The relations between India and Pakistan are at their lowest ebb since the two fought at Kargil, just after signing the Lahore Declaration. The situation was complicated even further when, as a result of a military coup on October 12 1999, General Pervez Musharraf took over as the Chief Executive of Pakistan. Immediately after assuming power, Gen. Musharraf made an open offer that he was ready to talk to the Indian Prime Minister, anywhere and at any time. But the Indians, who were licking their wounds after Kargil, were not ready to accept the villain of the war as the head of the government in Pakistan. BJP government in India made it clear that they were not interested in having any type of relationship with Pakistan, unless and until democracy is restored in the country and Pakistan stopped supporting cross border terrorism in Kashmir. India went to the extent of bringing sports into politics. It stopped its cricket team from first touring Pakistan, and then withdrew from the Sharjah Cup, where Pakistan was one of the participating teams. This was the time when the entire world was worried, as there was no hope left that the gulf between the two nuclear powers of South Asia could be bridged in the near future.
The world witnessed a big change in the policy of Vajpayee government, when, in early June 2001, they sent an invitation to the Chief Executive of Pakistan to visit India and to discuss all issues including Kashmir. Before this, they were not ready to even consider Kashmir as an issue of dispute between the two countries, as to them it is an integral part of India. It was indeed a great break-through. Most people think that the best way of finding the solution to a problem between any two rivals is to bring them to the negotiation table so that they can discuss their problems at length, and try to find out some solution. Most of the analysts consider this development as a move in the right direction. However, the question, which strikes the minds of many is what led Indian policy makers to take this U-turn?
A number of explanations have been given. Some feel that it was the hard time, given by the freedom fighters in Kashmir to the Indian forces, which compelled India to opt for negotiations. According to an estimate, death toll of Indian forces in Kashmir has been rising at a high pace for the last three years. To others, the BJP government in India has taken this decision to gain the support of Muslims of the country, as most of them are against the present regime. One can also not ignore that India first made a dialogue offer to All Parties Hurriat Conference, which the latter refused on the plea that no dialogue on Kashmir could be effective without the involvement of Pakistan. India, after the refusal by APHC, invited Pakistan to show the Kashmiri leadership that Pakistan is ready to bypass them in settling Kashmir problem. In this way India could be in a position to develop differences between Pakistan and the All Parties Hurriat Conference (APHC).
The China factor is also very important. The entire process started just after the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister to Pakistan. Though Pakistan and China are considered to be good friends since the early sixties, the recent visit of the Chinese PM to Pakistan and the signing of a number of pacts of economic cooperation between the two countries was difficult for India and the United States to digest. United States pressure on India to engage Pakistan in a dialogue process and to prevent them falling completely in the hands of China, could be another reason. United States does not want to lose Pakistan, as it provides them the only gateway to the newly emerging huge market of Central Asia.
One can not rule out any of the above-mentioned factors, but here I want to draw the attention of the readers to another very important factor. The think tanks in India are now visualizing their country as a global power instead of a regional one. India has already launched a campaign for a permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations. To gain the higher goals, there is a chance that India might agree to get rid of its longstanding disputes with Pakistan. It is also important to note that the main issue to be discussed in the forthcoming General Assembly session of the UN in September 2001 is Self Determination and Terrorism. India wants to keep face in the New York Summit, and has thus invited Pakistan Chief Executive to Delhi and Agra.
Whatever is the reason for this change in the Indian policy; most of those who are interested in Indo-Pak affairs consider it as a move in the positive direction. Dialogue is one of the best ways of settling a dispute. History has provided India and Pakistan another opportunity to solve the problem of this area, which is considered as a nuclear flash point. Everybody is keenly looking forward to July 14. However, the strategy of both the parties for the forthcoming dialogue is not yet clear. First of all, nobody is sure whether the heads of the government of India and Pakistan will directly hit the core issue or not? If the two discuss issues like confidence building measures, economy, culture, sports etc., but ignore the Kashmir dispute, the result will once again be a disaster. None of these issues can be resolved unless and until a permanent solution of the Kashmir problem is finalized.
Even if the two parties concentrate on Kashmir, what will be their approach? Will India ask Pakistan to give them the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir? Or will Pakistan ask India to give the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir to them? These types of solutions have been suggested by many from both sides in the past and everybody knows that they are not acceptable to one party or the other. We need not repeat the tried, tested and failed approaches. Gen. Musharraf has made it clear that he is ready for a flexible policy on Kashmir. This leaves the ball now in Vajpayee court. One can hope for a positive response from the Indian side.
During the negotiations, Musharraf and Vajpayee need to come up with a solution, which is be acceptable not only to India and Pakistan but also to the Kashmiris, United States and China. All of them are very concerned about the issue and are involved in one way or another. Is such a solution available? Accepting the Line of Control as an International Boarder is not acceptable to Pakistan. India is not willing to give any thing that is a part of Indian occupied Kashmir, to their enemies. Autonomous Kashmir under Indian suzerainty is against the will of the Kashmiri people. United States wants a completely independent state of Jammu and Kashmir so that they can find a platform in this very important region of the world. However, China will never agree to this type of solution. Above all the history of bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan on Kashmir is not too good a sign to be optimistic. So let keep our fingers crossed till July 16th and pray for a miracle to take place.