(Dr. Javid Iqbal, 64, was born in Srinagar. He attended the D.A.V. School, Srinagar, and graduated in Medicine from the Government Medical College (GMC). His professional service in medicine includes work in the Middle East for three decades. During his days at the GMC, he captained the cricket team. He enjoys writing and staying close to his children in far away lands.)
Nirupama Rao's 'Creative solution'!
A week after PM's Srinagar visit, Foreign Secretary- Nirupama Rao has called for a creative solution to Kashmir issue [Kashmir Times-front-page dispatch on 15th. June]. She was addressing a close door session on Afghanistan-India-Pakistan trialogue organized by Delhi Policy Group (DPG) a wise roping in of the three, as Kashmir issue and much that passes on between India and Pakistan touches Kabul in a fair measure. Kuldip Nayar, the renowned columnist commented in recent past on Kabul being the key to Indo/Pak conflict resolution. That may not be the total truth; however Kuldip ji has a point that necessitates not only looping in Kabul in what comes to pass, but also institutionalizing the regional role of Kabul by making it a full fledged vibrant member of 'SAARC' even if the regional organization lacks sheen as well as the style to make it count. 'SAARC' is as disappointing as the lingering process of conflict resolution in the subcontinent.
While PM was guarded in his Srinagar address, offering a dialogue in general terms-his health minister Azad day later implying that the offer was restricted to militants, the foreign secretary's input is much more forthright, however says nothing in addition to what is not already known. That it addresses the external dimension only is understandable, coming as it is from foreign secretary. Forthright, the speech might be called, as the emphasis on certain subjects carries a greater punch than is normally the practice. However the problem remaining in bureaucratic realm, where it cannot move beyond set parameters shows lack of political will, very much evident in the Srinagar address of PM-an address that raised more questions than it answered. Azad helped his PM in showing cold shoulder to separatist leadership. What PM did not want to say was left for Azad, earning him a rebuff from Geelani of serving Indian interests. Geelani in any case shows no inclination to engage in dialogue and Azad could hardly be expected to do anything apart from what Geelani accuses him of doing! Since no denials followed from PMO or any other official agency, Azad's take has to be seen in the light of what it implies-separatist are not on board in present phase, unless they come calling and ring the bell. That boils down to external dimension being in focus, with internal dimension on the back burner. If and when India and Pakistan [if ever] reach a deal, Kashmir's leadership will fall in line might be a erroneous take, with a big question mark over it? Azad's statement had an insensitive touch, least expected from an otherwise calculating politician, unless it is taken as signing on the dotted line-a GOI vision document or may we say lack of it, as far as internal dimension is concerned, and now on to external dimension.
The foreign secretary is slated to visit Pakistan to meet her counterpart and ground had to be broken, spade work carried out in order to create the 'creative dialogue process' hence Foreign Secretary Rao called for reaffirming the progress and building on achievements through complex negotiations and showing patience at the same time.
"On the way forward, we have to build on these achievements. We also have to reaffirm the progress made through complex negotiations and dialogue through patient and unsung effort whether in the composite dialogue or back channel diplomacy, during this period".
On territorial exchange of any sort, Nirupama was emphatic-no deal on territory, while making borders irrelevant was stressed, so that people on both sides of 'Line of Control' [LOC] are able to move freely and trade with one another." Towards this goal, a number of cross-LoC CBM's were put in place, which included the opening of five crossing points on the LOC; introduction of triple entry permits; increase in frequency of Srinagar-Muzzafarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot bus services; starting of cross-LOC trade on Srinagar Muzzafarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes through movement of trucks, etc," she said.
Foreign secretary was emphatic on three points, as she insisted on India seeking a "stable peaceful and economically progressing Pakistan, secondly, we sincerely desire peace with Pakistan and thirdly, we have to learn to live with the asymmetries in our sizes and capabilities". With that Nirupama was imparting geopolitical lessons of bi-lateral or multi-lateral cooperation within the relative sizes and capabilities of parties in the deal, however big or small should not turn into partners in the deal developing complexes or complexities in relationship. "Such differences of scale should not deter us from working with each other. Pakistan should shed its insecurity on these counts, said Nirupama, adding that India has exhibited a true restraint, despite "misguided and serious provocations".
This brings into sharp focus, India's regional role. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, there is a big question mark over the role? Instead of being seen as protective of the smaller countries in the region, it is viewed as dominating. Nirupama may be right; the very size of India might be an impediment in a secure relationship-sort of a psychological barrier. But that is only half the truth. Quite often it seems that developing a long term secure relationship with countries in the region is not high on the priority list of GOI. The foreign office seems more interested in creating space for India in other associations like 'ASEAN' or in securing a high seat in UN-a permanent seat in Security Council with veto power. To be counted as a member of big boys club is a priority, rather than take care of smaller neighbours in her backyard. Dispute of one sort or the other is a rule rather than an exception. There might be problems in neighbouring states, not of India's making, but a result of myopic policies, which have grown beyond their capacity to handle-say the growth of extremism in Pakistan. Were the fallout to remain within the territorial limits of the neighbour, self interest or self preservation might dictate to let that state handle the problem of its own creation-say in Pakistan or Tamil problem in Sri Lanka. However these problems reflect on India, causing geopolitical imbalances. The balance that could only be restored by India rendering a helping hand, without being overbearing, instead power games are witnessed in Afghanistan, with Pakistan vying for geopolitical depth and India bent upon gaining space in Pakistan's backyard!
What could be made of the long lecture? It might be asked, isn't big brotherly counseling a better option than pontificating? Or isn't pontificating taken as being overbearing rather than being cooperative? And then these small neighbours do often turn back and ask unpleasant questions like-what are you big brother lecturing us on, while what you accuse us of mishandling happens in your land too! Is India a picture of moderation in politics, an epitome of forbearance in cultural ethos, a symbol of plurality in her social projection? Alas, the land of Gandhi has much to answer for? Mahatma has set tough stands and India, may be to her discomfort is judged worldwide by those standards. It is a tough call; India is supposed to live upto! Instead it has to explain Babri Masjid demolition and what followed it, the Gujarat carnage, appeasement of multinational companies and their sponsor-mighty USA; in the wake of Bhopal union carbide tragedy, with India seen following the dictate-lives traded at dollars three hundred per causality! Such an image hardly impresses or inspires neighbours. Physician heal thyself, is often the retort of these neighbours!
The remarks come ahead of the meetings between the Foreign Secretaries this month and Foreign Ministers next month. The foreign offices of the two countries have been directed by their respective Prime Ministers to work out the modalities of restoring trust and confidence in the relationship thus paving the way for a substantive dialogue on all issues of mutual concern. Rao noted that geographical contiguity and shared history, ethnic and linguistic affinities, and similar developmental challenges have not induced an inevitable congruity between the interests of the two, calling it the "tragedy of our relationship." There is a trust deficit. Some also refer to a vision deficit, noted Rao.
This trust deficit and the vision deficit has to be overcome before India and Pakistan could meaningfully address various bi-lateral and regional issues and then take the regional concerns to global forums. India and Pakistan have much in common; inspite of the differences and it is by voicing common concerns that differences would get diluted. That is the only way forward. The question mark on Nirupama's creative solution would remain-is it creative enough? It would persist, unless a result oriented dialogue produces the anticipated and desired results. And much as it being counted low in priority, addressing external dimension without an operative internal dialogue process is not going to work. Kashmir has moved beyond an Indo/Pak dictate. Sooner it is realized, better it is!