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Pushing Closer

While Manmohan Singh's remarks about Pakistan were linked by many Indian analysts to yet another check on the Indo-US deal, the US analysts and experts think India

Pushing Closer
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-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

While the opinion in India is divided, US analysts are expectedly clear: India must seize the opportunity to settle the Kashmir dispute by showing "flexibility" and reciprocating Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s recent peace overture. In an interview to a New Delhi-based television channel, Gen. Musharraf had suggested that Pakistan would give up its claim over Kashmir if India accepted his peace proposals— a phased withdrawal of troops in the region and self-governance for Kashmiris.

Ambassador Teresita Schafer at the Center for Strategic and International Studies described Gen. Musharraf’s statement as "very significant." The president has made a number of statements on Kashmir that go beyond Pakistan's original position - that a plebiscite is required. Ambassador Schaffer notes it is not the first time that he has proposed that a solution should focus on self-governance, or that it should involve "soft borders" across which Kashmiris could come and go. But it is the first time Gen Musharraf has explicitly acknowledged that his proposal would involve Pakistan giving up its claim to Kashmir, subject of course to the condition that India is willing to change its approach as well, she said. The proposal is not likely to win support from many in Pakistan, specifically the intelligence service, Islamist parties and even some within Gen. Musharraf's military.

In a sign of the domestic resistance to the proposal, a Pakistani foreign office spokeswoman clarified Gen. Musharraf sought "reciprocal flexibility" from India. The president "was arguing for flexibility on both sides for a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute," spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said in a statement. "Essentially, what he said was that Pakistan was ready to show flexibility provided India did the same. It was only through reciprocal flexibility that a negotiated settlement, acceptable to all sides, was possible."

Dr. Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute notes, "At times Musharraf gets out ahead of his own government and, perhaps even his military. This may be another one of those occasions." However, he said, Gen. Musharraf’s overture on Kashmir was very forthcoming. Dr. Weinbaum says it is critical that India take the proposal seriously and use it as the basis for mutual exploration of where the proposals on autonomy might lead. India "can't expect Musharraf to display flexibility if it leaves him with nothing to show for his efforts. Without some reciprocation the jihadis will have another issue with which to hammer him and reduce his already eroding domestic standing."  He thinks that with some forthcoming response from India in hand Gen. Musharraf would gain the leverage of broader public opinion to use against the jihadis. "Of course, if anything like an agreement could be negotiated he could take it into next year's elections," he says, adding, "And then there is the international kudos that he receives and can use to fend off his foreign critics who are pressing him on his policies toward extremist groups."

Dr. Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution agrees India needs to reach out to Gen. Musharraf. But, he adds, the Pakistani president has offered similar proposals many times in the past "and knows that India will not or cannot respond, so he gets great PR brownie points at zero cost."  But he wonders "what would happen if India actually came up with some ideas of its own."

Ambassador Schaffer says that while Gen. Musharraf will take a lot of heat at home for his statement, it provides an important opening for India to re-examine how it can proceed on Kashmir, and to think about what "autonomy" and "self-government" could mean in practice, and how India could relate to Pakistan on Kashmir in the long term.

"I'm not suggesting that India ought to accept the whole idea in one swallow, only that it ought to take this seriously as the opening of a negotiation—and to give a similar signal of willingness to change its ideas of how Kashmir should be governed and administered, provided India, Pakistan (and in some fashion the Kashmiris) can work out mutually acceptable details," she says, adding, "If India doesn't respond, Musharraf will wind up looking good both domestically and internationally."

Dr. Walter Andersen at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies doubts the proposal would get very far, but, he notes, "small incremental steps will be needed and as they succeed the possibilities of something more significant will present itself."

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