WASHINGTON DC, Oct 5, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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FM Natwar Singh with FM Khurshid Kasuri, Below: with General Musharraf

The Chicken-Egg Dilemma of Pakistan and India

By Anand Giridharadas and Salman Masood

ISLAMABAD, October 5: Were the peace process between India and Pakistan a play in two acts, two days of bilateral talks held here this week would mark something like the intermission.

Two years of diplomacy appear to have staved off the nightmare scenario of nuclear war in South Asia. But for the show to go on, diplomats and analysts say, the process must now shift from preventive measures to active, constructive initiatives, notably on the longstanding dispute over the control and sovereignty of Kashmir.

To reach this goal, analysts said, the two sides must graduate from merely avoiding a nuclear nightmare to fostering a new kind of relationship, one through which a tense frontier becomes a soft border that allows for the "free movement of ideas, people, goods and services," as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India has said.

High-level talks in Islamabad on Monday and Tuesday added to a steady trickle of confidence-building measures the two sides have achieved. To enhance contacts between two governments that remain wary of each other, Foreign Minister Natwar Singh of India and his Pakistani counterpart, Khurshid Kasuri, on Tuesday revived a joint commission that last met in 1989, when a burgeoning insurgency in Kashmir chilled ties.

A day earlier, the two governments formally signed a deal to notify each other before testing ballistic missiles, a symbolic step given that the deal has been disclosed on a number of previous occasions and that both countries already notify each other informally.

The logic of the small steps this week, officials said, was to weave together the two bureaucracies by moving them into the minutiae of shared administration: writing memos, holding meetings, constituting committees.

This would serve to deepen working bilateral ties by taking them beyond the special relationship forged by Singh and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, analysts said.

"Personal chemistry can take you only so far," a top Indian government official involved in the negotiations with Pakistan said, requesting anonymity as is customary in the case of diplomatic negotiations. "Public opinion is fickle. "It's important to have steady, clerical work going on in the background so you have a certain sustainability to the process," the Indian official said.

India and Pakistan are stuck in a fraternal feud of nuclear proportions, having fought three wars and reached the brink of a fourth in 2001. But since 2003, a cease-fire has held and peace talks involving senior leaders are increasingly frequent.

So are the smaller steps both sides are taking. Air traffic between the two countries has expanded, and a bus service now reunites Kashmiri families split by the Indo-Pakistani border. Indian produce makes its way across the border and into Pakistani kitchens. The two neighbors have even played cricket.

"The easy parts have been done," said Brahma Chellaney, a scholar in New Delhi. The progress on feel-good initiatives is now pressuring diplomats to move into what might be termed Act Two: a durable accommodation on Kashmir.

Pakistan is wary of continuing to ease relations without getting to the Kashmir question, which it sees as the heart of the matter.

Friday Special, an Urdu-language Pakistani newspaper recently banned for spreading "hate," wrote earlier this year that India was lulling Pakistan into a trap, according to a translation by the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi.

"India wants Pakistan to mentally accept this fact that Kashmir is an integral part of India," the paper wrote. "This has forced Pakistan to change its foreign policy towards India. Musharraf's advisers are urging him to re-start the jihad policy. In the days to come, India-Pak friendship will be in the reverse gear."

"Essentially, what we're now looking at is thinking about a final solution in Kashmir," said Prem Shankar Jha, a columnist in New Delhi who is renowned for his contacts with India's foreign-policy makers. "This is one of those things that can't be piecemeal."

Even now, such a solution remains a far-off prospect in the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir.

Yet on both sides, old inflexibilities are softening. Musharraf has gradually rescinded the country's demand for a plebiscite in the region and has accepted publicly that India will never hand over territory.

For Singh's part, he has said that India's military presence in Kashmir had been overly aggressive, and he has promised troop withdrawals linked to a reduction in violence there. Haltingly, the contours of a solution are being defined.

"There is not yet an identity of views between India and Pakistan on a solution, but some things are getting clearer," The Hindustan Times, an Indian daily, said in a recent editorial. "It is simply not feasible to think of redrawing boundaries and making territorial exchanges. Instead," the paper said, "both sides need to get down to the task of transforming existing borders and making them more-or-less meaningless."

Najmuddin Shaikh, former head of Pakistan's diplomatic corps, recently wrote in Dawn, Pakistan's leading daily: "It would be safe to assume that both sides will also agree that progress needed to be made towards creating a situation where boundaries or borders would become irrelevant.

"There may not be agreement, given Pakistani anxiety for a quick solution, that creating such an ambience will take time," he wrote. "But our desire notwithstanding, it would appear that the logic of the ground situation would dictate that Pakistan accept the need 'to make haste slowly."'

The very success of confidence-building measures has brought India-Pakistan relations down to their essence, the core chicken-and-egg dilemma that will not go away.

Singh says he cannot concede on Kashmir without showing his public a drop in violence. Since 1989, the insurgency has killed at least 44,000 people.

Musharraf, under pressure from Islamist critics of his participation in the US-led fight against terror, says his hands are tied, too. - Courtesy IHT

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