Musharraf At the Conclave: Engaging on Hard Questions

Fortunately, the political commitment in Pakistan and India, dictated by internal and external realities, to pursue with CBMs and resumption of the composite dialogue ensures the robustness of the process. Any major intentionally-created ‘crisis’ notwithstanding, the back-channel calibration in the current process rules out any major break-downs or even better sudden sullying of the dialogue environment. Eruption of war of words too can safely be ruled out. The BJP has made “friendship with Pakistan” a victory plank for its election campaign. In Pakistan there is a three way establishment-politician-civil society consensus that dispute-free relations with India are in Pakistan’s strategic interests. Peace built on just resolution of political disputes is the only viable way forward.

In his engagement, via satellite at the March 14 India Today Conclave, with ‘who’s who’ of India’s civil society, President Parvez Musharraf articulated his future vision of South Asia. He identified the challenges and opportunities that Pakistan and India jointly faced in pursuit of the vision. After Agra this was perhaps his frankest intellectual engagement with the Indians on how best to ensure that the dialogue process yields tangible dividends. Musharraf repeated his commitment to peace and a realistic road map for peace.

However, Delhi’s South Block diplomats reacted to President Parvez Musharraf’s March 14 televised discussion with a cross section of the Indian elite at the India Today conclave. That came as no surprise. It was a ‘programmed’ rejection to Pakistan’s emphasis on the centrality of the Kashmir dispute in bilateral negotiations. Although the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee has repeatedly said in interviews, including the January 2004 interviews with PTV and with India Today plus his 2002 musings that peace between India and Pakistan requires concentrated dialogue on Kashmir. What the Indian statement correctly emphasized that Kashmir was one of the many unsettled disputes; a fact that the President himself acknowledged in urging that settlement of all disputes through the composite dialogue was necessary for optimum bilateral cooperation. He specifically said that “the composite dialogue scheduled for May and June this year should augur well for our future relationship,”

The deliberate distortion of the Indian statement was regarding the President’s “double-standard” while condemning suicide attacks on him and justifying as freedom movement attacks on the December attack on the Indian parliament and on the J & K Chief Minister. Those who watched the discussion or read its text know that when the compere repeated Musharraf statement that he was extremely angry at the suicide attackers who targeted him on December 25, the President said if you are trying to draw a parallel between this and what happens inside Kashmir, there is a freedom struggle going on there and that is not terrorism. Clearly South Block in its March 15 statement chose to draw a incorrect if convenient inference from Musharraf’s statement. The government of Pakistan had specifically condemned the two attacks as it always does the killing of innocents whether by freedom fighters and state terrorism by Indian forces. On the broader question of “terrorism” Musharraf reiterated in his opening remarks at the Conclave , what he first emphasized in his October 2001 United Nations address that one key prerequisite for tackling terrorism is removing the root causes of terrorism.

Despite Pakistan’s changing scale and nature of support to the freedom struggle what is going on inside the Valley is a popularly supported indigenous freedom struggle. Take for instance the BBC report on the early March funeral of two commanders attended by 30,000 Kashmiris. The only way to alter this situation inside the Valley is to initiate a genuine three party negotiations, India and Pakistan the two principles and Kashmiris the primary. The January 6 statement in which Pakistan has again committed to stop cross-LOC infiltration while India has undertaken to bilaterally engage to work for the “settlement of all outstanding disputes including the Kashmir dispute” provides only the necessary framework for starting this process. Addressing the hard questions is essential to making the process sustainable and successful.

He spoke to the issue; not to appease anyone at home or abroad. Even less so to ‘complain’ to the Americans. Indeed for the first time the President categorically called for bilateralism. He said ” We have to show enough maturity to be able to resolve disputes bilaterally within a reasonable time line.”

The thrust of Musharraf’s response to most of the questions which sought his view and support for increase Pakistan-India cooperation in fields of trade and commerce are and cultures, education and technology that ” We can’t sprint on the CBMs while move at a snail’s pace on the dialogue process, there has to be simultaneity.” In arguing for linkage between progress on the resolution of bilateral disputes and on the CBMs he repeated his January 6 statement that “CBMs cannot outstrip the dialogue process on all substantive issues including Kashmir.” Emphasizing the point the President said “This is a moment of hope and optimism. Let us nurture it carefully and make the process of engagement between Pakistan and India irreversible….If Pakistan and India could settle Kashmir in accordance with aspirations of Kashmiris a new chapter in our troubled history could begin. “

He dealt, with question ranging from the need to follow the India-China model for peace-making to a veiled critique of Pakistani democracy. On the democracy question Musharraf should have added though that while democracy combined with a credibly functioning State apparatus does effectively hold state and political power accountable, the irony is that the world’s two notable democracies, India the largest in the world and Israel the solo in the Middle East, have dangerously undermined regional and global stability. Responsible for the occupation of Kashmir and Palestine in violation of UN resolutions and for conducting mass scale human rights violations, the two nuclear-armed democracies have violated all universally accepted legal, moral and political norms. The two are the only countries in the world who have since WWII expanded their territories through aggression.

Finally South bloc’s statements on Musharraf’s dialogue notwithstanding, his intellectually rigorous engagement on dispute settlement would facilitate Vajpayee’s task of peace-making with Pakistan. Although Musharraf’s hard talk may have overlooked the fact that the peace process has started because both India and Pakistan have opted to alter their positions on Kashmir and on cross-LOC infiltration respectively, yet on balance the Musharraf’s India Today engagement, should have helped the Indian Prime Minister to convince his policy cum opinion-making elite that CBMs alone can only help improve atmospherics, that there is no overlooking the hard issues for a sustainable peace; that a ‘quick and dirty’ peace is no option. Infact in locking ‘intellectual’ horns with the Indian elite Musharraf has lent a helping hand to the Indian Prime Minister who is readying himself to return for a third round of Indian Prime Ministership, and appears keen to work for lasting peace with Pakistan.