The late National Security Adviser, Mr. J N Dixit, was famous for his post-retirement pace of churning out a book a year. His latest: India's Foreign Service History and Challenge, is a posthumous publication. In the book he refers to the Agra Summit revealing that 'the ministry's (Ministry of External Affairs) advice was ignored by the then minister Jaswant Singh because he was persuaded by arguments of the US government to hold such a summit meeting'. Despite warnings from the same quarters of a replay of Agra, described by Mr. Dixit as a 'fiasco primarily because India did not have a structured agenda or any clear idea of what was hoped to be achieved', Dr. Manmohan Singh went ahead with his April meeting with General Musharraf. This bit of political courage is the silver lining in the likelihood of more-of-the-same this summer in Kashmir.
The General next door is also presently engaged in a courageous tight-rope walk. He is in the process of whittling down jihadi power. A major factor in the growth of jihadi power there has been its presence as a credible military threat in Kashmir. The religious right in Pakistan has provided cannon fodder under the guise of 'jihad' in Kashmir even though the operation has been conducted by Pakistan's ISI as part of its proxy war for essentially secular strategic objectives.
If General Musharraf is to restrain the jihadis in a mission acknowledged as the core of Pakistan's identity, there is a requirement for the General to be seen as having wrested something for the Kashmir cause. Militarily this has proved to be impossible. So, he must look elsewhere. The General's proposal is to make the LoC 'irrelevant'. To Pakistan the Line of Control is the problem, while to India converting it to a border is a favored solution. What is it that India could offer?
Bureaucrats will put forward several reasons for India to refrain from entertaining Pakistan. One is that India owes no goodwill to the General who masterminded the Kargil intrusion. Second is that there is a perception that India is now on top of the military situation in Kashmir. General Vij's brainchild, christened the 'Vij Line' by the governor of J&K General SK Sinha. The anti-terrorist fence has snaked its way under the cover of the ongoing ceasefire from the International Border past Rajouri, Poonch and beyond. The military position is likely that with infiltration choked off by the fence, it is only a matter one more summer campaign before terrorists stranded on this side of the fence can be wrapped up.
Thirdly, since the General is already apparently cracking down on jihadis under pressure from the US, it would appear that India's security objectives are already being met. Lastly, the pressure for talks on India is already being met by the ongoing talks on Bagliar dam, Sir Creek, Siachen, gas from Iran etc. The periodic intonations from the Minister of Defense on launch pads in POK not having closed down help keep India from going the distance on Kashmir talks. A problem going back a half-century would require several transits of the bus past the Kaman Bridge, renamed since as the Aman Setu, at the Uri-Chakothi crossing on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Jhelum route.
There are several reasons for India to ensure that the peace process, acknowledged by Musharraf as having been begun by Vajpayee, remains 'irreversible'.
Secondly, there is a requirement of India putting Kashmir behind and in doing so transcending the Indo-Pak hyphenation if it is to be taken seriously as a candidate seeking a veto attached permanent seat at the UN high table.
Thirdly, while a democratic Pakistan is in India's best interest, to strengthen the forces in Pakistan against the jihadi threat is presently in India's national interest. Musharraf weighs in on the side of modernity in this equation and therefore both deserves and requires India's support.
Permitting Musharraf to sell the notion that what could not be wrested from India in a decade and half long jihad has been obtained through diplomacy can help with this. Doing so would deflate the legitimacy that jihadi forces seek from their presence in Kashmir. Their propaganda line is that they are at the vanguard where Islam is in danger and where fellow Muslims are oppressed.
The 'Islam in danger' line is already negated by the lived reality in Kashmir. India could however do more to dispel their second argument through easing the plight of the common man in Kashmir. The impression that Muslims are being oppressed can best be erased through professional conduct of counter insurgency by privileging the WHAM approach - 'winning hearts and minds'. That this change is already afoot is evident from the draw down the army's presence in Kashmir announced last year; the manner it has dealt with the Handwara molestation episode featuring Major Rahman, since cashiered from the Army; and from the 'velvet glove' policy dwelt on by the new Chief, General 'JJ'.
These beginnings need to be taken to their logical conclusion in the form of a selective internal ceasefire targeting Kashmiri groups. This would help induce 'surrenders' an unfortunate term that could be changed to a more imaginative one as part of this package. Capturing the public imagination thus would help generate pressure on the Kashmiri political leadership in the form of a squabbling Hurriyet and the terrorist groups to respond positively. A reenergized Kashmir scene is not infeasible as an outcome.
The idea of a ceasefire has already been put within the knowledge base of India's security minders by one of India's leading columnists on security affairs, C Raja Mohan. These strategists require it to be sweetened in the language of real politik. That this would certainly save a considerable number of young Kashmiris from becoming part of the statistics industriously compiled in the North Block would not impress them. To them the ceasefire could serve the tactical purpose of splitting the foreign groups from the Kashmiri ones. While the earlier period of 'non-initiation of combat operations' that extended the Ramzan ceasefire of Year 2000 lapsed in a series of 'fidayeen' attacks, this time round combat operations need not cease since only a 'selective' ceasefire has been broached here.
Simultaneously, the initiatives of NN Vohra with respect to the Hurriyet and of the Oslo-like 'off the public gaze' talks need to be taken up from where Mr. Dixit let off. These can be resumed by the Deputy National Security Advisor, Vijay Nambiar, and an old MEA hand, appointed in wake of the death of former NSA, Mr. Dixit. The quid pro quo he needs to extract from Pakistan is restraint in infiltrating the hordes that the Defense Minister Pranab Mukherji warns about.
The PM could afford to permit General Musharraf some political and propaganda mileage for laying claim for military course correction by India. This would help keep Pakistan stable in ensuring the longevity of President Musharraf; even as India proceeds on a course it has set itself.