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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1497, 16 September 2004
Addressing the 'Central' Issue Firdaus AhmedFreelance writer on security affairs
Interestingly both India and Pakistan claimed a bloodless victory at the end of Operation Parakram by convincing themselves that the other's bluff had been called. With that satisfaction, both states agreed at the Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting, on the sidelines of the SAARC summit at Islamabad, to a dialogue - the first round of which ended in early September with the meeting of their Foreign Ministers in New Delhi. The tacit understanding at the root of this year's 'crisis less' progression has been that India would engage Pakistan over Kashmir, while Pakistan 'ended' cross border infiltration. When the first meeting takes place between India's new PM, Manmohan Singh, and President Musharraf at the UN in New York in September end, the two will not have much to exchange.
Since India is the status quo power, moving into the next round of talks with Pakistan would not be problematic. While Pakistan can be expected to carry on with the next round beginning December, it may not hold on to its restraint with regard to infiltration beyond winter. India's fencing of the LOC has resulted in New Delhi's gaining the strategic upper hand. At the same time, Pakistan would be loath to lose the only handle it has over India without any movement in India's position over Kashmir. India has made an effort to lend the 'healing touch' a tangible form by improving its human rights record. However the output of its chief interlocutor, N N Vohra, has not been encouraging, owing to the change in the Central Government and the internal dynamics of the Hurriyat. The question is whether this pace of India in progressing its part of the 'bargain' would be able to placate Pakistan.
Pakistan's rationalization for the 'go slow' in its support for terrorist groups active in Kashmir is that it is getting India to concede on Kashmir through talks. In case talks are perceived as an Indian tactical ploy while terrorism is marginalized militarily, pressure from fundamentalist quarters will mount on Musharraf. Pakistani military initiatives with regard to the global 'war on terror' are premised on keeping the Kashmir issue alive. The space the regime has gained would be increasingly constrained should there be no movement in the Indian position that Pakistan could claim as being brought about through its effort. The pro-talks, secular lobby in Pakistan would also be disappointed at such an outcome, in that it would weaken its newfound strength with respect to the fundamentalists. Therefore there is likely to be a reversion to square one if the second round of talks does not lead to a seemingly tangible 'victory'.
The form this might take can at the moment, only be conjectured, and may already be on the making as a fall back option. Pakistan has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to heighten the disturbances in Kashmir at will over the past decade - Kargil being its most ambitious undertaking yet. Should India underestimate the central message emanating from Pakistan - that Kashmir is the central issue - the commando in President Musharraf can be expected to stake out an ambush as early as next year. India, relying on its past record of negating Pakistani design and on a heightened defense budget, could come up with yet another Op Parakram refined. The implications of such a scenario for subcontinental peace as well as for the people of Kashmir are stark.
A manner of avoiding this scare scenario is to energize the Vohra initiative. To expect that it can be business as usual in the Valley in future is delusional, given the generation lost to the militancy. This would conform to the state's obligation to a section of its people. People cannot be held hostage to the state of foreign affairs of the state or fear of the demonstration effect of 'concession' elsewhere. Imaginative constitutional options have been stymied over the last decade owing to the complexion of polity - weak coalitional governments earlier and a rightist one over the past six years. The political complexion of the present government, coincidentally a coalitional partner at the State level, makes the present an opportune time to win back Kashmir politically.
In the near term, the knock-on advantage of this would be the buoying of the next round of talks which would enable Pakistan to claim 'success'. Continued access of the Hurriyat leadership to Pakistani diplomacy, even to the extent of making way for a long denied Pakistan visit, should be considered to arrive at a political middle ground. The resulting illusion of 'tripartite' talks will defuse Pakistani propensity to play spoil sport. An incidental positive linkage between internal and external security arises here, instead of the present counter productive coupling between the two over Kashmir. The long-term prospect is in the decline of Pakistan's Kashmir obsession; forward momentum over the other seven issue areas in the composite dialog basket as preferred by India; keeping the global hegemon at bay; and finally providing scope for General Musharraf to play Ataturk on his home turf.

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