Is it a Light at the End of a Tunnel
or a Tunnel at the End of a Light?
Peace has broken out between India
and Pakistan. Again.
In the past 58 years there have been many peace
initiatives between the South Asian neighbors but
real peace has always been elusive. One tends to
be skeptic of promising and encouraging news coming
out of New Delhi and Islamabad.
With that backdrop let us examine the recent round
of diplomacy in New Delhi. Pakistani president Pervez
Musharraf went to India ostensibly to watch a cricket
match between India and Pakistan. While Pakistanis
and Indians were dueling on the cricket field, President
Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister indulged in
some serious negotiations for three days. The results
were encouraging and promising.
No, there was still no breakthrough on the stickling
issue of Kashmir that has bedeviled their relations
since independence from the British in 1947. But
both countries have agreed to continue to expand
the scope of confidence building measures that were
started eighteen months ago. These include relaxation
of trade and commerce, renewal of rail links and
citizens to citizen’s exchange in an atmosphere
of friendship and trust. The people in both countries
have welcomed these incremental steps towards a
permanent and durable peace.
Perhaps the most significant step was the recent
opening of the bus service between Srinagar in Indian
Kashmir and Muzafarabad in Pakistani Kashmir. Despite
threats and acts of sabotage by separatists in Indian
Kashmir the bus made its scheduled run. The tearful
reunion of divided families was emotional and heart
During the summit in New Delhi they also decided
to withdraw troops from Siachin Glacier in the Himalayas
where the two countries have faced off at the height
of more than 20.000 feet. It cost them a million
dollars a day to stare at each other across the
frigid expanse where more soldiers have died of
high altitude sickness than by enemy bullets.
In New Delhi President Musharraf also met leaders
of All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella group
representing various political parties in Indian
Kashmir. The leaders are to visit Pakistan later
this year for further talks with Pakistani officials
and also with leaders from Pakistani side of Kashmir.
India has agreed to allow Hurriyat leaders to visit
Pakistan. Any final settlement of Kashmir dispute
would have to involve Kashmiris from both sides
of the Line of Control. In the past they have not
been in the equation.
President Musharraf’s transformation from
a hard-liner soldier to a pragmatic diplomat has
been interesting. In 1999 he was blamed for Pakistan’s
ill-fated excursion across the Line of Control into
Kargil area in Indian Kashmir. It precipitating
an international crisis that took Indian Prime Minister
Atal Behari Vajpayee and also Nawaz Sharif the Pakistani
Prime Minister off guard. A bus service between
New Delhi and Lahore, Pakistan had just been started.
That incident hijacked the bus diplomacy and it
crashed in the mountains of Kargil.
There are elements in both countries that would
like to sabotage this latest effort to bring the
countries closer. On the Indian side is the militant
Hindu ultranationalist party Shiv Sena that would
not allow any rapprochement with Pakistan. On the
Pakistan side the religious parties hold the same
view. It is ironic that during the bloody partition
of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947
did not touch either Shiv Sena or the religious
right in Pakistan. The Pakistani religious parties
were in fact against the creation of Pakistan. Now
both these elements have taken up the banners of
hatred and intolerance to create obstacles to peace.
There is a groundswell of good will between most
Indians and Pakistanis. They share common bonds
of history, culture and the arts. For the past 58
years the festering problem of Kashmir has held
them back and kept them apart. A poignant reminder
of the common roots came to light during Musharraf’s
recent visit. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh gave Mr. Musharraf a painting of the house
in New Delhi where future Pakistani president was
born. President Musharraf in turn gave Mr. Singh
a sapling from village Goh in Pakistani Punjab where
the future Indian Prime Minister was born.
The history of Indo-Pakistan relations is replete
with false hopes and unrealistic expectations. May
be the soft spoken Manmohan Singh and pragmatic
Pervez Musharraf could eventually pull off a surprise
that had eluded their predecessors.
Dry. Amjad Hussain is an op-ed
columnist for the daily Blade of Toledo, Ohio. -