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Friday, July 27, 2001

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Impasse at Agra

By Rajeev Dhavan

HE CAME, he saw, he left. He did not conquer. But, he claimed a victory. This was predictable; and, indeed, inevitable. Whether the Agra summit was a success or failure is irrelevant. It collapsed. We need to know why.

First, we need to begin by examining the position of the negotiating parties before we examine the subject matter of the negotiations. Amidst `summit' euphoria, this elementary insight seems to have eluded India's approach. Pakistan is a military regime backed by military generals with an unequivocally unified policy on its relationship with India. Pakistan's military policy, foreign policy and domestic policy are pointed in the same unipolar direction: fighting a war in Kashmir on communal grounds. India had no basis for assuming that, somehow, Pakistan's foreign policy would be different from its military policy or its domestic policy. A military regime committed to a war cannot turn its back on its military policy in summit negotiations. By contrast, India's military, foreign and domestic policies are necessarily different. India's military policy is defensive in nature: to defend its borders, but not to covet territorial expansion. Its foreign policy is pointedly founded on peace. Its domestic policy is based on secularism within a federal framework of which Kashmir is a part. India approached the Agra summit with the expanded horizons of its foreign policy of peace. There was no reason whatsoever for India to believe that Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, would somehow break up the unity of his military, foreign and domestic policies so as to abandon Pakistan's military policy and point his foreign policy in a direction different from his military and domestic policies. A policy of peace cannot grow out of a military policy single-mindedly devoted to a terrorist supported war.

Second, let us turn to the subject matter. India needs to make clear that Kashmir is available for discussion and not decision. No Prime Minister can negotiate away the territory and status of Kashmir. In the Berubari case (1960) where certain enclaves were handed over to the then East Pakistan, the Supreme Court gave a timely warning that India's territory could not simply be handed over to Pakistan; or, for that matter, anyone else. This was reiterated in the Rann of Kutch case (1969) which permitted clarifying a border, but not ceding Indian territory. This exercise would require a constitutional amendment. Likewise, the status of Kashmir is a part of Article 370. It cannot be bargained away through treaty negotiations. If Pakistan has a bottom line on Kashmir arising out of its unified foreign, military and domestic policy, India's constitutional democracy founded on the rule of law circumscribes what can be discussed and what can be decided at summits on Kashmir.

Third, Pakistan needs to make its policy on Kashmir clear. If Pakistan's policy is to annex Kashmir, this should be clearly stated - especially to the people of Kashmir, including those of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). To be part of Pakistan is not an option favoured by anyone, including most Kashmiris. Pakistan is wholly unsuited to absorb Jammu, Ladakh and other parts of Kashmir. Muslim groups fighting in Kashmir are wary about a Kashmir within Pakistan - and should make their position clear to Pakistan. The suggestion from some quarters in Pakistan that there should be a district-by-district plebiscite in all its territories invites an abhorrent balkanisation of this regime. This is simply unacceptable. Once it becomes clear that Pakistan does not wish to annex Kashmir and, that Kashmiris do not want to be part of Pakistan, many things will fall in place. What will remain is whether Kashmir will be autonomously located within or without India. At present, Kashmir has an autonomous status within Article 370. This is consistent with India's secular federalism which devises special provisions for other States (Article 371A-H). What defeats discussion is Pakistan's lack of clarity on its plans to annex Kashmir by hiding behind a possible divisive plebiscite which can never be an excuse for not stating its position clearly.

Fourth, the issue of cross border terrorism is real. Unfortunately, words like `cross border terrorism' obscure meanings. What is at issue is that Pakistan has waged an undeclared war through direct and indirect terrorist means. This `war' is being fought ruthlessly, with crippling social and economic effects for both countries and all affected people. To ask Pakistan to state its position on its `war' with India is very much an issue. Peace talks require a cessation of this war as a prelude to understanding and, perforce, discussion.

Fifth, India's civil liberties record in Kashmir leaves a lot to be desired. It is no comfort to read reports that Pakistan's record in PoK is as bad, if not worse. No constitutional democracy can allow arbitrary infringements and travesties even in a war situation. This requires immediate attention. There are some doubts on the applicability of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to Kashmir. Incidents such as Bijbehara have defied effective investigation. A special institutional mechanism is necessary, with the armed forces showing willingness not to have their record tained. This is a priority.

Sixth, the nuclear issues. This is a threat to the region. Apart from false price and misplaced jingoism, the stability of this region and the anxiety of the whole world cannot be set at rest unless this is worked out. The possibility of even an accidental nuclear strike in South Asia is ghastly. Such an issue cannot be linked to Kashmir or the military objectives of any country. It has to be de-linked as a priority issue and resolved now.

Seventh, this is a need to be bring about possibilities of interaction between the people of Pakistan and India. There are many issues to be examined here which can only be insufficiently symbolised by Mr. Vajpayee's famous bus ride to Lahore. Exchanges and equities have to be worked out at many levels for people, prisoners, communications and trade. Suspicions need to be allayed. If Europe can come together, in the distance future there has to be an South Asian Union which does not challenge the integrity of the constituent nation states, but draws them together. A foundation for this can only laid on the basis of an ``agenda of peace, trade, communication and people''.

The summit became all the more difficult because of Gen. Musharraf's own regime compulsions and untimely senior BJP voices. Pakistan's military regime is backed by military generals, answerable to political fundamentalists in a society, which is retreating into expressions of feudalism in many areas, without durable democratic traditions. But, there are many brilliant and quiet voices in Pakistani society in favour of the peace process. Many Pakistanis want peace and progress like many Indians. India has strong and democratic traditions. But, the BJP's rise to power, the wanton destruction of the Babri Masjid supported by the BJP's White Paper, the fact that the BJP leads the national coalition in power in Delhi, increased assaults on minorities, the move to abolish Article 370 and the emergence of state policies dedicated to propagating some version of Hinduism give rise to suspicions. Senior BJP leaders are ill advised to speak discordantly when talks are going on. As Prime Minister, Mr. Vajpayee speaks for a secular nation, not for the BJP.

But, agendas for summits are not made in heaven. India's naive assumption that Pakistan would evolve a foreign policy of peace in the face of its military policy of war was misguided. India's Kashmir position need to be stated. Pakistan needs to be drawn out to clarify its stance on Kashmir. It really does not matter who won or lost the summit. There remains an unfinished agenda on which the happiness of the peoples of South Asia depends.

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