Pakistan Won't Talk About
By J. Sri Raman
22 September 2004
t r u
t h o u t
cannot really describe them as talks to end talks. A dialogue to dodge
the most important issues - that would better sum up the series of India-Pakistan
parleys since the beginning of the year.
The talks go on.
The series have moved rapidly through official-level rounds to talks
in New Delhi on September 5-6 between the two External Affairs Ministers,
India's K. Natwar Singh and Pakistan's Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. The process
is to culminate in a meeting of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the UN
General Assembly session later this month.
Marked by polite
smiles and prolonged handshakes, the process continues without making
the least progress on the two life-and-death issues for the sub-continent's
The more frightening
and fundamental of the issues has, in fact, been forgotten, with both
side tacitly agreeing to leave it untouched. The ministers have not
wasted time over the minor problem of nuclear weapons. Their officials
had disposed of it before, while discussing nuclear "confidence-building
measures" (CBMs). These "measures" - like notification
of each other before tests of nuclear-capable missiles - were somehow
supposed to create confidence that the people of the two countries were
safe even when such missiles stayed in military deployment and on hair-trigger
has added his own reassurance in this regard. Addressing officers and
soldiers at a garrison in Quetta on September 11, he reiterated his
regime's resolve never ever to roll back its nuclear-weapon program.
He added: "My government has spent more money in the last three
years on enhancing Pakistan's nuclear capability than (spent for this
purpose) in the previous 30 years."
The Indian government
has not been forthcoming with a similar figure. There is little doubt,
however, that it swells with the same pride over its own misuse of taxpayers'
money to build mass-murder weapons. Or that it is as sternly resolved
not to reverse its own program against South Asian peace. Remember,
the joint document on CBMs desisted from mentioning regional nuclear
disarmament even as a distant goal. Instead, it recorded the joint resolve
of New Delhi and Islamabad to seek parity with the nuclear powers -
or to join the 'nuclear club'.
Within months of
India and Pakistan's nuclear-weapon tests in May 1998, then Prime Minister
Atal Bihari Vajpayee surprised many with a bus ride to Lahore to meet
with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. The peace mission turned
out to be a public relations exercise. The aim was to convince the international
community that India and Pakistan could be counted upon to conduct themselves
as 'responsible' nuclear-weapon states. The CBMs, too, it would seem,
were meant to serve the same purpose.
The talks have
run an almost identical course on the other issue, which both sides
recognize as important and intractable.
striking parallel is President Musharraf's equally ringing statement
on this issue in the same speech. "We will not give up Kashmir,"
he told the soldiers. "We have fought wars over it. Pakistan will
have to ensure the interest of the Kashmiris." No such statement
has emanated from New Delhi thus far. No doubt, however, that Natwar
Singh was as uncompromising on India's 'national interest' as Kasuri
was on Pakistan's. And it appeared incompatible with the interests of
regional peace, in either case.
The ministers ended
their meeting with emphatic assertions of irreconcilable stands on the
issue. Singh identified the Kashmir problem with "cross-border
terrorism" and Kasuri with human rights violations. They made no
progress on the one proposal on people-to-people relations in Kashmir.
India and Pakistan had restored a rail link between Attari and Lahore
and a bus route between Amritsar and Lahore. But neither of these passed
through disputed territory. Political constraints acted as a brake on
the plan for a bus link between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, capitals
of India-administered State of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-controlled
the required travel document proved an insuperable roadblock. India's
idea of passports as such documents was unacceptable to Pakistan, This,
Kasuri and colleagues feared, would legitimize the Line of Control (LoC)
as an international border. The LoC was a result of the Bangladesh war
of 1971 and, therefore, a painful reminder of Pakistan's dismemberment
and rout by India.
Clearly, the talks
on Kashmir, on which neither side was ready to compromise, were also
targeted at an international audience. Days after the ministers' meeting,
both sides widely publicized a "secret" session of talks in
Amritsar between the National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan.
They were to discuss a document on Kashmir by UK Foreign Secretary Jack
Straw, and it is anybody's guess if the paper reflected the views of
only the Tony Blair regime.
The talks will
go on. The participants, however, cannot hear the voice of the vast
millions who want them to make genuine efforts for peace in South Asia.
A freelance journalist and a peace activist of India, J.
Sri Raman is the author of
Flashpoint (Common Courage Press, USA).