Both Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf ruled out certain options regarding Kashmir. What they didn't rule out indicates the solution. Musharraf ruled out conversion of the LoC into the international border. Vajpayee ruled out ceding Kashmir to Pakistan because that would perpetuate the communal divide. Both leaders ruled out a plebiscite. Both recognised the need to consider the wishes of the Kashmiris. Musharraf has said there is need for flexibility to find a "solution where you give, but don't give". What does this mean? To understand it, reflect on Vajpayee's call for a South Asia with open borders modelled on the European Union.
What both leaders have not ruled out is the solution repeatedly propagated in this column. Namely, self-determination for the five segments of undivided Kashmir in the context of a South Asian community modelled on the EU. Under a joint defence and common market, even an independent Valley would amount to a solution in which both nations manage to "give, but don't give".
But our government's diplomatic bungling has jeopardised this. Past peace efforts have repeatedly showed that the enemies of Indo-Pakistan consolidation will unleash war or terrorism to derail the efforts. And yet, instead of a quick summit between Vajpayee and Musharraf to effect a fait accompli of what both leaders know is the only feasible solution, our government again embarks on a tedious peace process starting with talks between joint secretaries. Is this not an invitation to the enemies of Indo-Pakistan friendship to again derail the peace process?
The danger is compounded by the increasing opposition to Musharraf by Islamist elements inside and outside the Pakistan army. Musharraf has miraculously survived two attempts on his life. Our government's decision to hasten the polls and lose nine valuable months that could have been utilised to clinch a settlement will further whet the appetite of terrorists. With a single major strike, they could derail the peace process and discredit the Vajpayee government beyond redemption.
So let's keep our fingers crossed. Let's pray that during the polls there's no spectacular act of terrorism to forever bury the peace process.