The Indo-Pakistan Peace Process and the Kashmir Issue

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THE Indian and Pakistani leaders are making efforts to improve relations to bring lasting peace to the subcontinent. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has stated that it was time for Pakistan to look for a realistic solution to the Kashmir dispute. His announcement that Islamabad no longer insisted on a United Nations resolution on Kashmir heightened suspicions at home and caused the jehadi backlash. Two assassination attempts on President Musharraf, on December 14 and 25, 2003, which took place in the military headquarters city of Rawalpindi, have shaken the Pakistani establishment.

Musharraf is Washington's most important Muslim ally in the war on terror, and he has most likely been Osama bin Laden's unwilling host for two years. Of greater long-term significance is the fact that he has just opened the way to normal relations with India, something only one other Pakistani leader has ever done before him. Not only that, Musharraf is attempting a historic tilt in Pakistan's orientation, away from being an Islamic state towards a secular republic.

In recent times, he has spoken openly against militancy, sectarianism, benighted mullaism, and other ailments of misapplied faith. Mix this with his generally secular outlook on life, and the result is fairly interesting: a powerful military leader, propounding a moderate vision for a world of Islam locked in a multiple crisis of confidence and future direction.

The forces that are targeting Musharraf are angry with him and the military under his command for the pro-active policy of denying shelter to the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who are fighting against the United States-led coalition, and because of a perceived shift in Pakistan's traditional policy on Kashmir. Musharraf's statement on Kashmir points to a paradigm shift in the country's India policy.

There is little doubt that Musharraf's latest statement on Kashmir is part of a series of major gestures aimed at addressing India's concerns. New Delhi has repeatedly complained about continuing cross-border infiltration, a terrorist infrastructure geared to engage in anti-India activities, and Pakistan's unwillingness to participate in trade and cultural exchanges.

In recent months, Islamabad has tried to meet Indian demands. It has banned a number of sectarian and fundamentalist groups reputed to have links with terrorist groups. It has also banned terrorist outfits, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Pakistan's laws on terrorism and extremist groups remain opaque. While the government claims to be tackling terrorism, it has taken no substantial steps towards restricting the extremism that permeates parts of the society.

Indeed, many Pakistanis argue that Musharraf is following the pattern of the country's previous military rulers in co-opting religious extremists to support his government's agenda and to neutralise his secular political opposition. Whatever measures have so far been taken against extremism have been largely cosmetic, to ease international pressure.

For the first time in the history of the relations between Pakistan and India, Pakistan initiated a unilateral cease-fire, and it has been in place since November 26, 2003. India also responded positively.

During the 12th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad, India's then Prime Minister Vajpayee expressed readiness to resolve all pending differences with Pakistan, including those that revolve around the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Three days of hectic talks followed that statement, which resulted in a joint statement by the two countries expressing their resolve to resume talks. It raised the level of curiosity as to what exactly transpired between the leaders of the two countries. The factors that contribute to orientations for a meaningful dialogue are:

* There is incremental pressure on India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue, and especially to address the issue of Jammu and Kashmir;

* The possession of nuclear weapons and missiles by both countries is considered to have real potentialities for a nuclear conflict;

* The phenomenon of terrorism in the subcontinent is no longer considered to be confined to separatist aspirations of some sections of the people of Kashmir. …