Manmohan Singh and Pakistan

Published Jan 17, 2014 07:21am

PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks on Jan 3 caused surprise because, despite the frosty relations between the two countries in 2013, he said: “I still have not given up hope of going to Pakistan before I complete my tenure as Prime Minister.” But he would visit only “if conditions are appropriate to achieve solid results”.

Both remarks have a sub-text and a background. The sub-text is that he is prepared realistically to lower his expectations now, given the short period available. The background is his decade old yearning to achieve a breakthrough in relations with Pakistan. There has been little recognition of that or of the fact that he has battled for his policy within the cabinet, the party, against the BJP and powerful elements in the media.

To understand his policy and the doggedness with which he has pursued it, one must recall the interview he gave to Jonathan Power which was published the day he took the oath of office as prime minister in May 2004. Impasse in relations with Pakistan had to be resolved in India’s own interest. “Two nuclear armed powers living in such close proximity is a big problem. We have an obligation to ourselves to solve the problem.”

He had a clear idea of how to accomplish that as well as the limits that history had imposed. Power wrote: “I pushed him on how he himself would accept compromise with Pakistan over Kashmir. ‘Short of secession, short of redrawing boundaries, the Indian establishment can live with anything. Meanwhile, we need soft borders — then borders are not so important’.” The soft borders were to be an interim arrangement; “meanwhile” pending the elusive final solution.

History is rich in tragedies of men of goodwill facing interlocutors who refuse to be partners in peace-making; Sadat’s efforts were foiled by Benachem Begin. In 2004 Singh had a partner in peace-making waiting for India’s reciprocity. Unlike Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, who repelled his overtures at Agra in July 2001, Singh was willing to move towards a consensus. That was achieved by early 2007. President Musharraf’s famous four points were not produced one fine day from a hat. In this quest he had a partner in Singh. One wishes the record is recalled now. Musharraf began expressing his ideas in public from Dec 25, 2003 and improvised them as he went along. The idea which Singh began airing, not long after he became PM, tended to harmonise with those of Musharraf. For example while Musharraf said on April 18, 2005, that the LoC in Jammu & Kashmir should be made “irrelevant”, Singh said, on March 24, 2006, that the LoC and the borders should be made “just lines on a map”.

The train blasts in Mumbai in July 2006 caused a setback. But just as he made the nuclear accord with the US in 2008 a matter of prestige, he refused to allow himself to be deflected from the course. During the Non-Aligned Summit at Havana in Sept 2006, the two leaders discussed an institutional mechanism to deal with terrorist attacks. It did not work out. On Sept 17, 2006, Singh told the media: “We both agreed that we have to find a via media to reconcile these two positions”; namely, that while the borders cannot be redrawn, the LoC cannot be made permanent either. Musharraf spoke in similar terms to Geo on Oct 23, 2006: “We need to find a via media between these two positions which would mean self-governance (for both parts of Kashmir) with a joint management system at the top for both sides of the LoC and you make the LoC irrelevant.”

Within a few weeks, that via media was found. Hence Singh’s regret on Jan 3, 2014 that “at one time, it appeared that an important breakthrough was in sight. Events in Pakistan, for eg the fact that Musharraf had to make way for a different set-up, I think that led the process not moving further.”

The Four Points won endorsement from Syed Salahuddin, head of the United Jihad Council and the Hizbul Mujahideen. He hailed them on Feb 26, 2007, as a possible first step which, indeed, is just what they were. They were not only a non-territorial solution but an ad hoc interim arrangement for ten or fifteen years. During this period Indian troops would be withdrawn from the borders and the LoC would become “irrelevant”. De facto the State of Jammu & Kashmir would reunite. As well as self-government there would be a joint mechanism at the top. These can be improved upon. These are not gains to be sniffed at. The biggest gainers would be the people of Kashmir. Imagine the scenario when, besides trade, there is a free flow of men and ideas across the LoC.

Mir Waiz Farooq said on March 20, 2007: “The Hurriyat Conference will soon strengthen its public contact programme to make people aware of the four-point formula of Musharraf.” In Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, India acquired in 2013 a committed partner for peace. What can be accomplished now is fulfillment of pledges which would enable Singh to fulfill his desire to visit Pakistan. They were spelt out by Indian officials on Jan 3 itself — progress in the Mumbai blasts trial, lifting trade barriers and fulfillment of the promise to give India the Most Favoured Nation status. Pakistan can raise other issues of immediate concern such as relaxation of the visa regime and tangible moves on Sir Creek and Siachen.

The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.


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