Are We Ready To Give Up The Valley

Written by Subhash Agrawal | Updated: Jan 1 2004, 05:30am hrs
As attention shifts to the SAARC summit and whether or not PM Vajpayee will sit one-on-one with General Musharraf, its useful to ask if there really is an opening between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. A collection of reports, quiet whispers and seminars held by perennial Track II optimists over the last few years has built up a perception that a solution could easily be found, indeed has been found, but all it requires is courage and vision.

In this world of diplomatic McDonald-land where anything is possible as long you say love-you-brother, it is the hawks on both sides who have impeded a solution. This hawks-versus-doves theory has assumed a surprising amount of critical mass in Pakistan where many opinion makers and diplomats believe that Mr Vajpayee is a peacemaker and Mr Advani a hawk, and that a solution could be reached if only the latter receded from influence. In fact, after the 2001 Agra summit, the bulk of Pakistani media opinion was that a major solution was in sight, only requiring our own poetic leader to put pen to paper, but it was sabotaged by the LK Advani faction.

This perception is actually quite inexplicable, especially given that courtesy our more open society and wider world of public debates, they should normally have great access to Indian opinion trends and the pulse of our nation.

Are we ready to give up the Kashmir valley Of course not. A new generation of Indians wants to settle this messy Raj hangover, even to the point of self-rule at par with independence, but no Indian regime will get support on handing over the valley. The Pakistanis will not settle for anything less. Thats where the impasse rests. Over the last few years, especially since Kargil and other developments which earned Pakistan worldwide criticism, there has been a significant shift from earlier maximalist positions and Pakistan is now agreeable to Ladakh and three Hindu majority districts of Jammu going to India. But they still want the valley.

By now most Pakistani policy and army elite know that jihad is a lost cause. Those ten years of unapologetic jihad were their lost decade in every way: human development, per capita income, growth, investment or social structures. Pakistans role in propping the morally offensive Taliban regime has cost it so much goodwill that it would be difficult to find a major liberal voice in any Western nation that has a good thing to say about that country. It is also clear that India can sustain anti-terrorist operations and its entrenched position in Kashmir well into the future, albeit at high cost. Yet, they will not accept the LOC solution.

Everyone knows this is the least painful and perhaps the only viable solution. But they cant accept it because after 55 years of raising the stakes so high, no non-Valley idea would be palatable to Pakistani society. Any change in Pakistani public opinion would require years of steady effort at un-doctrination and re-education, laced heavily with shifting the focus of average citizens towards economy and jobs, and towards accepting a pluralistic, modern world. This would take at least a generation, and only if there were dollops of external largesse.

Does the US recognise this reality Very probably, at least at honest levels of thought and discussion. In an irony that few Indians and even fewer Pakistanis have noted, American adulation for Musharraf is almost parallel to public disdain for much else about Pakistan. Every time somebody in the State Department says We trust that guy; hes been a jolly good fella so far, what they are really saying in effect is Look, that country is a strange and dangerous place and we dont trust anything about it, but he is one man who can keep it under wraps till our job is done in the region.

This attitude is perhaps best summed up by a recent New York Times headline A Nuclear Headache: What if the Radicals Oust Musharraf The disclosure of Pakistani uranium technology being smuggled to Iran has only added to western voices which want Pakistan changed in toto and not in a piecemeal fashion. But for that, we in India will have to wait well beyond SAARC 2004.

The author is an analyst of Indian political and business trends and the editor of India Focus, a political risk report for international investors