A question of trust

The ''people-centred approach'' between India and Pakistan shifted the emphasis from demarcating territorial boundaries to increasing the freedom and welfare of the Kashmiris. This required a progressive softening of the LoC and progressively removing consular and other barriers that prevented Kashmiris in both parts of the old state from meeting, trading and discussing common problems with each other.

Prem Shankar JhaReams have been written about General Musharraf''s visit to New Delhi and a wearyingly familiar pattern has begun once again to emerge in the writings. While the Indian media have greeted the joint declaration with a satisfaction that borders on euphoria the Pakistani media have been cautious to the point of pessimism. "The joint statement ... clearly points to one conclusion: The Pakistani leadership has succumbed to the pressure to proceed with the normalisation of relations with India and put the core dispute of Kashmir on the backburner," says an editorial in the conservative English daily The Nation. Even liberal newspapers and columnists have expressed the fear that General Musharraf may have given away too much and gained very little in return.

These reactions, which are based solely upon an enumeration of the various confidence building measures that Musharraf agreed to, miss the wood for the trees. The fact is that the Delhi meetings have achieved a breakthrough in India''s relations with Pakistan of almost unimaginable importance: Prime minister Manmohan Singh has succeeded in winning President Musharraf''s trust. In doing so he has placed an enormous burden of obligation upon himself and upon India: We must now prove ourselves worthy of that trust and find ways of reciprocating it. The misgivings being expressed in Pakistan and the satisfaction, bordering upon complacency, being expressed in India arise from perceiving only the first half of this pact.

Musharraf has not bestowed his trust lightly. As Kargil and the Agra summit showed, he is not a dove on India-Pakistan relations. But as President of Pakistan he bore the brunt of 9/11 and was the first to realise that coping with it required far reaching changes in policy. That is why he lost no time in grasping Prime minister Vajpayee''s proffered hand of friendship in 2003.

Since then, however, Musharraf has appeared to be making most of the concessions. This is a direct outcome of the stark opposition between the two countries'' starting positions. Pakistan has always held that Kashmir is the core dispute and must be dealt with first. India has maintained that other issues should be resolved first, in order to create an atmosphere conducive to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. In 1997 the two countries committed themselves to a ''composite dialogue'' in which all issues would be dealt with simultaneously.

This process was revived in 2003 but since Kashmir is by far the most complex and sensitive of all the issues whatever little progress there has been has taken place on other issues. Since the underlying difference of approach remained and was reflected, among other things, in India offering a plethora of CBMs but remaining silent on Kashmir, Pakistan continued to regard New Delhi''s overtures with suspicion and dragged its feet over responding to its proposals. India therefore reacted sharply and negatively to every statement on Kashmir that emanated from Islamabad.