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Untitled Document
Kashmir, But Pakistan First
Dr. Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: The Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, 24th April 2003

After President Musharraf’s earlier offer of unconditional talks, there has finally come a welcome response from Prime Minister Vajpayee. During a speech at a cricket ground in Srinagar, on 18th April, Prime Minister Vajpayee opened the space for continuing the peace dialogue with Pakistan which had been disrupted after the Agra talks when he said: “We are again extending the hand of friendship, but hands should be extended from both sides….All issues can be resolved through talks, nothing can be solved through war”. This statement constitutes a clear expression of readiness for talks leading to a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The ambiguity however lies in whether or not the talks are to be unconditional. While this sagacious initiative by the Indian Prime Minister is a challenge for the Indian establishment to rethink its Kashmir policy, it is equally an opportunity for the Pakistan government to address the political and military realities, and reconstruct its own Kashmir policy in the context of Pakistan’s best interests. In this article we will indicate the framework for a Kashmir policy review, and the first steps towards a lasting peace between Pakistan and India that can be undertaken.

Our first proposition is that the imperative for unconditional talks emanates from the logic of the apparently irreconcilable positions of Pakistan and India on the Kashmir dispute on the one hand, and their expressed desire for seeking a peaceful resolution on the other. Consider. Before the Srinagar statement of Prime Minister Vajpayee of 18th April, the Indian government held the view that Pakistan is sponsoring ‘cross border militancy’, and that this militancy must stop before talks can begin. Pakistan government’s view on this matter by contrast, is that it is doing its best to stop such incursions and is willing to facilitate an international monitoring regime on the line of control to demonstrate its intent. So long as both sides maintain these counter posed positions the status quo of no talks, and worse still a no war, no peace situation will persist. The very logic of suggesting talks for a lasting peace in such a situation, is premised on two assumptions:

  1. The talks will be unconditional.
  2. India’s concern for cross border militancy will be systematically addressed in the overall context of a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

It follows therefore that India’s offer for peace talks, is inconsistent with the demand for ending cross border terrorism as a prior condition for such talks. The very imperative for talks and ending the current deadlock, emerges out of the fact that a no war no peace situation is fraught with a high risk of the current low intensity conflict escalating into a full-scale war. (See my Daily Times article of February 27, 2003). That both sides once again wish to begin peace talks, indicates that they may now be unwilling to take this risk, and in any case may be unable to resist the international pressure to shift out of the status quo for establishing sustainable peace.

If talks begin, there is a real possibility now of arriving at a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute. For this to happen however, the agenda of the talks must include a minimal outcome: an agreement on a subsequent multi staged negotiation process with timelines for each stage and a target date for the final outcome of a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. To encourage the Indian government to translate Prime Minister Vajpayee’s offer of talks into action, the government of Pakistan could perhaps give an immediate statement expressing the hope that cross border incursions on either side by non-governmental entities would end with joint efforts by Pakistan and India, and the bilateral talks could be a first step in that direction.

The government of Pakistan would now need to conduct a serious and imaginative review of its Kashmir policy as preparatory homework for the concrete negotiations that could be expected to begin after the initial talks have ended. Such a review must be premised on the proposition that in negotiating the Kashmir dispute Pakistan comes first. Kashmir may be the ‘unfinished business of partition’. However it is time to realize that improving the economic conditions of the people of Pakistan, of providing them security of life and property and establishing a sustainable democracy together constitute the raison d’etre of Pakistan. They constitute therefore an even more important unfinished business of partition.

Achieving a sustainable and principled peace with India has now become essential for securing the freedom and well being of the Pakistani nation. Consider. At the moment every third household in Pakistan is hungry, while one out of every four Pakistanis is suffering from preventable and treatable disease. The majority of the people are deprived of basic necessities such as safe drinking water, sanitation, health care and education. Forty seven million Pakistanis, who subsist below the poverty line, live in their make shift shelters in constant dread of murder, rape and theft. The majority of them do not have access over the institutions of justice when crimes are committed against their person and family members. Forty per cent of Pakistan’s children are suffering from malnutrition, resulting in stunting of the body. This results in an impaired ability to learn and play, so crucial to the creative experience of childhood. Thirty eight per cent of them do not have access over education. Thus, a large proportion of Pakistan’s children, the future of the country, are unable to open their eyes to the world through education, or to walk upon it firm of limb and hopeful of heart. Overcoming these inhuman conditions of existence is necessary to make the independence of the nation, meaningful, and to secure the future of Pakistan.

We must remember that in spite of the wonderful work being done by many development NGOs in Pakistan even after a decade of effort they are still covering only 0.01 per cent of the current poor population. Therefore the necessary (though not sufficient) condition for overcoming poverty, and providing health care and education to the people of Pakistan is substantially accelerating the growth rate of GDP. If the poor law and order situation within the country and conflict with India continues (the two may be interlinked), the most optimistic GDP growth target we can aim at is about five per cent per annum. Given existing income inequality, and the government’s budgetary constraints, with even a five per cent GDP growth rate, there can be no significant improvement in the appalling poverty situation. Serious poverty reduction and rapid improvement in the provision of basic services requires a GDP growth rate of over nine per cent. This target can only be reached with a substantial increase in domestic and foreign private investment. The hard fact is that achieving these targets for investment, GDP growth and poverty reduction requires as a necessary condition, peace with India.

The prospects of peace talks between Pakistan and India can be the prelude to a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute and the establishment of a lasting peace in the subcontinent. Such a peace is vital for securing the freedom and well being of the people of Pakistan. Yet, to actualize this possibility, Pakistan will have to review its Kashmir policy and to conduct negotiations on the basis of placing Pakistan first.

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