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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 05:47 GMT
India and Pakistan's road to detente

By Ahmed Rashid
in Islamabad and Delhi

The upcoming peace talks between India and Pakistan in December will be significant for one big reason: they will feature the first detailed discussion on the composite dialogue on resolving the Kashmir issue.

Natwar Singh (L) and Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri in Delhi
There are still wide-ranging differences in perception
However, in interviews with senior Pakistani and Indian officials, it appears that there are still wide ranging differences of perception on what constitutes progress.

The pace of talks was bound to slow down with the change of guard in India. One senior Pakistani diplomat describes the détente after the Congress party-led government took over in India as "now merely limping along", although he emphasised that there could be no going back to the tension ridden relations after September 11.

However senior Indian officials insist that the peace process has been "on track and on schedule all along and there have been no delays".

Since January both countries have initiated widespread confidence building measures (CBMs) which have led to a vast improvement of relations.

However there are differences of perception on what constitutes a peace process. Pakistani officials fear that the blizzard of CBMs between the two countries would allow India to postpone or delay serious discussion on how to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

We cannot agree to any further partitions or changes on the map
Indian official

Pakistan sees CBMs as a separate but parallel track to discussing options on Kashmir, which it counts as the 'core' issue between the two countries.

"There is the perception that India is only buying time through the CBMs to delay discussion on Kashmir," says a senior Pakistani official.

However the Indians see the 97 CBMs, including providing a bus service between the capitals of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir and softening the Line of Control dividing the two sides, as part of the discussion on Kashmir and "creating building blocks" towards an eventual peace.

Secret talks

Moreover the Pakistani military places far greater emphasis on the back-channel talks between Tariq Aziz and JN Dixit, the national security advisers to the Pakistani and Indian leaders, as a means to come to a resolution on the Kashmir dispute.

Indian officials say the two men have met three times in secret since May and another meeting will take place before the December talks begin.

Manmohan Singh (left) with Sonia Gandhi
The change of guard in India slowed down the pace of talks
However India emphasises that the back-channel is just that and the two national security advisers can discuss options and clear bureaucratic roadblocks in the process, but actual solutions can only come through the formal talks between the two governments.

Here the different power structures in the two countries come into effect.

Musharraf and the military have kept tight control over the back-channel process and Pakistan's civilian leaders - the prime minister, the foreign minister, the federal cabinet and the foreign ministry - are generally kept out of the loop.

Musharraf confers with his senior generals and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence before any back-channel meeting takes place, while civilian leaders are only informed after the event.

The Indian leadership has a more consensual approach with key cabinet, intelligence and foreign ministry officials involved in the back channel process. The Indian army is informed, but rarely consulted in political decision making.

In India there is a broad consensus between Congress and the opposition BJP to take the peace process forward, while in Pakistan there is no such consensus and Musharraf, who remains army chief and president is finding it difficult to build one because of the opposition's insistence that he take off his uniform.

Musharraf's proposals

Pakistan still sees a solution to the Kashmir issue as one where India has to yield territory to Pakistan.

When the two leaders met at the UN, Manmohan Singh informed President Musharraf that he was ready to discuss options on Kashmir, but India would not accept a redrawing of its borders and would not accept any concessions in Kashmir on a religious or ethnic basis - thereby limiting most of the solutions that Pakistan has in mind.

"We cannot agree to any further partitions or changes on the map," a senior Indian official said. India even remains wary of formalising new arrangements in Kashmir.
President Musharraf
Musharraf is criticised by some of being in too much of a hurry

"Lets agree to greater autonomy to both sides of Kashmir so the Kashmiris can better manage their affairs, but lets avoid formal agreements for the time being which involve new political arrangements," said another Indian official.

Nevertheless Musharraf went ahead and proposed several options on the Kashmir dispute based on territorial changes, which he called "food for thought". The suggestions, which were bold for any Pakistani leader to make on such a highly sensitive issue, met with a muted response in Delhi.

