That’s the question 2005 will answer, and maybe then too, only partially. External affairs minister Natwar Singh, who three days after taking office in May comfortingly informed Outlook readers that he was running foreign policy and not some bird sanctuary, also let us into another secret: "Diplomacy provides hope, not salvation." Hope then is the prism through which to view the engagement with Pakistan, which has been the defining strategic impulse this year.
The template was laid down through the mother of all joint statements on January 6, when Atal ‘India Shining’ Vajpayee was still prime minister. Taking the long view, Vajpayee offered sustained and productive dialogue on all issues in exchange for President Musharraf plugging terrorism emanating from territories under his control. It has not been widely disclosed that the statement was issued after the then US national security advisor Condoleezza Rice called up her then Indian counterpart Brajesh Mishra—in Islamabad—seeking to encourage India to endorse the joint statement. For politically, it is unpalatable to think of the US as being anything but the sole superpower, building completely unhyphenated, free-standing bilateral relationships with both India and Pakistan, each with separate and neatly compartmentalised visions keeping in mind that both India and Pakistan are in different planets. Logically, however, that’s not the way it works, especially with NATO forces deployed in Afghanistan with which, if nothing else, we have an academic border. Recall, for instance, that Musharraf’s first assurance to India on curbing terrorism was made not to Vajpayee but to President George Bush, through the good offices of the then deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage. Recall also that Colin Powell dubbed Pakistan a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally’ (which technically qualifies Pakistan for upgraded arms shipments from US) barely two days after the then external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha had pronounced the Indo-US relationship to be perhaps at its "best ever".
The best was yet to come. At least that’s what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told George Bush, as the pragmatist in him warmed up to the possibilities inherent in the India-US bilateral dynamics. Robert Browning would, needless to say, approve of the way the sentence was parsed. And maybe even Bush, now that America is prepared to discuss selling Patriot advanced capability missiles to us (to knock down incoming non-Pakistani missiles?) and is considering selling F-16s to Pakistan (to better target Al Qaeda?), thereby taking the flashpoint away from "the world’s most dangerous place", as Clinton had described the region only four years ago. At that time it would have been inconceivable that Washington would do a sales pitch on its state-of-the-art Patriot missile, but now it’s part of a process called the NSSP (Next Steps in Strategic Partnership) which the Congress-led government here has endorsed. There is a joint statement on this as well.
But the one that bears special scrutiny from the plethora of Indo-Pak joint statements is the one released on September 24, exactly a week after the NSSP statement. In it, both New Delhi and Pakistan committed themselves to exploring possible options for solving the Kashmir issue sincerely and purposefully. This statement was signed a couple of days after Musharraf declared he was giving bilateralism a "final chance". In the bilateral mix are now more than 71 proposals, an overwhelming majority of which are Indian by origin. Six have elements not so much of hope as salvation in them. One is the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service. The other two are proposals to cooperate in joint promotion of tourism and working together for managing the environment in J&K—the entire Jammu and Kashmir, including the part Pakistan controls. Such proposals would have been considered heretical a couple of years ago, given the resolution in Parliament that claims the entire J&K—even the areas ceded by Pakistan to China—to be irreversibly Indian. But now they have the attributes of a cooperative approach to solving J&K. Pakistan has not responded to these proposals. But then, neither has anybody this side of the LoC taken umbrage to the idea.