Sometimes one is amazed at the ham-handed sense of timing displayed by New Delhi.
By reiterating in the Rajya Sabha (August 24) that "there can be no compromise on the sovereignty of India over Jammu and Kashmir" and that "joint control" or "joint management" cannot be a basis for a settlement of the issue because the state is an integral part of India, not only has Minister of State E Ahamed thrown a cat among the peace-making pigeons at home, but also served up a mouse to the Pakistani hawk on a platter.
General Pervez Musharraf is going to have a tough time explaining his own accommodating posture to the Mullahs as recently articulated in his interview to AG Noorani.
Not unexpectedly, the immediate and pithy response from a senior foreign ministry official in Islamabad was to describe Ahamed's statement as "incorrect and misleading".
The official went on to add that, "the Indian minister needed to jog his memory to separate fact from fiction".
That the area is "disputed" according to the UN Security Council resolution accepted by India; that the Line of Control (LoC) is not an international boundary; and that there is complete alienation in Kashmir against "Indian occupation" are the facts whereas Indian legalese as enunciated by Ahamed is the fiction. An equally familiar stance...
So, what's new? Or, in the current idiom, shall we ask 'whassup guys?'
What indeed is the Indian government up to? Unless something is really wrong with administrative procedure in South Block, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must have approved Ahamed's statement, at least in his capacity as foreign minister.
If so, was he not advised that there is an apparent contradiction with his statement at the roundtable with the Kashmiri leadership in Srinagar May 25 where he spoke of making LoC irrelevant and creating institutional arrangements between the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
No doubt, South Block mandarins will trot out fine nuances about the difference between the two concepts of 'joint management' and 'institutional arrangements' but the Indian prime minister cannot take refuge in such pettifoggery if he has to carry credibility with the other side in the dialogue process.
In fact, the other side is two in this case, first the Kashmiris and then the Pakistanis.
Both must be not just confused but more than ever convinced that India is not at all sincere in its true intentions.
In Srinagar, there would be the inevitable sigh of resignation and a frustrating sense of déjà vu.
How often has this happened in the past? No sooner does the political leadership in New Delhi make some overtures at finding a compromise formula than the establishment strikes back with ultra super legality; that too, positing the hardest position in the highest forum of the land from which backtracking becomes that much more problematic, if not well nigh impossible.
How do you retract from a strong nationalist position taken in parliament without drawing severe flak from a belligerent opposition?
Syed Ali Geelani must be finding it difficult to restrain himself from shouting 'I-told-you-so'.
The 'moderate' Hurriyat will not find it easy to come to the 'roundtable' despite exhortations from several quarters.
In Islamabad, the general must be fuming at being shown up as a naïve leader who puts his trust in India's pronouncements about the peace process and 'thinking out of the box'.
Musharraf was all sugar and honey while assuring Noorani that he was open to all possibilities for a honourable settlement and believed that Manmohan Singh was sincere and had "a desire to settle disputes" but "the very next day there is a strong statement from the foreign ministry spokesman that India totally rejects the offer".
To Noorani, he offered to jointly investigate the Mumbai train blasts, exchange information between security agencies, facilitate meetings of Kashmiris in both parts of the state, consider an institutional arrangement - ("a joint framework for self-governance") - because "none of us are in favour of their independence."
At the end of it all, he would even welcome a treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation. But for the present we should continue the peace dialogue.
Sadly, even wise voices in Pakistan have spoken. Please end this, 'Listless Dialogue' (Ayaz Amir, Dawn, August 25) because not only is it going nowhere but it is a demeaning process for both countries.
Given India's ambivalent posture, it is extremely doubtful that Musharraf will be able to sustain his reasonable position on Kashmir for too long. There are elections in Pakistan in 2007.
There is also the question of his holding on to the office of army chief. And then there is the charge of him acting on the dictates of Washington.
That is a great deal of pressure, indeed. The killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and the consequent turmoil in Balochistan has added enormously to the general's woes.
Is it a good time to rub salt into the lesions? Or is it the time to provide a salve?
New Delhi has decided otherwise. The killing of Nawab Bugti was "unfortunate" and "military force could never solve Pakistan's political problems" was the response of our foreign ministry.
It reflects a very superficial understanding of sensibilities. Prompt came the response: "India should focus on putting its own house in order rather than commenting on the internal affairs of other countries." Do we really think we are clever or are we just ham handed?
So what's new? Or, possibly, 'whassup guys?'
(Ashok Jaitly, a former chief secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, is currently a sistinguished Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute.)