Why the G-8 should intervene in Kashmir now

Columnist SULTAN AHMED discusses whether the G-8 countries should make some move over Kashmir

The more reasonable Pakistan becomes in its approach to fruitful negotiations with India, the more unreasonable and obstructive India gets. India does that as it believes it is arguing from a position of strength, politically, militarily, economically and diplomatically, with its smaller neighbour.

The days when big countries can dictate to or bully small countries are largely over. And Pakistan with its 140 million is not that small or resourceless either. But India cannot get over its claim to be the largest democracy in the world vis-a-vis Pakistan which is currently under military rule.

So on the day a high level foreign policy meeting in Islamabad presided by Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf reaffirms Pakistan's policy of engaging India in a dialogue to resolve peacefully the core issue of Kashmir and remove all other irritants harming relations between the two countries, the Indian Prime Minister reaffirms his resolve not to enter into a dialogue or sets too many conditions for it.

And now Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee has gone to the extent of asking the major powers of the world to choose between India and Pakistan for closer relations. He has even asked President Clinton not to visit Pakistan during his forthcoming visit to the South Asia if the US cherished the friendship of India and valued the larger economic cooperation between them.

He asks France even more bluntly to choose between 'the great democracy' and 'the little country under military rule.' While proposing to buy large quantities of sophisticated arms from France it has stipulated that France should not sell any arms to Pakistan. In fact, it has argued, it is entering into such arms purchase deals as at the moment France is not contracting to sell any more weapons to Pakistan.

India is able to adopt such a tough stance, which has not been well received by the world, as currently Pakistan is under military rule. And that is anathema to the rest of the world, particularly the Western world. India has used the cover of military rule to obscure the fact that it is now a nuclear power and if the face-off between the two countries eventually leads to a military conflict that can be disastrous for South Asia and the entire world.

The fact is India seizes on one issue or another to avoid a purposeful dialogue with Pakistan which will eventually centre on the Kashmir issue. Earlier Mr. Vajpayee said he could not discuss the disputes between the two neighbours because of last year's Kargil crisis. And since October 12 military rule in Pakistan has become an issue for India and it has moved heaven and earth to get Pakistan expelled from the Commonwealth. Instead the members agreed to suspend Pakistan from the membership of its councils.

The fact is India does not want to relax its hold on Kashmir come what may. And it wants to keep all the doors to a meaningful dialogue on that shut tight. The Simla Pact signed in 1972 calls for bilateral efforts to settle the Kashmir issue. At the same time it does not expressly forbid other means of seeking a peaceful settlement. But no substantive talks have taken place for the last 28 years. Meetings did take place as between foreign ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Sardar Swaran Singh of India before the Simla Pact as well but to no avail. In 1997 the foreign secretaries of India Pakistan grouped together all the disputes or issues between the two countries into eight and the foreign secretaries were to discuss the Kashmir issue. They did have a meeting but without making any headway. Then the secretaries level talks too petered out.

Now, Mr. Vajpayee argues that he took bus ride to Lahore on February 20 last in earnest to seek peace and friendship between the two countries, but he was betrayed by the Kargil flare up. But the fact is the Kargil crisis and the containing tension along the Line of Control are only manifestations of the Kashmir crisis. If such crises are not to a rise from time to time and threaten to blow up into full scale war the Kashmir issue has to be settled in a manner acceptable to all parties peacefully.

Military rule in Pakistan for a specific period and with a specific democratic objective cannot and should not become the pretext for India for no negotiations between the two countries.

This is not the first time Pakistan has military rule. And relations between the two countries were not too bad during the long rule of Gen. Zia. When it comes US-Pakistan relations President Eisenhower visited Pakistan in the days of Ayub Khan as president. And the military cooperation between Pakistan and the US had been excellent during the Afghan war. And the country is not now under martial law. So no great US principle will be violated or US interests imperilled if President Clinton now visits Pakistan as a peace-maker in the region.

Mr. Vajpayee is being clever. He does not oppose a Clinton visit to Pakistan personally. Instead he says if he came to Pakistan the people of India would take it for an endorsement of military rule by the leader of a great democracy. But Clinton has a larger approach to the issue. He talks of the very real danger that conflict between India and Pakistan not contained is one of the most significant security threats to the interests of the United States in this new century, and, I might say, a very tragic situation.'

He says 'if the major conflicts in the region could be resolved' the Indian sub-continent might very well be the great success story of the next 50 years. He sees 'a great future for the region' if their major conflicts would be resolved.

Evidently Clinton has a larger objective and wider vision than a simple visit to the region. And Vajpayee wants to block that vision and impede that objective in the name of supremacy of India in the region and his eagerness to promote his smaller objectives at the cost of the large vision.

Mr. Karl Interfurth, US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs also sees a larger role for the US in the region and talks of a policy of greater engagement with the countries of South Asia. He spoke of the four areas in the region where the US wanted to contribute: 'Democracy, economic development, social development and South Asia's integration into the global mainstream'.

