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Slow and steady wins the race

india Updated: Oct 07, 2006 00:26 IST
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The Independent Monitoring Commission supervising the Stormont Agreement to end the Northern Ireland dispute has reported that the Irish Republican Army’s violent campaign against British rule “is over”. The Commission has said that the IRA has changed radically and its key structures have been dismantled. In other words, it has no desire to go back to its violent ways and, perhaps, no longer possesses the means to do so. This has been underscored by British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s remarks that “the IRA has done what we asked it to do” and that the various parties to the conflict were now working on the democratic principle that persuasion was the best way of getting things done. Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has concluded that the report laid the basis for a “final settlement of the conflict in Northern Ireland”.

These developments, though far away from South Asia, have an important bearing on the problems here, particularly the vexed Jammu and Kashmir issue. While no two human problems can have an identical solution, the Irish process does have lessons for New Delhi and Islamabad. In its time, the IRA possessed formidable military capability and its terrorist campaign included bombings across Britain. Its cadres had considerable support in the Irish Republic and in countries like the US, Canada and Australia.

The key to the current development was Ireland’s decision to forgo its territorial claim over Northern Ireland. Over time, this enabled Britain and Ireland to sign the Stormont Agreement in 1998. The heart of the accord is that change, if needed, should come through “exclusively peaceful and democratic means”. To this end, it not only outlined the process of disarming the paramilitaries and the monitoring arrangements, but the longer process that would eventually lead to a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland. Considering that the Irish Republic and Britain are members of the European Union, and are liberal democracies, territoriality no longer has the kind of salience it once did.

This is where the India-Pakistan situation differs even though the original January 2004 India-Pakistan agreement that took place on the sidelines of the Saarc summit did yield a far-reaching commitment to create a South Asian Free Trade Area by 2014. Clearly, at the leadership level at least, there is understanding in India and Pakistan that a Kashmir settlement cannot but be situated in a larger South Asian rapprochement between its two major countries. And that is where the rub lies. Islamabad is neither a democracy, nor entirely convinced that ending support to terrorist elements is the way to the future. That indeed is a measure of the distance India and Pakistan must yet travel before they can resolve their problems.