Too early to kill hope: I A Rahman

Too early to kill hope
By I.A.Rehman, Dawn, March 6, 2008

ASIF Ali Zardari’s run of good luck in getting away with his perorations unchallenged seems to have ended. While an advice to him to conserve his words should have been in order, the defenders of the faith have started stoning him for what is presumed to be heresy on Kashmir.

He is however being assailed for his less exceptionable utterances. The charge is that he betrayed the national cause when he stressed the urgency of promoting friendly relations with India, especially in the area of trade, and hoping that consolidation of India-Pakistan goodwill could lead to a satisfactory settlement on Kashmir. This, it is said, is contrary to the inviolable formulation that normalisation of relations with India is unthinkable until the Kashmir issue is resolved.

One of Zardari’s critics says that had he made such observations before Feb 18 his party would have paid dearly. This view can be sustained only if one forgets that the latest general election was fought almost wholly on domestic political issues and the major parties paid marginal attention to external relations, Kashmir and ties with India.

It may be useful, at least for keeping the record straight, to briefly recall what the various manifestos have said on the subject.

In the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl manifesto foreign affairs is the 21st chapter in a total of 25. India and Kashmir are mentioned in the last paragraph, titled; ‘Important issues in foreign policy’, after Palestine, Arab lands and Afghanistan have been allowed precedence: “End of the Zionist, American and British imperialist hold on Palestine, Jerusalem and all Arab lands; end of foreign aggression in Afghanistan; Kashmir’s freedom; and efforts to secure protection of the Indian Muslims’ life and property, honour, belief, occupation, housing etc – these will enjoy foremost and fundamental importance in Pakistan’s external policy.”

Foreign affairs is the last item in the 17-point MQM manifesto. The party stands for “close, friendly and honourable relations with all countries, especially with the neighbouring countries, wants to solve the Kashmir issue through meaningful, sincere and honourable dialogue according to the wishes of Kashmiri people, encourages confidence-building measures and dialogue process with India and desires peace and close cooperation between the countries of South Asia especially in economic fields….”

The PML-Q devotes three points to Kashmir and India in the final chapter (defence). Since the party deals only with subjects that begin with the letter D, defence is in and foreign affairs is out. The party supports the Kashmiri people’s right of self-determination through implementation of UN resolutions. It will support ‘any initiative’ and ‘any settlement’ which is acceptable to the Kashmiri people. “The peace process with India will be pursued with vigour.”

The ANP devotes a longish chapter (third out of four) to foreign affairs. Kashmir and India get two sentences as the sixth of the 13 points in this chapter: “Likewise, high priority will be attached to peaceful and friendly relations with India, based on (good) neighbourliness and cooperation. All problems including Jammu and Kashmir will be solved through negotiations and open negotiations will be the highlight of our relations with India.”

In the PML-N manifesto, foreign policy and national security figure together in the 20th (last but one) point. Kashmir and India are disposed of in two sentences: “Every effort would be made to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN resolutions and in consonance with the aspirations of the people of the territory for their inherent right of self-determination. A peaceful settlement of all outstanding issues with India, in a spirit of fairness and equity would be accorded special priority by the party.”

The PPP also refers to Kashmir and India in the concluding part of its manifesto: “The Pakistan People’s Party supports the rights of the Kashmiri people and will pursue the composite dialogue process agenda that it initiated with India, including Kashmir and Indo-Pak issues. It will not allow lack of progress on one agenda to impede progress on the other.”

The party notes that India and China have a border dispute and yet enjoy tension-free relations. It claims credit for proposing Saarc’s transformation from a cultural organisation into an economic one and will work for a regional economic framework for South Asia, and promote an Asian Common Market. (Emphasis added)

Unless one is an incorrigible hypocrite it should be possible to realise that the country’s major political actors have learnt to temper their traditional rhetoric on Kashmir with pragmatism. All parties are still ritualistically talking of Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination and leaving matters to their satisfaction, but they also seek friendly relations with India and none of them is raising the slogan; “No truck with India until Kashmir is settled in our favour.”

The streak of realism that has disturbed some holy warriors is not new. From the very beginning of the Kashmir stalemate two arguments have dominated the debate. One view has been that no normal relations with India are possible until the Kashmir issue is settled.

The other argument is differences on Kashmir should not prevent India and Pakistan from benefiting from possibilities of bilateral cooperation. For a good five decades all Pakistani authorities have indulged in the rhetoric of the former argument and in practice followed the logic of the latter.

Without waiting for a Kashmir solution, Ayub Khan offered India joint defence and signed the Indus Basin Water Treaty, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto opened trade with India, Ziaul Haq sought the cover of cricket diplomacy, Benazir Bhutto tried accommodation with India via Saarc, Nawaz Sharif could not resist Indian sugar nor a bus ride with Vajpayee, the 1996 caretakers imported Indian cement via Wagah, Pervez Musharraf (of core issue fame) allowed the import of beef, onions, and tomatoes and wheat from India, and the holinesses among the current caretakers now want to import Indian steel.

Thus, on the one hand Zardari has merely repeated what is clearly written in his party’s manifesto and on the other hand he has only suggested what a long line of Pakistani rulers have been doing.

The real issue is not what Zardari says or what his critics allege. In the present political situation statements by party leaders, even party manifestos, should count for less than the need to start establishing the supremacy of parliament. Let it be decided that regardless of what the PPP or its traditional adversaries say or think of relations with India the actual crafting of Pakistan’s policy will be done by parliament, although all parties should be free to air their views outside it.

One should be prepared to concede that every Pakistani firmly stands by the side of the much exploited Kashmiri people, and that everyone wants his own country people to resolve their own problems as well, but at the moment only one task matters – transition from the nightmare of despotism to the sunshine of parliamentary rule.

Anyone trying to cause dissension within the democratic camp, so described for want of a suitable expression, will be guilty of repudiating the barely two weeks old poll verdict. It is too early to start killing people’s hope.

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