24 November, 2006
By Prof. Khalid Mahmud
What makes foreign minister Kasuri so optimistic about a Siachen accord in the offing is anybody’s guess. The day Pakistani delegation left for New Delhi to resume the stalled composite dialogue Kasuri said an agreement on Siachen will be reached within days. Earlier on he had, contrary to what the signals from New Delhi suggested given, the good news that a ‘breakthrough on Siachen’ had been achieved.
Ironically, Parnab Mukherjee who held the defense portfolio before he became India’s foreign minister in a major cabinet reshuffle by prime minister Manmohan Singh, had then brushed aside the speculation that the Indians were now prepared to pull out troops from the line of actual control in a package deal for demilitarisation of a ‘zone of peace’. And since then reports have appeared in the press that India’s military establishment was opposed to altering the status quo in Siachen if it required troops withdrawal from any territory held b y India since its occupation of the glacier, called the world’s ‘highest battle field’, in 1984.
Kasuri’s optimism may have been caused by a ‘communication gap’ or he may have been tricked into believing what he has been saying by New Delhi’s traditional gimmickry. Double-dealing is an established trait of Indian diplomacy. They are quite capable of saying one thing in closed door negotiations and another in their public pronouncements. And they have been taking the joke too far by renouncing explicit understanding reach in talks or even backing out of an accord which awaited signatures by the two sides before being made public.
The several rounds of talks on Siachen held in the 1990’s had met the same fate. When Islamabad thought they were on the verge of making a deal, the Indian negotiators had second thoughts and took a U-turn to call off talks. Critics said it appeared that someone high up in the establishment had told them to stay put, but whatever was the reason for the Indians to get cold feet at the eleventh hour, it was a classic instance of the zero sum game the Indians have been playing to resolve issues of mutual discord, Siachen being on top of the list.
One wonders why is Kasuri so pushed about claiming a breakthrough on Siachen, while the Indians have kept their cool. Perhaps he wishes to take credit for salvaging the composite dialogue from a tarnished image, by putting across the message that it has not been as futile an exercise as critics suggest.
We have not ended up in a blind alley, the foreign minister would like to reassure his countrymen, or been forced to console ourselves with a ‘one-way traffic’ of concessions to the Indians. It has therefore been necessary for him to raise hopes of a positive response from New Delhi if not on Kashmir, at least on Siachen, which given the input of substantive talks and narrowing down of divergent positions in the past is perhaps easiest to handle of all the disputes on the agenda of Pakistan-India talks.
Nevertheless, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri is seen as a man in indecent haste to prove that he has done a great job as foreign minister and his diplomatic endeavour has been well-rewarded. Political pundits suggest he may be well advised to be a little more prudent in projecting outcome of Pakistan-India negotiations if he wants to save himself the embarrassment of making a false move, or being caught on the wrong foot. Let him take his cue from the poker-faced occupants of the South block in New Delhi who do not reveal their true self until the zero hour.
Small wonder foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan has returned home empty handed from his visit to New Delhi where Siachen was also on the agenda for talks in the much-awaited composite dialogue. Briefing newsmen after the two-day talks the foreign secretary said ‘we have not reached an agreement on Siachen, as both sides still have reservations. The failure to secure a breakthrough on Siachen which Kasuri had the audacity to insist was just round the corner, has since been underplayed in Islamabad, as other matters, such as anti-terrorism and nuclear safety steps are being highlighted to suggest that the resumption of composite dialogue was after all not a non-event. Consolation prize for the Pakistani foreign minister, he is scheduled to go on a visit to India next month.