Both India and Pakistan are also stepping up their dialogue with moderate Kashmiri leaders.

In September Kashmir's paramount religious leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq met secretly with Musharraf in Amsterdam and later met with Pakistan's former ISI chief Lt Gen Ehsanul Haq in Dubai, according to officials from both countries.

For Pakistan, which has traditionally backed Kashmiri Islamic militants that is a major step forward.

Indians and Pakistani peace activists point to a lack of trust and confidence between the two governments.

To counter this more CBMs carried out at a faster pace are needed, while the Kashmiris need to be bought into the discussion. Peace activists say that Musharraf is in too much of a hurry, while Singh has been too cautious.

It is still a long hard road ahead. The only encouraging sign is that both the countries are ruling out the military option to resolve their differences.

To read Ahmed Rashid's future columns, bookmark bbcnews.com/southasia

Here are a selection of comments you sent on this column.

Very few people have pointed out the important fact that territorial concession on the part of India requires a 2/3 majority in the parliament. There is simply no government, now or in the foreseable future, that can cobble together that kind of a majority for ANYTHING, let alone a sell out. The only scenario in which India will concede territory to Pakistan is in the unlikely event of India being defeated militarily. Pakistan should respect this fact and propose alternatives to territoral adjustments.
Vijay Ram, India

I think that the best solution to Kashmir issue is in a Tri-party dialogue which should include true kashmiri leadership beside India and Pakistan. Simulataneously also there is dire need of recognition of true kashmir leadership by nation-wide elections
Dr Faisal Mujib Siddiqui, UK

I would like to pose one question to all the readers who are for objectivity and fairness, has any other leader from the sub continent in the recent shown this kind if determination and commitment to resolve this long standing dispute?
Tauqeer Hassan, England

A good article by Ahmed Rashid. Being the wife of a Kashmiri I have come to know that India is good in doing propoganda against Pakistan and Kashmiri militants. Not to forget that these 80,000 graves in Kashmir are those of Kasmiris killed by Indian occupied forces and not that of Pakistani or others and also these are 120,000 Kashmiri women being raped and humiliated by Indian forces. Don't misunderstand that Kashmiri struggle is against Indian forces since 1947.
cecil, France

As far as Kashmir issue is concerned, it can not be resolved without the intervention of major powers especially USA. Also both sides (India and Pakistan) has to respect what people of Kashmir want. Recently (According to Ahmed Rashid) Pakistan has offered some flexibility in its point of view but India is on same track- no change.
Zia Ullah Khan, Luton UK

Pakistan has pretty bad human rights record in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, this was one of the key reasons why Bangladesh threw the Pakistani country model out back in 1971. Kashmir's future lies with India, who can offer Kashmiris freedom, democracy and wealth. In contrast Pakistan can offer Kashmiris nothing, except more militancy and terrorism.
N Hussain, Birmingham

This is an excellent matter of fact article. Mr Rashid has described the positions well. The only thing I would add is that if Mr Musharraf really cares about Pakistan, he should stop these foolish attempts to gain territory. No world power is going to help him, and no Govt in India that wants to win re-election will give him an inch of territory. Progress depends on what Musharraf wants more: Kashmiri territory or Pakistani economic success. Musharraf should find some face saving way to close the Kashmir issue without losing or gaining territory and move on to focus on Pakistan's economic growth.
Arun Patel, USA / India

These are good omens, and healthy signs. Being of the origin from the same area, I am very happy to see the two sides engage each other in dialogue. Dialogue, unwieldy and slow they may be, is the only way forward. Both sides have tried to force a military solution to the problems for over 55 years, and failed. Now with stakes much higher in military conflict due to Pakistan and India going nuclear, the only real option was to sit down on the table.
Usman Khan, Canada

If Kashmiris want to be independent or to be annexed to Pakistan, they should be allowed to do so. But Kashmiris need to find out that in doing so, they are not merely carrying out Pakistan's secret agenda. Another important thing that should be kept in mind that once independent or part of Pakistan, they should not look at India for financial or military support.
Saswatee, india