If American assistance is available in such key areas that should be welcomed instead of Mr. Vajpayee trying to limit that to a few countries in the area. In fact, he is trying to block such assistance to the entire region as does not want to settle the principal dispute that bedevils the relations between the largest two countries of the region. The Kashmir issue is undoubtedly a major deterrent to peace, progress and prosperity in the region, and India is principally responsible for perpetuating that.

The Kashmir issue could have vanished from the scene or subsided if India had been able to win over the Kashmiris during the last 50 years. India has failed signally in that. It has toppled too many governments there over the years beginning with that of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 and his arrest. It scraped the special status of Kashmir and brought the state under direct Indian rule.

Every election in the state has been rigged, including the last elections. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah is bitter he had not been provided the long promised or much touted real autonomy. Instead the state is almost directly ruled by New Delhi. With about 600,000 Indian troops there it could not be otherwise. The more the representation the more the resistance, and violence.

Time, India thought, was on its side. Over a period of time the people of Kashmir would be weary of resistance and violence and come to terms with India. That has not taken place. Instead of violence is claiming more and more lives everyday. In the last 10 years about 60,000 people have died. Too many women have been subjected to sexual assault. That is not how the Kashmiris could be won over by India.

The world did not take the Kashmir issues too seriously after the UN intervention failed to produce results. But now India and Pakistan are proven nuclear weapon states. And they have a vast range of missiles to deliver them as well. And they have not signed the CTBT or other agreements to restrain production of fissile materials. And an escalation of conflict between them can lead to a nuclear conflict.

Earlier Mr. Vajpayee had said the Indian nuclear weapons were a deterrent and India would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. But on February 17 he was singing a different tune. He told the French 'La Fiagro' if Pakistan thinks we are going to be waiting for it to launch the first bomb it is wrong. If Pakistan wants to avoid a nuclear holocaust it should accept our proposals for a mutual pact against nuclear aggression.

It is time the Group of Eight intervened to promote a settlement in Kashmir. The Japanese deputy foreign minister Royoso Kati, who met Gen. Musharraf on February 17, says his country would take up the issue at the G-8 meeting in July. Japan should, and so should other countries in the group which applied sanctions immediately after the nuclear explosions of May, 1998.

Meanwhile President Clinton should not play into the Indian hands. He should visit both India and Pakistan, and try to see what he can do to promote peace between the two countries and promote the welfare of the people of the region. After all they are more than one-fifth of the population of the whole world, with the largest number of the poor, and exploited in the world.

If during his tour of South Asia President Clinton avoids Pakistan, India will regard that as a major diplomatic or political triumph and become more aggressive towards Pakistan. And it will not make any effort for a settlement of the Kashmir issue or have a less violent approach to the problems of Kashmiris.

After all, what is the solution for a dispute in which one of the parties is too powerful and militant? The dispute had led to three wars between the neighbours earlier, and direct talks have not produced positive results. And now such talks are not possible or useful because of the irrational approach of India to it.

Surely Pakistan cannot disown and abjure the people of Kashmir, who are fighting for their cause valiantly. Nor can Pakistan be coerced by the threat of India occupying Azad Kashmir forcefully. Any such attempt is likely to lead eventually to a nuclear war, more so when India threatens to be the first to use the nuclear bomb when it chooses.

If all that places a tremendous responsibility on the G-8, the responsibility of President Clinton is greater. He should not be bullied, misled or misguided by Vajpayee into not visiting Pakistan and not trying his hands at peace-making in the region even after three wars, and the prospect of a nuclear conflict if large scale military hostilities erupt again.

France has now joined the US in urging India for a resumption of a purposeful dialogue between the two neighbours. And French foreign ministers Hubert Vedrine has said France would be happy if US would set the dialogue between them in the right direction. Vedrine has characterised the situation in the region 'dangerous.' China too has been urging both parties for a settlement of their disputes through a fruitful dialogue.

Heedless of such gestures on the part of major powers of the world Mr. Vajpayee has said he could enter into negotiations with Pakistan only if Pakistan withdrew its forces from Azad Kashmir. This is carrying the Indian logic or pre-conditions for talks to absurd extremes or bluntly denying to talk with Pakistan.

India has reached a point where the US and others in the Group of Eight cannot any longer entertain its objection to mediation in Kashmir. The G-8 has reached a point which it reached in Bosnia and later Kosovo. After the interminable excesses of Serbia in Bosnia the G-8 did not wait for the approval of Belgrade to intervene directly. The same it did in Kosovo after the killing did not stop.

The same situation has been reached in Kashmir now. The G-8 led by the US has to intervene and secure the right of the people of Kashmir to decide their future, as agreed by India earlier. After the Simla Pact and the Lahore Accord have produced no positive results, and as the killings in Kashmir is on the increase after 60,000 Kashmiris have perished, President Clinton and the other major powers need not wait for India to agree to mediation between the two countries.

The G-8 should now come up with positive initiatives instead of India which prides in being the largest democracy being allowed to behave in the most undemocratic and inhuman manner. Unlike in Bosnia or Kosovo 50 years have been allowed to pass, interrupted by two wars between India and Pakistan. So now is the time for G-8 to act and act decisively in South Asia.