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India And Pakistan Talk Again

By Dr Shabir Choudhry

22 February, 2010

India and Pakistan are to face each other again, but good thing is this time they are facing each other across the table. They have faced each other in various fields since 1947, including in the battlefield. Hitherto no confrontation or bilateral dialogue has produced the desired results.

They are once again around the table and this is good. But question is are they meeting because they want to resolve all the outstanding issues or they have internal and external pressure to sit down, even if that means sitting for the sake of it.

Some weeks back there was no sign of this kind of meeting. So what has changed the minds? Is it the war next door in Afghanistan and issues and pressures related to that which is forcing both governments to sit down and talk? What are they going to talk anyway? The statements coming from New Delhi and Islamabad indicate that they want to talk on different issues; and there appears to be no agreement on what they want to talk.

In other words the agenda of talks doesn’t seem to be clear as it should be. Focus of India would be to talk on issues related to ‘terrorism’ and may be other bilateral issues. India's External Affairs Minister S M Khrishna said: "Let's be very, very clear, that the composite talks you [the interviewer] referred to are suspended. Composite dialogue is not being renewed. The brief to the foreign secretary is that terror would be the focal point of the talks".

Pakistan on the other hand insisted that all issues should be part of the talks, including Kashmir dispute and issue of water; but later on they changed their mind and Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir in his press briefing said: "It is important that there are no pre-conditions from either side. Pakistan strongly believes that with pre-conditions there can be no dialogue."

Pakistan has a long history of issuing statements for the consumption of Pakistanis and Kashmiris – they claimed Kashmir was their priority in talks even when in the past name of Kashmir was not included in the joint communiqué. Completely contrary to what was agreed in the joint communiqué they would issue a statement that Kashmir was the core issue and that they would not budge.

In line with their past practise, the next day a statement was issued for the consumption of the Pakistanis and Kashmiris that there was no point having talks if Kashmir dispute and issue of water was not on the agenda. The statement emphasised that Kashmir must be part of the talks.

Despite a bomb blast in Puna, once again linking Islamic militants, India has decided to go ahead with the talks. Some Indian politicians questioned for how long the people of India would continue to get killed and India agreeing to holding talks with Pakistan. Some Indian officials admit that there could be more bomb blasts in Kashmir and India; but we will still pursue peace talks in hope that Pakistani mind set will change one day and they will be able to resolve all outstanding issues with Pakistan through a process of dialogue.

Does this show a genuine desire for peace or some kind of pressure to talk to Pakistan, even if that does not produce any tangible results? Many analysts believe that it is the hard work of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Washington's ‘Viceroy’ for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrook, which has resulted in resumption of talks.

Some analysts draw similarities of the present talks to the talks which India and Pakistan had as a result of the American pressure after Sino India war of 1962. During the Sino India war, Pakistan was urged to stay out of the war in return for assured talks with India on the future of Jammu and Kashmir. At that time five rounds of talks between Zulfqar Ali Bhutto and Sardar Sawarn Singh did not produce an agreement.

Despite what Pakistan has done to advance American interests in Afghanistan and in the region, Pakistan is continually asked to do more. Pakistan had apprehensions about the situation on the border with India and about the situation in Kashmir; and refused to do more or commit any more troops. In view of that it was imperative that both India and Pakistan talked to each other; even if they talked about weather or environment.

Islamic militants and Al-qaeeda on the other hand have a different agenda, and want to ensure that there is no peace between India and Pakistan. They want to ensure that India and Pakistan are in a war like situation, that Pakistan is forced to commit itself to the threat from this side. The bomb blast in Puna has to be seen in that light and especially in the light of a threat issued by a Kashmiri leader of Al-Qaeeda.

Ilyas Kashmiri, who hails from district Bhimber of Pakistani Administered Kashmir and who is Commander of 313 Brigade, an operational arm of al-Qaeda issued a statement:

“We warned the international community to play their role in getting the Kashmiris their right of self-determination and preventing India from committing brutalities in Kashmir, especially in Badipuar, raping the women and behaving inhumanly with Muslim prisoners. We, the mujahideen of 313 Brigade, vow to continue attacks all across India until the Indian Army leaves Kashmir and gives the Kashmiris their right of self-determination. We assure the Muslims of the subcontinent that we will never forget the massacre of the Muslims in Gujarat and the demolition of Babri Masjid [a Muslim mosque destroyed by Hindu militants in 1992]. The entire Muslim community is one body and we will take revenge for all injustices and tyranny. We again warn the Indian government to compensate for all its injustices; otherwise they will see our next action”.

Ilyas Kashmiri, before becoming a part of Al –Qaeeda was working closely with Pakistani secret agencies and was involved in a ‘jihad’ in Jammu and Kashmir. I understand he is a big fish and American’s have unsuccessfully tried to take him out many times. He and his 313 Brigade certainly have the ability and know - how to commit acts of violence in Kashmir and in India to disrupt the peace talks or even to precipitate a confrontation between India and Pakistan, but there is no immediate danger to the talks. He will have to do something really big to disrupt the present peace process.

But that doesn’t mean the new peace process will produce any tangible results. It will be business as usual - sit down, exchange of views, photo session and possibly a joint communiqué to say that they will continue to talk. There will be no agreement on anything as still there is a big gap in perception on different things. For example, many people in the Pakistani government still regard militancy in Jammu and Kashmir as a ‘Jihad’; and it becomes ‘terrorism’ only when bomb blasts take place inside Pakistan or in Pakistani Administered Kashmir.

Similarly both governments have big differences on the issue of water. Pakistan accuses India for ‘stealing their water’. India of course disagrees with that. To us, citizens of Jammu and Kashmir this is our water, which both India and Pakistan are utilizing against our wish. They are both exploiting our resources and both want to advance their national interests at the cost of interest of people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Like always Kashmiri leaders have expressed their desire to take part in the talks, because it is their biggest wish to sit on the same table with India and Pakistan to discuss about Kashmir and violence. And like always both governments have no desire to consider Kashmiri leaders as equal partners in this dispute and honour them with a seat at the negotiating table.

The Kashmir dispute and problems associated with it will continue as usual. People of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the divide will continue to suffer to varying degrees. Call it violence, jihad or armed struggle, it will continue with new recruits always be available to enter Kashmir and become martyrs and book a place in heaven.

And if America wins the war in Afghanistan or the Talibans have upper hand, then unfortunately Jammu and Kashmir will experience a new and battle hardened Jihadi groups entering Kashmir. They first time entered Kashmir on 22 October 1947 and caused havoc; and we continue to suffer to date.

Writer is Director Diplomatic Committee of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.Email:drshabirchoudhry@gmail.com

To view other articles see my blog: www.drshabirchoudhry.blogspot.com