By K.N. Pandita
Sunday last visit of President Zardari to India was more or less underplayed by Indian media. More inquisitive sections centred on the point that it was a private visit – a pilgrimage to the holy shrine in Ajmer – and not a formal visit of the head of state.
When VVIPs visit a neighbouring country, particularly the one with which relations have remained strained since long, there is only a thin dividing line between private and official visit.
The entire region of Central and South Asia is passing through extraordinary changes that enfold political, economic and regional strategies in larger sense of the term. Pakistan occupies the centre stage in these strategies notwithstanding her unprecedented internal upheaval worsened by economic crunch.
President Zardari and PM Manmohan Singh met briefly for jsut35 minutes. Evidently if they did talk about matters of bilateral importance, the talks could have been only touch and go and nothing deeper.
But even the ‘touch and go’ treatment presupposes updated review of the items touched upon. That is what the Track II diplomacy must have already covered. Reports from Pakistan tell us that night before President Zardari had to proceed on the ziarat jaunt he had a close meeting with the Prime Minister Gilani and the COAS General Kayani in the Government House.
Pakistani sources have been guessing what could have been the issues they talked about. Whatever is the case Zardari apparently took the government and the Army on board.
President Zardari’s invitation to Dr. Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan and latter’s unconditional acceptance, and in all probability, the event going to happen in May this year, indicates that there seems progress on the agenda of continuing the process of bilateral talks.
The two home secretaries will be meeting soon to discuss modalities and set the agenda for Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Islamabad. In other words, it may be presumed that the recommendations emerging out of the Track II exercises seem to have been concretised and now remains the task of formulating them into clauses of agreements.
The US has been more active in Indo-Pak scenario ever since it decided to withdraw bulk of NATO and American troops from Afghanistan. As strategies unfold, some basics of ground situation need to be taken into consideration. Of all the stakeholders in Afghan imbroglio, Pakistan will have a major role in influencing Afghan Taliban and Afghan warlords. India has to accept that reality. Secondly, Pakistan has to accept the reality that India’s stakes in Afghanistan and the regions beyond extending to Central Asia and Eurasia cannot be ignored and India has to be accommodated. India’s accommodation in a negotiated peace formula suits US interests and could be a dependable catalyst to peace in the region.
In this wide spectrum of regional strategy, Kashmir issue does figure with pre-eminence. Treatment of the subject is essentially the domain of India and Pakistan, with both of them giving respect to the public sentiment in the region. The US, in accordance to its oft-repeated stand, would volunteer to be the facilitator.
In this background, some sections of Pakistani media have come out with what they have called Zardari’s India visit with a “5-point undeclared agenda.” The agenda relates to bilateral relations especially in the backdrop of Kashmir issue. All three stakeholders are veering round the assumption that an amicable and viable resolution of Kashmir issue would lend immense support to a negotiated settlement of Afghan crisis and peace concerns in the entire region of South and Eurasia.
It was revealed that on top of the agenda is a proposal that Kashmir be given an independent-state status under UN auspices for a specified period, after which total independence would be allowed to the disputed territory under Pak-India ratification. We may remind that some months back the rumour was afloat that India and Pakistan may agree to a ten-year moratorium on Kashmir after which the UN would be invited to supervise the will of the people even including the option of region-wise determination of people’s will.
The question is will the proposed “independent-state status” for J&K entitle ethnic and regional groups to determine their sub-regional entities and proceed accordingly when deciding their future?
Pak sources stated that the second most important item on the undeclared agenda is to allow a status to India under the Pak-US-India agreement in Afghanistan for peacekeeping activity and relevant tasks.
The third item would be an agreement to restrict ground, air and sea activity of the armed forces on both sides to liquidate the decades-long exercise of watch-border as being hyper hostile. Siachin and Seer Creek issues have figured separately somehow in addition to on-going dialogue on Kashmir.
The fourth item, sources add, is concluding an agreement for transit facility to India for Afghanistan via the Wagah-Torkham crossing points where truckers would only have to show permits issued by the authorities of the three sides (Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) for consignments.
The fifth item on the agenda is discussing prospects of two agreements. One relates to technical support to Pakistan Railways by the Indian side. The other is a Pak-India arrangement for the purchase of low-cost petroleum products and electricity.
Whether the US has taken Pakistani Army and civilian government on board while proposing a settlement of the South Asian-Eurasian tangle is not known nor disclosed by the American or western press. But in all probability, President Zardari appears to have taken the Pakistani Army on board and then only decided to broach the matter with the Indian Prime Minster.