While in Washington on a state visit in September 2000, Atal Behari Vajpayee had the audience enthralled while speaking at a reception hosted by the Indian-American community. Obliquely referring to American pressure for restarting the dialogue with Pakistan after it lay frozen, Vajpayee said, “We are continuously told to talk to Pakistan. Even here I was told that India should show its neighbours that democracy is about dialogue. Ok, I say, let’s talk, but what will we say to Pakistan? Will we say, ‘How is the weather’ or will we say, ‘How are your wife and children?”
Vajpayee felt betrayed after his Lahore bus journey had reached Kargil, as he liked to put it then. He, however, put his sense of betrayal behind and invited General Pervez Musharraf, for a high-level summit in Agra in 2001. Fifteen years later, the IndiaPakistan relationship lies frozen once again, this time -Modi government is loathe to make the Hurriyat Conference the veritable ‘third party’ to a dispute that India wants to contain within the bilateral framework.
Why are we so afraid of a ‘third party’? Is it because we have only looked at Kashmir is prized property, as the crown that adorns our head on geographical maps? Is it because we have only looked at J&K as a military problem, seldom seeking to address it politically? As a keen watcher of the Kashmir problem – since the AK 47s first surfaced in the cold winter month of December amongst chants of Azadi! – I’d make the case that a third party makes maximum logical strategic sense.
It is in India’s interest to engage Nawaz Sharif as well as third parties for several reasons. First, Pakistan reiterates its demand for third party mediation on Kashmir (it did just before Sartaj Aziz was to travel to India for the NSA dialogue), and thus would be hard-pressed to reject this approach. Speak to senior Pakistani diplomats and bureaucrats and they will concede privately that were such a process to start, the outcome would evolve towards the view that the Line of Control be made the international border.
India has everything to gain and Pakistan more to lose in the event of third party involvement. President Bill Clinton virtually endorsed the LoC as an international border when, he said in Islamabad in March 2000, soon after the short but sharp war in Kargil that, “History will not reward those who try to forcefully redraw borders with blood.”