Of late, Pakistan seems to figure less frequently on the Indian foreign policy radar screen than, say, the still-in-the-works civilian nuclear deal between India and the United States.
Though the two countries have a structured composite dialogue and a robust back-channel conversation, the progress in resolving a key issue like Jammu and Kashmir, or even Siachen, a less important question, appears to have slowed down.
For some time now, it’s been known in South Block circles that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would visit Pakistan some time this year only if he could at the least clinch a settlement on the Siachen glacier with President Pervez Musharraf.
In a sign that the visit won’t happen in the near future, the Prime Minister told reporters on Sunday that he didn’t want to complicate matters for Musharraf by going to Pakistan at a time when the General is smack in the middle of the most serious political crisis since he took power in October 1999.
“I have an invitation and I would certainly want to visit Pakistan but President Musharraf has problems at home and I don’t want to complicate it,” Singh was quoted as saying.
Asked to comment on the Prime Minister’s statement, former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra told the Hindustan Times, “That is common sense.”
On whether Musharraf’s problems would have a negative impact on the peace process, Mishra stated that Pakistan had been saying that other than the terrorist groups there was broad support for rapprochement with India.
Top officials in New Delhi, however, continue to believe that only a military administration will be able to settle the Kashmir issue with India. Civilian Prime Ministers, the sense is, will never be allowed to do the same by the military in Pakistan.
“The peace process will get stalled as a result of the pressure on Musharraf. We will probably have to wait for his re-election [as President],” VK Grover, former Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, said.
If the Prime Minister is talking about the pressures on Musharraf, the Pakistanis have also begun to signal that approaching elections in India and the inability of the Manmohan Singh Government to carry the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along are the real stumbling blocks in the peace process.
Senior Indian sources believe that the Pakistanis have begun “leaking” details about the back-channel process, which has slowed due to the unprecedented internal challenge to Musharraf’s authority.
Referring to a May 29 report in the Financial Times as a case in point, top officials said the newspaper was spot on about the five elements being discussed in the back-channel between the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy Satinder Lambah and Musharraf’s nominee Tariq Aziz.
The five topics identified are — no change in the territorial layout of Kashmir, the creation of a soft border across the Line of Control (LoC), greater autonomy and self-governance on either side of the LoC, a cross-LoC consultative mechanism and demilitarisation of Kashmir at a pace determined by the decline in cross-border terrorism.
The last element — the demilitarisation of Kashmir at a pace determined by a reduction in cross-border terrorism – is clearly an Indian formulation. The Indian side has also successfully included the issue of autonomy on the “other” side of the LoC.
SD Muni, a former professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, felt that India will have to watch out for what happens next in Pakistan’s political crisis.
“New Delhi will have to assess whether a deal with Musharraf will be sustainable and lasting,” he said, adding that there was general support in Pakistan for making peace with India.
That India and Pakistan have managed to agree on the same set of issues on Kashmir is an achievement in itself.
Nothing can take away from this success: the two countries are on the same page. Remember the earlier insistence of Pakistan on plebiscite and that of India on Kashmir being an integral part of the country.