India Votes: Pakistan-India Normalization To Stay on Track

After the following amazing defeat of BJP in the 14th Lok Sabha elections, Pakistan and India relations are likely to impact minimally on the substance of the post January 6th normalization efforts already underway. In spite of India’s wiseman Vajpayee who repeatedly opted for peace with Pakistan since his April 2003 statement in Srinagar, he too had to move within the limits of history politics and Indian ‘national interest.’. Vajpayee was lucky as perhaps were the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the General Pervez Musharraf, that they collectively saw the reason to mo! ve away from near war situations. First in 1999 and then in 2002.

But these goodwill gestures were not sufficient ingredients to craft sustainable peace. There are substantive issues, an ongoing process and indeed a creative roadmap that turns peacemaking into a ‘going concern’. The question for Pakistan will now be whether the Congress leadership can adequately address these three issues.

The first signs are positive. Significantly in her first victory statement the Congress President Sonia Gandhi took credit for Vajpayee’s peace initiatives toward Pakistan. It is my ideas that the BJP implemented in befriending Pakistan, she claimed. Infact the Congress leader has promised to further improve relations with Pakistan.

As for Pakistan its preference for either the Congress or the BJP as a preferable peace partner it would be a marginal issue. There are hard issues that the two States must resolve to reduce antagonism , increase greater cooperation.and enhance security. However individual styles personalities and proclivities do impact the tone and tenor of bilateral ties. Occasionally they can help disentangle disputes. For example as did the then Foreign Minister Vajpayee in 1996 as he helped to iron out the problems over the agreed Salal Dam. Similarly the enthusiastic Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee were able to pull off the historic Lahore summit.

Yet there are forces known as the establishment in both countries which choose to over ride political judgments. The famous 1992 Siachen Agreement ready to be signed between the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries in Delhi was left unsigned because ‘higher Indian authorities’ intervened. More recently the July 2001 draft of the Agra Declaration could never be signed because of disagreement within the BJP camp.

As for Pakistan’s relationship with India’s Congress party and subsequently the Hindu fundamentalist BJP party it has been of an assorted nature. If Jawahar Lal Nehru allowed Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to allow an Indian muslim national to become Pakistan’s Ambassador to India, made a commitment to present the Jinnah house in Bombay to Pakistan, made a commitment to hold a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir and signed a bilateral agreement on treatment of minorities, his powerful daughter Prime Minister Indra Gandhi mid-wifed the break up of a troubled Pakistan. Her son Rajiv Gandhi in the eighties signed with Zia Ul Haq the military dictator the agreement to not attack each other’s nuclear installations. Conversely the BJP which started with the destruction of ! the fifteenth century Babri Mosque carried through the state supported genocide of over 1000 Muslims in Gujrat, rewrote history and language to exclude the narratives of the minorities , was finally seen as the most viable peace inter-locutor by Pakistan.

While individual and party preferences would influence Pakistan-India relations undoubtedly the substance of unresolved issues, the nature of the peace process and a clearly marked road map towards normalization is of utmost significance. After all at the very core of the current peace process started by the BJP leadership and Pakistan’s military ruler lay the June 1997 composite dialogue formula signed by the Janata Dal Foreign Secretary Salman Haider and the Muslim League Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed. Cutting through the vicissitudes of bilateral turmoil and turbulence the basic issues have remained unchanged. The Congress leadership must pick up the threads from the ‘six plus two formula’. Kashmir and Peace and Security (read nuclear issue) and other issues will be back on t! he high table.

The question for Congress will be whether it would like to impose its own stamp on the post January 6 process of normalization and keep the momentum going.

Indeed a new road map will be devised as new men and women take position. Some of the immediate issues to be addressed will be the holding of bilateral nuclear talks scheduled for May 25th and 26th, the date for the composite talks scheduled tentatively for early May and other issues including talks on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad politico-technical talks and the Khokharapur-Manoba bus service.

The sea-change in India’s power scene has put the ball in the Indian court. The Congress and its allies will have to take the lead. Its leadership has already claimed it has greater plans for normalizing Pakistan-India relations. Pakistan meanwhile will look to the Congress leadership for renewed vigor and flexibility in dealing with all unresolved disputes including that of Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile as the two nuclear neighbors re-engage yet again under new political realities the world will look on with guarded optimism.