The invitation for tea extended to the leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference by the Pakistan High Commissioner, Mr. Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, has generated a heated debate. Should he have invited them for tea? Has he, in any way, transgressed the diplomatic etiquette by doing so? Or, is the Indian political elite flirting with norms of diplomacy by making prescriptive demands in the invitation list? The breach of de rigueur may be a topic of speculation for students of diplomacy, but students of politics would be more intrigued about the intricacies of the political cost and benefit analysis behind the notorious invitation.
The Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee's invitation to the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, for talks and its acceptance has put the Pakistani establishment in a political dilemma. It has left them in a quandary. They had been harping on the theme of tripartite negotiations and had expressed their open disdain for any sort of bilateral negotiations. The Hurriyat was overtly and covertly dissuaded from entering into any sort of negotiations with India.
And, in a rare show of camaraderie, the Hurriyat resisted all attempts by India to enter into a dialogue. But while it resisted a dialogue, citing Pakistan's absence as the reason, Pakistan's acceptance of a bilateral dialogue tantamounted to a perfidious shift in its policy. The Pakistani establishment would have to explain the shift in its policy. The Kashmiris were fundamentally upset with Islamabad's digression from its avowed policy of trilateral dialogue. The Kashmiri reaction forms an integral part of the Pakistani policy, because the disturbed conditions act as the engine, from which Pakistan derives its present status at the negotiating table. The political costs of accepting an Indian offer for bilateral talks, precluding the Hurriyat, were very high.
The Pakistani establishment started an ingenious damage control exercise. First, they identified the cause of the problem which clearly was the exclusion of the Kashmiris. A way had to be found to divert attention from the exclusion. This was done by making selective leaks, which suggested that Pakistan wanted to detoxify the political environment and would not put the summit in jeopardy at the cost of the Hurriyat.
Emphasis was laid on detente between India and Pakistan. It was conveyed through official channels that Pakistan had to accede to India's request and that the General would not be able to meet the Hurriyat leaders during his visit. Even the invitation for the high tea was ruled out.
The Kashmiris, who were smarting over the exclusion, were further disillusioned. The denial of a meeting became the new subject of speculation. This was allowed to go on for some time until it became a topic of a full debate. Once it acquired a status big enough to erase the memories of the exclusion, the Hurriyat leaders were sent invitation cards for the tea reception. And now started the debate whether the Hurriyat should have been invited and whether other invitees should boycott or attend the meeting. The bitter memories associated with the exclusion of Kashmiris have been literally chased away into oblivion.
An invitation would not have been able to placate the Kashmiris. The song and dance created by the Indian establishment over the invitation provided the escape route for both the Pakistan establishment and the Kashmiri leadership. The Kashmiri leadership was able to rake up a new issue of humiliation by India as a substitute for Pakistani betrayal. Pakistan needs to be commended for its deft handling of a potentially damaging situation fraught with high political costs. It has impressively turned around its weak position into a position of strength.
Islamabad's strategy has worked. The new situation has had a multiplier effect on the political benefits accruing to Pakistan. It has resulted in a virtual exculpation of Pakistan and obliterated any feelings of betrayal by Pakistan. The ground realities remain the same. The Kashmiris are as excluded as they were before. However, Pakistan has been able to make a face- saving gesture. It has been able to provide a decent cover up for its political expediency sans morality.
The story of the Indian response in the whole saga has been one of few ups and many downs. India started off with a high score by relenting from an obstinate, unrealistic posture and inviting Pakistan for talks. In the end, it may well find itself paying heavy political costs for a situation, which was initiated by it in order to reap some political benefits.
The Indian actions are ambiguously vacillating between extremes of logic and absence of logic. The question that stares in your face is whether India is acting in covert unison with Pakistan to bail out Gen. Musharraf, expecting reciprocation in the near future, or is it a unilateral exercise brought about by an extremely active streak of self destruction.
In case New Delhi is an active participant in the efforts to bail out the General, the stealthy details may be a pointer towards logic, in Indian decision-making process. However, if Indian actions are part of an independent policy response, one would be hard pressed to find any trace of logic.
If the Indian actions were not dictated by a bail-out package, what was the pressing need to convert a non-issue into a prestigious issue and provide an exit channel for the General? The actions have further alienated the Kashmiri population and bailed out the General. Its actions seem to be driven by the age- old hackneyed theme, that there is no internal problem and if there is one, it is driven by external forces. The thrust on the externals in quest for a solution is absolute. As of today, Indian policy-makers are banking heavily on external factors for a solution to the Kashmir problem, viz., the international community and Pakistan. Every action of the Indian policy-makers is taken with an eye on the international community. The idea is that the world community will discipline Pakistan, which in turn will discipline the militants.
The idea may not be bad per se. But the local Kashmiri population does count. And every Indian action invariably ends up antagonising the Kashmiris. The rigid hostile stance of the Indian Government vis-a-vis the tea party has not exactly won them friends in Kashmir. Any benefit accruing to India on account of their opposition to the invitation to the Hurriyat for tea is not visible, but it may have to pay heavy political costs in the future in terms of alienation of the Kashmiris.
The Hurriyat has once again shown its predilection for Pakistan at the cost of the interests of the Kashmiris. The initial announcement of the exclusion evoked no harsh reaction from the Hurriyat. There were some token murmurs of protest. The leaders were not willing to agree that they had been left out and instead dashed off a letter to Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Vajpayee, staking their claim for a seat at the negotiating table. Mr. Vajpayee did not respond, while the General invited them for tea. The receipt of the invitation saw an overexcited chairman of the Hurriyat gesticulating with the invitation in his hands, unable to hide his glee. The reasons for his joy are a mystery. But, the hue and cry created by the Hurriyat over the receipt of the invitation did help the General in his bailout efforts. The Hurriyat is excited and will be going to the tea party, eager to shake hands and have tea with the General. It may be granted a 15-minutes causeric with the General. Translated into political terms, it does not mean a lot. The Kashmiris have come out as losers.
(The writer is the son of Mr. Abdul Gani Lone, Chairman of the J&K People's Conference, and son-in-law of the JKLF leader, Mr. Amanullah Khan)