An excellent report update by Mr Ahmed Rashid. He has described the individual positions of the decision makers of the two countries very well. I do not foresee a further division of India on religious lines. This would alienate the Indian Muslims further from the Hindus. The only concession that Pakistanis can expect in return is that India will not stake claim for the part they call as AJK. I know passions will run very high if such an emotive issue is debated and people belonging to either sides will take up extreme positions. But reality calls for impassionate thinking.
Giri, India

Kashmir neither belongs to India nor to Pakistan. Those foolhardy enough to think that a land grab during the 1947 (including the mockery of a supposed accession) will somehow legalise their hold of this land, are surely alluding themselves. Kashmir and it people (of any religion) have a unique identity, distinct from that of India or Pakistan. The region should be allowed to choose their own destiny.
Tony Onne, UK

Musharaf's suggestion of demilitarising parts of Kashmir and Manmohan Singh's extreme reaction that Kashmir being a part of India, demilitarising is out of question, shows the amount of divergence in the view points of the two neighbours. Years of rhetoric and propaganda has hardened the attitudes to such an extent that it will need a lot of accomodation by each party to reach a settlement.
Pran Razdan, New Delhi India

I think that Pakistan has been trying hard to find a just solution for the kashmir problem. But some sort of compromise also has to come from India, which has a never changing policy towards kashmir. It indicates that the leaders in Pakistan are trying their best to solve kashmir, but without a positive response from India it is not possible.
Hassan Aslam, USA

It is hard to think of any logical reason as to why would India agree with a Pakistani proposal which in any which way you can think, dilutes its control over its integral part J&K even for peace. Gen. Musharraf is living in a dream world if he thinks he can win anything major on negotiating table from India, which Pakistan could not get by war or terrorism from India. Its time for them to wake up to ground realities and work for betterment of subservient people of the so called Azad Jammu and Kashmir which has nothing Azad about it...
Dave Falgun, USA

I find it surprising that nowhere have the orriginal inhabitants of the valley - the Kashmiri Pandits - given a role. Hounded out due to ethnic cleansing, the ethnic minority finds it disheartening that none of the world bodies holds Pakistan's feet to fire for what they have done to these people. All talk of dispute resolution is thus meaningless. It is like holding a gun to the temple of the people and telling them to make a choice. Past masters in the art of blackmail, Pakistan's esatblishment finds that it is the only policy that pays in a world where democracy and human rights are expedient principles.
Vijay, Canada

Just to correct Ahmed Rashid, it is not the "discussion on the composite dialogue to resolve Kashmir", but it is the composite dialogue of which Kashmir is just one component. Composite dialogue is not for Kashmir. Please do not twist the words to cunningly push in Kashmir in the minds of readers. Please do not play tactical games at least when it comes to just reporting or giving opinions.
SS, India

If Pakistan wants re-drawing the borders and India insists on Kashmir being an integral part of the country, what is there to be discussed. India and Pakistan must talk with the Kashmiri leadership without conditions and should not have their own stands. It's Kashmiris on both sides of LOC who must make the eventual decision. Pakistan and India must be ready to listen to them.If Kashmiris do not want to join the either, India and Pakistan must agree to that.
Aijaz Gul, Pakistan

Any decision made by Pakistan and India in the absence of Kashmiri leaders would be unacceptable and difficult to implement. Kashmiris have suffered the loss of more than 60,000 lives since 1947 and for both goverments it is only a dispute of water. Both governments have their own interests and people of kashmir are being used by them just for nothing. Let them breathe and allow them to make decision about their own homeland. It is their right to decide about their future and territory not the occupied forces.
Irfan qayyum, Toronto, Canada

The column by Mr.Ahmed Rashid was indeed a good appraisal about the impasse in Kashmir issue. I think its better if the Indian side give a serious thought to General Mushraff's comment provided he modifies it by openly stating and acting against all the terrorist organisations and trainig camps in Pakistan soil that operates in India.
Jayan, Malaysia



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