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Peace within our grasp

By Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri

Feb 16, 2011

The first decade of the 21st century was a period that witnessed many ups and downs in the India-Pakistan relationship. The period between 1999 and 2002 witnessed a high level of tension between the two countries due to a number of developments — Kargil in 1999, the inconclusive Agra Summit of 2001, and the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, resulting in the mobilisation of a million troops on the border. This ended in 2002, resulting in a thaw in the relationship, leading to former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee extending the "hand of friendship" to Pakistan. Pakistan responded by announcing a large number of CBMs, including announcement of the ceasefire on the LoC which still holds.

There were quite a few reasons at this time which gave confidence to the governments to embark on a new peace process. Both countries had tried everything including wars and mobilisation of troops to force the other to accept its version of a Kashmir settlement. They failed in this. Secondly, nuclear parity in South Asia made war almost impossible. Thirdly, the economies of both the countries were doing very well at this time and the rising middle classes in both countries desired peace for continued growth.

This necessitated an alternative strategy for a solution of the Kashmir dispute which would satisfy the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan. That being the case, it was clear that any solution we found would not be an ideal one from the perspective of all the Kashmiris, Pakistanis and the Indians. It could only be the best under the circumstances. It was precisely to find such a formula that the two leaderships directed their representatives involved in back-channel talks to remain engaged.

The major features of the draft Kashmir agreement involved a gradual demilitarisation as the situation improved, self-governance and a joint mechanism involving Kashmiris from both sides as well as the presence of Pakistani and Indian representatives in some form or other. The purpose was to improve the comfort level of Kashmiris. The joint mechanism envisaged cooperation in various fields including exploitation of water resources and hydroelectric power. Self-governance also provided the maximum possible powers to Kashmiris to manage their political, economic, financial and social matters, as well as those pertaining to economic development for enhanced travel and economic interaction on both sides of the LoC. For practical purposes, as far as the Kashmiris on both sides were concerned, the LoC would be made irrelevant for movement of goods and people and mitigate the misery of divided families.

If you were to measure the level of progress made and the confidence generated between the two sides as a result of the peace process, you only had to look at the joint statement on the irreversibility of the peace process on 18 {+t} {+h} of April, 2005 in New Delhi under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former President Pervez Musharraf.

A related question that people sometimes ask is whether the agreement that we had arrived at had the support of the Pakistani army. Of course, it had the support of all the stakeholders. Besides the presidency and the foreign office, the military was appropriately represented. Pakistani army high command understands clearly that national security is a very broad concept and military preparedness is only one — albeit, a very important — component of it. The concept of national security includes economic and political stability, and a settlement with India on honourable terms strengthens Pakistan`s national security.

It is also pertinent to mention here that while Musharraf may not be on the scene presently, national interest does not change radically over a period of two or three years. Since i left office, quite a few people have asked me whether the army had staged a U-turn on the back-channel agreements. Since i currently do not hold office, i can only speak on the basis of analysis, informed by experience, that recent statements by the Pakistani army are tactical in nature in light of the approaching end-game in Afghanistan. In this context, a news item was published in major Pakistani national newspapers that General Kayani supported back-channel engagement.

Coming to the Mumbai terrorist attack, i feel that the best way to tackle this issue is to deny the terrorists the satisfaction of disrupting the peace process. I remember just one day before i was going to visit New Delhi in connection with the ongoing peace process, the Samjhauta Express terrorist attack took place. Similarly, perhaps one day after the arrival of Shah Mehmood Qureshi in New Delhi, the Mumbai terrorist attack took place. I do not wish to trivialise the subject since a lot can be said on this. It would, however, be a fair conclusion that there are extremist elements on both sides who do not wish Pakistan-India relations to be normalised.

Pakistan wishes to have friendly, cooperative and good neighbourly relations with India. We are not destined to live as adversaries forever. The press and particularly the electronic media can play an important role in promoting peace and developing a well thought out approach towards relations with each other, so that we can pursue our legitimate security concerns without denying the economic benefits that regional cooperation can bring to each other.

The writer is a former foreign minister of Pakistan.

Source: The Times of India