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Amritsar offers peace agenda

The peace proposals announced in Amritsar attempt to bridge a supply and demand gap between Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf.
None | By Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 25, 2006 01:39 AM IST

The peace proposals announced in Amritsar attempt to bridge a supply and demand gap between Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf. The Pakistani president demands India talk about a final settlement of Kashmir. The Indian prime minister has told him, and foreign visitors, that this is something that can be supplied only after four or five years.

Musharraf’s response has been to bombard India with settlement proposals. One of them — a call for demilitarisation of three districts of Indian Kashmir — put the skids on their New York meeting last September. More telling has been Musharraf’s complaints to everyone, including recently George W. Bush, that India’s failure to respond is evidence it isn’t serious about peace.

Musharraf has also made it clear he is keen on Singh visiting Pakistan. But Singh, say Indian officials, has opposed a visit “simply for the purpose of visiting.” He has insisted on a substantive agenda.

The Amritsar initiative puts forward such an agenda. Singh argues an agreement on the Siachen, Sir Creek and Baglihar disputes is feasible. He has also responded to past Musharraf proposals like Kashmiri “self-governance” with a demand for “good governance”, and “joint management” with “cooperative strategies.” Says G. Parthasarathy, ex-Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, “All this is a basis for negotiations.”

Finally, Singh has argued the entire process must “culminate” in a “Treaty of Peace, Security and Friendship”, which implicitly hints at a final Kashmir settlement.

Some critics argue the proposals are more about seeking to stave off a summer of terrorist attacks designed to trigger communal violence. National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan recently claimed evidence of such a plan hatched by Pakistan. Indian officials insist, “There was no threat of a gun.” They note Musharraf’s domestic weakness, a condition compounded by Bush’s nuclear rebuff. “We’re making the magnanimous gesture to Musharraf,” said one.

The other concern is whether Musharraf wouldn’t use a Singh visit to indulge in grandstanding on Kashmir of the kind that scuttled the Agra summit. “We had a summit in Delhi in April 2005 that buried the ghost of Agra,” said an advisor to Singh. “We know how to handle Musharraf.” But many are sufficiently wary to urge that Singh not rush into an agreement on the most sensitive dispute, Siachen. “Even if we trust Musharraf, we can’t trust the Pakistan army,” says ex-head of RAW’s Pakistan desk B. Raman.

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