failed to get its way through military means during the past half century and India has been unable to bring the Kashmiris round to its way of thinking, militarily or otherwise.

Kashmir need not come in the way of pursuing mutually beneficial cooperation in the meantime. India and China too have a major territorial dispute. But they have found a way to expand and strengthen their cooperation, while continuing efforts at an eventual political settlement. Realities tend to recommend this model for India and Pakistan. Happily, some good signs are appearing. Pakistan’s President General Pervez Musharraf and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appear ready to go beyond their stated, existing positions over Kashmir. Earlier this month, realising that a rigid position would make a solution impossible, President Musharraf expressed his willingness to demonstrate flexibility. Similarly, in his first televised speech last week, Indian Premier Singh implicitly acknowledged that a solution could be found through accommodation of public sentiment in both countries. This shift in focus provides some reason for optimism.