INDIA-PAKISTAN STATEMENT: 'THAW' RATHER THAN 'BREAKTHROUGH' ON KASHMIR

HONOLULU (Jan. 6) -- While there is no doubt India and Pakistan have taken major steps to address longstanding issues between them, the careful wording of their short statement to start talks, and the hours of closed-door meetings required to achieve this, serve as reminders of the difficulties that lie ahead, warned an East-West Center specialist on South Asia.

"In many ways the statement brushes over the differences that have made even dialogue impossible, and it is difficult to know how explicitly the leaders addressed these issues in their meeting," said Arun Swamy, a research fellow at the Center.

"The best way to think of the recent events is to view them as a 'thaw,' as Indian and Pakistani commentators suggest, more than a 'breakthrough' toward a final resolution on Kashmir," Swamy said.

The six-paragraph statement issued Monday by the nuclear-powered rivals says dialog on all bilateral issues could start as early as February. The statement followed months of confidence-building measures by both sides, including the gradual restoration of transportation links and, most significantly, a formal ceasefire that led to the cessation of artillery fire along the line of control in the disputed region of Kashmir. The ceasefire, offered unilaterally by Pakistan and quickly agreed to by India, made it possible for Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to attend a summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Islamabad.

On the face of it, as many reports have suggested, Pakistan has made a major concession to India's insistence that talks could not begin unless Pakistan stopped supporting what India termed as terrorism in its portion of Kashmir. The declaration stated that "President Musharraf reassured Prime Minister Vajpayee that he will not allow any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner."

However, Swamy pointed out that the reassurance was similarly worded to past assurances. Furthermore, before the SAARC summit Musharraf again questioned whether the term terrorism applied to militancy in Kashmir

As for India's part, it has not even made a symbolic concession on its historic refusal to accept Kashmir as a disputed territory or to accept international mediation, Swamy said. The joint-statement refers to resolving "bilateral issues" rather than "disputes" and includes Kashmir among them, thereby avoiding the arguments that led to the breakdown of the Musharraf-Vajpayee summit in June 2001.

Both countries are proceeding cautiously, Swamy said, and the insistence of both sides on keeping discussions secret assures for now that neither will seek a public relations victory.

"There can be no doubt that both sides sincerely hope and intend for the process to result in a peaceful settlement of issues," Swamy said. "At the same time virtually every confidence- building step has merely restored the situation that existed at the time of the last summit in 2001.

"The same bottom line remains. It is very difficult to conceive of any room between the Indian and Pakistani positions on Kashmir. The claims of each rests on a principle that is central to its identity and cannot easily be compromised."

 

Arun Swamy can be reached at 808-944-7542 or swamya@eastwestcenter.org.

The East-West Wire is a news service provided by the East-West Center in Honolulu. Any or all of this report may be used with attribution to the East-West Center or to the person quoted.

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