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Circle Of Mistrust

By Kuldip Nayar

The Indian Express
03 July, 2003

This was in 1945, two years before Partition. The demand for Pakistan was gaining ground and affecting relations between Hindus and Muslims adversely.

I was then studying at Law College, Lahore. Mohammed Ali Jinnah came to our college to address a meeting. He said: Some nations have killed millions of each other’s people and yet an enemy of today is a friend of tomorrow. That is history.

I recalled those words at several meetings in Pakistan while leading a team of eight members of Parliament to that country.

The response was overwhelming. Some people were so moved that they began to cry. It was as if I had chanced upon a reservoir of goodwill so far untapped. This was no nostalgia. This reflected the people’s desire to bury the hatchet. They want Indo-Pak relations to be cordial. They made no bones about their exasperation over the yawning distance. They want to seize the opportunity presented by Prime Minister Vajpayee’s initiative.

Still, their doubts about India’s “intentions” run deep. Many believe that New Delhi may be up to something and that talk of peace may well be “another ploy to harm Pakistan”. We heard in many speeches the allegation that India has not accepted Partition. Vajpayee is trusted but not the BJP which he leads. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani is criticised the most for “not letting the two countries get closer”.

True, Kashmir was mentioned practically at every gathering. But the significant change which can be noticed is the realisation that jehadis and militants are not the answer. A peaceful solution is the battle-cry now.

For the first time, the Jamaat-e-Islami hosted a reception for an Indian delegation. They said they wanted a solution through talks. They, like other political leaders, do not want Kashmir to be put on the back-burner. But they favour a serious dialogue.

We, on our part, should discuss the issue as long as it takes to resolve it. But I feel Kashmir is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is mistrust. In fact, suspicion is the core issue, not Kashmir. Were mistrust to remain, it would take another form and reappear even if we solved Kashmir.

The Siachen glacier is an example. A settlement to redeploy forces of the two countries was worked out more than 15 years ago so that the glacier remained free of troops. The agreement was initialed by foreign secretaries from both sides.

The untimely disclosure of details by the Pakistan foreign secretary made New Delhi so angry that it cancelled the whole thing. It was at best an indiscretion. But then suspicion took over. Till today settlement remains elusive because New Delhi suspects Islamabad will re-occupy the place.

In the Shimla agreement, it is laid down that the two sides will meet to reach “a final settlement on Jammu and Kashmir” for establishment of durable peace. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then leading Pakistan, told me in an interview that “the Line of Control is the line of peace”. Still there has been no settlement because the mutual confidence which fosters understanding is missing.

Again, the Lahore declaration, which had set a timeframe for a solution on Kashmir, failed to take off since the Pakistan army had different plans. While the two leaders, Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, were shaking hands at the Wagah border, General Pervez Musharraf was sending troops to Kargil. This was a breach of faith. The summit at Agra failed because the two sides were mulling over the right words while committing themselves to nothing tangible. The basic problem is lack of trust.

How to break the vicious circle? Most retired bureaucrats and military officials, whose opinions are taken seriously by both governments, are primarily in the way. They are probably settling personal scores at the expense of peace in the subcontinent. At a recent track two meeting in Kathmandu, they went through the same futile exercise.

This exasperation has led Indo-Pak peace groups on both sides to sponsor visits of parliamentarians across the border. They want to create a climate of amity and friendship. They hope to put pressure on the governments on both sides to face the fact that people are no more interested in hostilities and want to live in peace as good neighbours.

The difficulties I encountered in assembling a group of parliamentarians make me fearful that dominant sections in government and political parties are not yet serious about making peace with Pakistan. Probably they are weighing their election prospects if there is no Pakistan horse to beat.

Before constituting the parliamentary team I met the prime minister, who was all for it. I thought I would have no opposition at least from the BJP. I approached Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the party’s spokesperson. He said he would come back to me but never did. Surely the PM could not have stopped him. BJP President Venkaiah Naidu, whom I contacted for names of BJP MPs, never returned my call. Lajpat Rai, a member of Rajya Sabha belonging to the BJP, himself approached me to be part of the team. But he did not show up. I believe the party asked him to withdraw.

It is difficult to comprehend the BJP’s approach. Even after avowing support to Vajpayee’s initiative, the party seems confused. Whatever its considerations, it has sent a wrong message across the border. Whenever I would say in Pakistan that the PM was sincere and honest in repairing relations, I was asked why his party was not represented.

The Congress too was ambivalent. It allowed Pawan Bansal, a Lok Sabha member from Chandigarh, to accompany the team. But the party stopped Renuka Chowdhury and Jagmeet Singh Brar from going. K.M. Khan, a Rajya Sabha member from Andhra Pradesh, came straight from Bangladesh without talking to party leaders. I give full marks to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party which allowed Shahid Siddiqui, a Rajya Sabha member, to join the team. Credit goes also to the National Conference for letting Abdul Rashid accompany the team. As expected, the CPI(M) officially nominated Lakshman Seth to represent the party. It was a wonderful team to lead.