May Issue 2003

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 16 years ago

Will Prime Minister Jamali’s 15-minute telephonic conversation with Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee, followed by the announcement from both sides to resume full diplomatic ties and air links, spell the beginning of an era of peace and prosperity in the subcontinent? Or is it yet another cosmetic exercise in futility, undertaken to appease a third force?

We have travelled this rocky road before. Tashkent, Shimla, Lahore and Agra yielded little by way of a durable peace, so why should this time be any different? Indeed, why — particularly if both sides continue to stick to their guns, literally, and are unwilling to yield any ground. Dark clouds of suspicion loom menacingly on one of the poorest regions of the world, and a nuclear outburst cannot be ruled out — given that both countries flaunt their weapons like medallions of honour.

The terms “Kashmir” and “cross-border terrorism” constitute roadblocks in the way of any movement forward. The Indians see Kashmir as an integral part of their country; Pakistan regards it as disputed territory. India accuses Pakistan of instigating terrorism in Kashmir; Pakistan calls it an indigenous movement. The breach is wide.

In order to move forward and bridge the divide, both countries will have to step back from their stated positions. They will have to discard their own prejudices, discount religious lobbies and their rhetoric, and hunt for new acceptable solutions — and maybe, even accept third-party mediation. One is aware that the Indians are strongly opposed to any such measure, but if it takes a gentle nudge from our American “friends” to push us to the discussion table, why should we fight shy of seeking their assistance in thrashing out a workable proposal.

Flexibility is the need of the hour — and the fact that the two sides, who had refused to exchange even a word in the last 18 months, have broken the ice is a positive omen.

Incidentally, while there is a distinct melting of ice on the Indo-Pakistan border, a chill pervades the corridors of power in Islamabad.

The government is stymied and the parliament paralysed by a problem of President Musharraf’s own making: the LFO continues to be a bone of contention between the opposition and the treasury benches. The opposition insists that it be ratified by parliament, and further that the President seek a vote of confidence and shed his army uniform. Impossible, says the President. He sees himself “as a bridge between the army and the civilians” and is unwilling to quit “now that the country’s economy is at a take-off stage.” Given the rigidity on both sides, the stand-off will persist and Musharraf’s much coveted ‘democratic’ edifice is in danger of being blown away by a deafening chorus of “No LFO, no; Go Musharraf go.”

Fears are being expressed in certain quarters that in order to pre-empt any move for his ouster, Musharraf may even dissolve parliament. That would be disaster. Pakistan can neither afford another martial law nor another election. There are problems and pressures galore. Pakistan is facing demands from Afghanistan to hunt down and hand over Al-Qaeda terrorists, who are regrouping with the Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami; then there is intense pressure from the US to do more to rein in the militants. And finally, there is the constant clamour from India to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. Pakistan has its hands full. What it urgently needs to do is delineate its goals — and move in that direction.

Pakistan first, seems a good enough starting point. All else should follow.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.