India-Pakistan hostility: Time to break the ice

Updated: Jan 23 2002, 05:30am hrs
Was it necessary for the government to ask the Chief of Army staff, S Padmanabhan, to give Pakistan a war-like message a day before Pakistans President Pervez Musharraf was to make his broadcast speech Although defence minister George Fernandes tried to tone down the message, reportedly at the behest of Washington, India sounded hawkish.

At a time when New Delhi was pursuing diplomatic efforts and succeeding with the US and the UK, the army chief jumped the gun. Washington had conveyed to New Delhi a few days before the gist of Gen.Musharrafs speech, which he conveyed to the visiting US Senators. Still the army chief was not stopped. Even the reaction was slow. The government took nearly 18 hours to respond to the speech. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could have consulted leaders of main political parties on the phone if he considered the exercise so necessary. Even after Agra, the government has not learnt how the media functions and how important it is to respond quickly to some of the announcements which Gen. Musharraf made. Our reply was timid, sparse and halting.

True, Gen. Musharraf is yet to win our confidence because he started his career with the intrusion in Kargil. We have also bitter memories of Pakistans earlier betrayals at Tashkent, Shimla and Lahore. Yet, here was a man who wanted to turn his country around, a country founded on religion and bristling with fundamentalism. We should have been more positive in our response. The entire world was watching us. We should have unilaterally withdrawn our forces from the eyeball-to-eyeball position. Meanwhile, Gen. Musharraf carried accolades of approval practically from all over the world.

We have always wanted Pakistan to be a democratic and secular country. Is this happening We will have to wait till October this year to find out whether Gen. Musharraf respects the Supreme Court verdict to hold elections. But as far as the secular aspect is concerned, he has said that religion and politics will not be mixedan attitude that is needed even in our country.

Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah announced on the eve of Pakistans birth: You cease to be Muslims and Hindus. You are now either Pakistanis or Indians. His was a secular approach. But it practically died with him. Is Gen. Musharraf trying to be Jinnah II He has announced a war against religious forces in Pakistan. This is a tough job because they have had complete freedom all along. The 11-year-old rule of General Zia-ul-Haq strengthened themsome even in the armed forces. Even Zufiqar Ali Bhutto used religion for his political purpose. He declared the Ahmedias as non-Muslims and declared Friday a weekly holiday to placate the mullahs and maulvis. Gen. Musharraf may need some time in containing religious elements. He should be given that time.

Large-scale arrests and sealing of offices will not satisfy India. It wants to see whether Gen. Musharrafs action would end cross-border terrorism. So far, the axe has fallen on terrorists working within Pakistan. Those who have committed terrorism in Kashmir have not been touched. In fact, some of the banned terrorist organisations have challenged the Pakistan government. They are quite right in saying that the interpretation of jehad that Gen. Musharraf gave till yesterday could not be changed overnight. He had defended at Islamabad the jehadi violence in Kashmir before a gathering of journalists from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. He had argued that they were freedom fighters. Even when it was pointed out that jehad had a different connotation in India, he stuck to his words. For him to say that jehad means an onslaught against poverty, hunger and ignorance, is quite a volte face.

But when he has done a U-turn on Afghanistan in, what he called the national interest, he can do the same on Kashmir. His statement that he will not allow Pakistan to be used as a territory for interference in other countries is significant. This is, indeed, in his national interest. If he lives up to his promise, the two countries can be friends again. Hostility with India has not helped Pakistan in any way. It has suffered economically and internationally.

No doubt, the chapter of hate and hostility going back to 50 years cannot be closed overnight. Yet, much will depend on the education Pakistan imparts at its schools and colleges. So far, there is too much hatred and distortion of history in textbooks. The action against madrassas, however commendable, is not enough. The content of instruction must change.

Gen. Musharraf has said that Kashmir runs in the veins of every Pakistani. I am not so sure of that. During the lunch hosted in honour of Indian delegates accompanying Mr Vajpayee to Lahore, Sahibzada Yakub Khan, Pakistans former foreign minister, asked the Pakistanis sitting around our table how they felt about Kashmir. The people from Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province shrugged their shoulders, while a Sindhi said it was too distant. Mr Khan turned to me and said: If you ask people in the south, or the non-Hindi speaking states, you will get the same answer.

The problem is between the Punjabis on both sides, he said. You should sort it out between yourselves. Still, Kashmir has plagued relations between the two countries and should be discussed peacefully, as Gen. Musharraf has said. But once Indias fears on cross-border terrorism are set at rest, there is no reason why the talks on Kashmir cannot begin. The agenda should cover all the pending issues so that the sub-continent turns a new chapter of amity and cooperation.

The problem of Kashmir has become intractable over the years. The state has got communalised. The Hindu-majority Jammu wants to integrate with the rest of India, giving up the special status that it enjoys. Ladakh, a Buddhist- majority state, is keen to become a Union territory, directly administered by New Delhi. So we are left with the Valley having a predominantly Muslim population. Had Jammu and Kashmir gone to Pakistan at the time of Partition, people in India would have regretted it but would have taken it in their stride.

Today, after 55 years, the state cannot be divided into three parts on the basis of religion. Can secular India allow the Valley to secede on the demand that it has a Muslim majority Such a course will harm our secular polity beyond redemption. The entire politics of the BJP and the Sangh parivar is anti-Muslim. The determination of the Valleys future on the basis of religion will give it a card which it will play to destroy whatever secular polity we have built so far. The Hindutva forces will say that if Muslims in Kashmir want to opt out of India after 55 years, then why should the other 140 million Muslims be allowed to stay in the country Even if all secularists in India lay down their lives in trying to protect them, millions of Muslims will be knocking at the door of Pakistan. Communal riots will become inevitable. The prospects are too horrendous to contemplate.

Some way has to be found to sort out the Kashmir problem. But the solution does not to have to be based on religion. Perhaps, the governments on both sides can appoint some eminent people to work out a solution. After the Lahore agreement, Mr Vajpayees representatives R K Mishra and Nawaz Sharifs nominee Niaz Naik almost found something acceptable to both sides. Mr Vajpayee said at that time that we were almost there. An unofficial effort will do no harm.