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Pak protests put peace process on hold

Political uncertainty in Pakistan sparked by mass protests against President Pervez Musharraf may have forced India to put the peace diplomacy with its neighbour on hold.

india Updated: Jun 24, 2007 13:06 IST

Political uncertainty in Pakistan sparked by mass protests against President Pervez Musharraf and threats by exiled leaders that New Delhi should not rush to sign agreements with the military-backed regime may have forced India to put the peace diplomacy with its neighbour on hold.

Although New Delhi will not like the power tussle and uncertainty in Pakistan to jeopardise its three-year-old peace process with Islamabad, there is a growing feeling in South Block that Musharraf is losing control and that it makes sense to wait and watch before thinking of any major initiative, reliable sources privy to the government thinking told IANS.

"A person who is so engrossed in internal affairs can't have much time for serious political dialogue with India. India should be wary of any high-level political dialogue with Pakistan," G Parthasarathy, former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, told IANS.

Agrees Kuldip Nayar, veteran journalist and keen Pakistan-watcher: "The peace process has been put on the backburner. Musharraf's position has weakened after civil society, including lawyers and media, turned against him following the sacking of the chief justice and subsequent mishandling by imposing curbs on the media."

Nayar advises New Delhi to be cautious in its dealings with Musharraf.

"It is the beginning of the end of Musharraf. Things may have to start all over again if there is a change of regime," he said.

India has lately become circumspect about any serious dialogue with the Musharraf regime in Pakistan, especially after recent pronouncements by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif that he will not honour any treaty Musharraf signs with New Delhi.

In a recent interview with NDTV, Sharif, currently in exile in London and who is planning to contest the coming elections which Musharraf has promised will be held by November, said he "doesn't recognise Musharraf as the president of Pakistan or a legitimate president of Pakistan" and therefore he will not recognise any treaty or document he signs with India.

He also questioned Musharraf's style of carrying on the peace process with India by tossing "off-the-cuff" remarks about Kashmir through the media without evolving a broad-based consensus on key issues with India.

Sharif's reference was to Musharraf's four-point proposal revolving around joint management of Kashmir, self-governance, demilitarisation and making the Line of Control relevant.

"So I will not recognise anything that he signs with India," he said in a clear message to New Delhi not to put all its eggs in the Musharraf basket but to wait for a democratic regime to return in Pakistan.

While the prospects of Sharif or likely fellow-traveller Benazir Bhutto coming to power are not so bright, given the present state of disunity and disarray among the opposition parties, India has done its own calculations and has maintained that it will deal with whoever is in power.

There is, however, a subtle shift in the thinking in South Block - from Musharraf being good for the peace process to keeping its cards close to the chest till the dust settles by the time elections are held towards the end of the year.

What it means in practical terms is keeping the peace process going under the framework of the composite dialogue, albeit with greater realism and caution and not expecting any significant movement on any key issues - be it Kashmir or Siachen or Sir Creek.

It also means that for all practical purposes the much-speculated visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan is off, at least for this year. So it looks.

Compounding uncertainty is the calculated ambiguity in Washington on its dealings with Musharraf.

On the one hand, an influential section of the Washington establishment thinks that it's time for the US to junk the Musharraf regime and bet on a democratic alternative. On the other, official voices have tended to be more cautious and reiterated the importance of Musharraf being in the saddle for the success of the American war against terror.