Pakistan raises stakes on disputed Kashmir

M B Naqvi

Soon after Washington said it was making Pakistan a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ally, President Gen Pervez Musharraf made a daring pronouncement and virtually gave a deadline of July-August for India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir to begin. He maintained that if there is no real progress on Kashmir, both sides may have to be thrown back to square one.

The Indian reaction to Musharraf’s remarks in March was relatively muted, both at official and unofficial levels. The Indian Foreign Office went on record deprecating the statement but remained studiedly pro-forma. The Indian media did not react violently at the clear suggestion that, for Pakistan, Kashmir remains the core issue: the proposition on which India-Pakistan negotiations broke down at Agra three years ago.

While the Indians’ reaction remained more or less mild, it had given a jolt to decision-making circles in the country. But during the last days of March and early in April, the Pakistan Foreign Office began to put out a more peaceable spin on what Musharraf had said. Both the official spokesman and Pakistan’s foreign secretary have played down the deadline part and emphasised Islamabad’s serious intent to proceed with the dialogue on the bases that had been agreed, more or less obfuscating the terminology of calling Kashmir a “core issue”.

This terminology puts off India. The official position on both sides remains that the dialogue is on course. Meantime the atmospherics, thanks among others to cricket diplomacy, is upbeat. Musharraf is not a simple soldier. He meant to jolt the Indians and himself used both hard and softer words successively. Islamabad’s officials are reassuring India that the basic understandings of this year’s Jan. 6 agreement in Islamabad hold.

Musharraf’s earlier statements were not a matter of impulse. These are deliberate tactics of blowing hot and cold to goad the Indians to stay the course agreed to with Pakistan. Indian officials are not very keen to make quick pro-gress on Kashmir, though they have come round to the idea of discussing it with Pakistan with some reluctance and maybe mental reservations.

After Musharraf made his first remarks, many in New Delhi said that the US decision to grant Pakistan the elevated status of a non-NATO ally has so emboldened Musharraf that he is ready to suspend all talks with India. But India-Pakistan negotiations, which have been arranged so laboriously by the US government behind the scene, are on course. There is one factor that has to be noted by all: Indian ruling-coalition parties in general, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the lead member, in particular, are campaigning on a peace-with-Pakistan plank in the April and May general election. That augurs well from the point of view of the Musharraf government, even though its officials are looking anxiously at India’s political horizon. Apparently, the Pakistani government is sold on Vajpayee and desperately wants him to return to power during the election.

The fact of the matter is that the Kashmir issue has over the decades been overtaken by the mistrust generated by nuclear weapons. Thanks to US goading, a number of confidence-building measures are now in place and help keep the basic volatility of the situation in some check. But these measures are not a solution and are mere palliatives. Unless the nuclear conundrum is tackled successfully, the chances of the Kashmir dispute being solved are negligible. There is a further complexity: So long as the Kashmir dispute is not resolved, the nuclear rivalry and mistrust it has generated will prevent a solution of the Kashmir problem itself. — IPS