quality of medical care at Tehsil level hospitals. (4) Establish at least one model hospital of international standards in each district. (5) Launch a national campaign for: (i) Provision of hygienic drinking water, (ii) Control of hazardous pesticides used on food grains and vegetables, (iii) Strict implementation of food adulteration laws and control of unhygienic food supplied by vendors, cafes and restaurants.
“It was a historic day and we have made a new beginning”, declared Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he emerged from his meeting with President Musharraf in New York on 24th September. Earlier during the discussion at his house in New Delhi on 30th August, he had said, “I am prepared to make a new beginning”. (See my DT article 23rd Sept). Now he has done so, together with President Musharraf. The question is, what is the nature of this “new beginning” and where we go from here?
With the coming into power of the Congress led government in May, observers had expressed fears that the peace process had lost momentum. When leaders in both Pakistan and India started making statements about placing preconditions on the continuation of the dialogue (concrete progress on Kashmir within a time frame and end to cross border terrorism respectively), it appeared that the peace process might even have stalled.
Three elements in the text of the joint statement and the contextual events surrounding it, signify that the peace process is back on track:
1. The document not only explicitly acknowledges the disputed status of Kashmir, but emphasizes the need for “a peaceful negotiated settlement” of this dispute. This is a break from the recent past when India insisted that Kashmir was an “internal problem”, and thereby refused to even acknowledge it as a “dispute”, let alone seek its peaceful resolution.
2. The statement significantly excludes any mention of “cross border terrorism”. It is important to understand this exclusion does not constitute a shift in India's earlier stated position that this issue must be addressed by Pakistan. Such a shift has been erroneously claimed in the BJP's official statement, following the New York meeting. On the contrary, it signifies India's willingness to resolve the issue of cross border terrorism within the process of the composite dialogue rather than preventing its resolution by placing it as a precondition for the continuation of the dialogue.
3. For the composite dialogue to continue it was necessary that India and Pakistan both recognize the distinction between preconditions on the continuation of the dialogue and difficulties in the peace process. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made quite clear that the peace process would proceed unhindered, by any precondition, when he stated after the historic New York meeting, “…I feel confident that despite the difficulties on the way, I and President Musharraf will together work and succeed in writing a new chapter in the history of our two countries”.
The distinction between preconditions and difficulties has been firmly established also in the sub-text of the joint statement. Progress on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute is not mentioned as a precondition for progress to occur in other elements of the composite dialogue (e.g. economic cooperation). Indeed the joint statement expresses the desirability of taking up the key gas pipeline project from Iran, through Pakistan to India, for the “welfare and prosperity of the people of both countries”. The unconditional nature of the composite dialogue is further reinforced when the joint statement notes that both countries “….agreed that confidence building measures of all categories, under discussion between the two governments, should be implemented ….”.
The significance of the Manmohan-Musharraf meeting in New York should not be under estimated. The peace process has survived the departure of the Vajpayee government. Indeed the ‘objective forces' that impel both India and Pakistan towards peace are being catalyzed by the equally real ‘subjective factors' that are constituted in the new chemistry of the two leaders, and the perennial consciousness of their respective peoples. (See my DT article 23rd Sept). The joint statement of 24th September bears testimony to this possibility. However actualizing this possibility will require a series of strategic initiatives that have synergistic interconnections. In implementing the “confidence building measures of all categories”, a prioritizing of specific CBMs in terms of strategic importance, may be necessary to create the critical minimum momentum for a generalized break through on all the peace fronts.
Some of the strategic CBMs that need to be undertaken without further delay are the following: (i) Simultaneously bring to bear all measures necessary to rapidly increase tourism to a level where it could bring palpable income and employment gains to people on both sides of the border. Such measures include providing non-reporting, multiple entry one-year visas, to all categories of professionals, businessmen and members of bona fide civil society institutions. At the same time allow ten days tourist visas to multiple cities in each country not just for groups but also for individuals with appropriate references. (ii) Move rapidly on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. This could bring an estimated USD 700 million annual transit fee income to Pakistan, thereby raising GNP by 1 percentage point. For India it would mean much larger gains in terms of cheaper energy that could play a key role in sustaining India's economic growth. (iii) Allow import into Pakistan of diesel fuel produced in Panipat. During a seminar in New Delhi on 31st August, Mr. Manishanker Iyer, the Indian Minister for Oil and Gas showed a willingness to initiate such a project. This would not only mean large economic gains from cheaper diesel oil for Pakistan but also create together with the gas pipeline project a mutual economic interdependence between Pakistan and India that could enable rapid resolution of political disputes. (iv) Joint infrastructure projects between the private sectors of India and Pakistan in the transport and water sectors. For example a motor way between Islamabad and Bombay via New Delhi; joint venture projects in watershed management to increase the life of dams, construction of new dams and lining of canals in India and Pakistan. (v) Allow formal trade to take place between India and Pakistan at least in those items in which unofficial trade (via third country) is already taking place. It is estimated that USD 2 billion annually of such unofficial trade is already occurring, compared to only USD 700 million annually of official trade. Converting the unofficial trade into official trade would mean larger revenues for the governments of the two countries and lower transportation costs without adversely affecting the interests of the industry in either country.
To maintain the integrity of the composite dialogue these strategic CBMs in the economic sphere need to be conducted in parallel with a sustained and intensive examination of all the possible options acceptable to the parties concerned for resolving the Kashmir dispute according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people, as agreed in the joint statement.
While the logic of peace is apparent, obsolete mindsets continue to constrain it. The recent sacrilegious attack attempted by a small group of hooligans on the holy temple of Guru Nanak is an example. All efforts must be made by the government of Pakistan to bring the criminals to justice and prevent such incidents in future. In fact the governments in both Pakistan and India must work together to ensure the freedom of worship to people of all faiths, and the protection of their holy sites. At the same time mechanisms must be put into place whereby the peace process becomes uninterruptible by any attempt to disrupt it.
We are at a moment when a break from the past can be made. Some times the site of discontinuity becomes more significant than the continuity of history, because such a site signifies the moment when leaders and nations may rise to the occasion to make history. (See my Sept 23, DT article). The Manmohan-Musharraf meeting in New York does indeed promise a “new beginning”. Manmohan's breadth of vision and Musharraf's boldness may together form (what Helen Keller in another context called), “A new doorway for the human spirit”.