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Indo-Pak, revisited

The Prime Minister?s statesmanship at Amritsar should pave the path for better ties with Pakistan, writes K Natwar Singh.
None | By GUEST COLUMN | K Natwar Singh
UPDATED ON MAR 26, 2006 04:54 AM IST

In 2007, India and Pakistan will observe the diamond jubilees of their independence. During these 60 years, one issue — Jammu and Kashmir — has blighted Indo-Pak relations. It has been a millstone round our necks. Do we have to go on for another 60 years on the path of confrontation, conflict, or do we break new ground as Dr Manmohan Singh did on March 23 at Amritsar while launching a regular bus service to Nankanasahib? The Indian Prime Minister is a wise and cautious man. An economist he may be, but he has a sagacious comprehension of political reality. Political maturity compels historical understanding. If we have to solve this problem, both sides must create a new methodology of references. We should not forever remain prisoners of the past. Manmohan Singh is not a politician, but he might, in Amritsar, have taken a step to becoming a statesman. He has taken a calculated risk.

I worked very closely with him when I was External Affairs Minister. He is a lonely man who instinctively avoids intimacy. We shared a common vision of Indo-Pak relations. He allowed me a free hand. I was Ambassador to Pakistan in the early 1980s. I therefore have a vested interest in good neighborly relations with Pakistan.

When as External Affairs Minister I visited Pakistan in 2004, I could not help but see how different the Pakistan of 2004 was from the one in 1984. I did my little bit to carry forward the process of normalising Indo-Pak relations, set in motion by AB Vajpayee on January 6, 2004. I had to first convince both President Musharraf and Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri that the Manmohan Singh government was committed to going for beyond January 2004.

Working with the Khurshid Kasuri was a pleasure and an education. Manmohan Singh gets on extremely well with General Musharraf. We both told the Pakistan Leadership that we too had constraints, being a coalition government. Borders could not be re-drawn and terrorism had to stop.

In his Amritsar speech Dr. Manmohan Singh made several entirely sincere observations: “I am aware that General Musharraf has so often stated that the normalisation of relations between our two countries cannot move forward unless what he calls the core issues of Jammu and Kashmir are dealt with. In my view, it is a mistake to link normalisation of other relations with finding a solution to J&K. But we are not afraid of discussing J&K or of finding, pragmatic, practical solutions to resolve this issue as well.”

Dr Singh used the word ‘pragmatic’ and not the word ‘empirical’. The former is the right word in the right word in the prevailing circumstances. According to the Oxford dictionary the word ‘pragmatic’ means ‘Treating the facts of history in their connection with each other as cause and effect, with reference to their practical lessons’. I am not being pedantic. In diplomacy, nuances and subtleties are of vital importance.

He also injected the economic dimension. “I also envisage a situation where the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir can, with the active encouragement of the governments of India and Pakistan, work out cooperative, consultative mechanisms so as the maximise the gains of cooperation in solving problems of social and economic development of the region”.

“India and Pakistan must work together to open up new opportunities of economic cooperation, not only with South Asia, but also with West Asia and Central Asia. Cities like Lahore and Amritsar should once again become throbbing international centres serving the entire region”.

Now, I come to the path-breaking portion of Dr Singh’s speech: his proposal of a treaty of peace, security and friendship. Treaties of peace and friendship have been bandied about in the past. So also ‘No war’ pacts. Nothing concrete came out of these efforts. We were confusing hopes with facts.

Now the wheel of fate has turned. We are both nuclear powers. Security is indispensable. Here Dr Singh took a big leap forward at Amritsar.

It would be in the fitness of things if all our political parties and opinion-makers supported Dr Singh’s initiative. They should. It they don’t, we will be stuck with the 1994 resolution passed by Parliament. On that basis there can be no worthwhile negotiations.

It would be presumptuous on my part to advise President Musharraf. I can only do some thinking aloud. The President of Pakistan wields enormous authority and influence over the army and the ISI. He can change their mindset. Eventually he decides. Under the leadership of my friend Khurshid Kasuri, the Pakistan foreign office can play a very positive role. About the qualities and calibre of Pakistani dipolmats we should have no doubts. They are an outstanding lot. It is no mean achievement to have kept Kashmir on the international agenda for 59 years. It ever the two countries achieve common foreign policy objectives, a combined Indo-Pak diplomatic team would be hard to beat.

Do we have solutions for devilishly complex and intractable problems? South Africa provides hope. Let me end by quoting from Mr. Nelson Mandelas autobiography, Long walk to Freedom: “On February 2, 1990 F.W. de Klerk stood before Parliament to make the traditional opening speech and did something no other South African head of state had ever done. He truly began to dismantle the apartheid system and lay the ground for a democratic South Africa… It was a breathtaking moment, for in one sweeping action he virtually normalised the situation in South Africa. Our world had changed overnight.”

So much is at stake today for both India and Pakistan. But perhaps, the best is yet to be.

(The writer is a former external affairs ministers)

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