On the Asian breakthrough

SUN JOURNAL

Talks: Analysts in India and Pakistan weigh in with opinions on the proposed peace negotiations between the two rival nuclear powers.

January 08, 2004

India's prime minister and Pakistan's president surprised their countries and the world by drifting away from a regional summit in Islamabad this week, talking face to face and striking an agreement to begin peace talks next month.

The rapprochement has significance for the region and the world. Both countries have nuclear weapons, and they have come close to war twice during the past two years. The most difficult issue for Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India has been Kashmir. The mountainous, Muslim region is mostly controlled by India, and its independence or incorporation into Pakistan has been a source of dispute since India and Pakistan were partitioned in 1947.

Following are excerpts from articles and editorials published in Indian and Pakistani newspapers yesterday, reflecting a range of opinions on the proposed peace talks:

Editorial in The Hindu, a centrist national daily in India

The leaders of India and Pakistan have energized the ongoing process of positive engagement by agreeing to restart the composite dialogue in February. They also exuded a degree of optimism in asserting, in a joint statement issued after the meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, that the dialogue would lead to the "peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides."

Pakistan appears ready finally to abandon a major element of its Kashmir strategy with General Musharraf reiterating that he would not permit any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner. While this declaration of intent has to be substantiated by developments on the ground, the discussions in Islamabad appear to have infused a measure of stability to the process of positive engagement that has unfolded over the past few months. ... The two countries have indicated a political will to work with each other despite serious differences on some vital issues. ...

India will continue to be cautious about dealing with a Pakistani establishment that is ultimately controlled by General Musharraf. It will not be in a hurry to conclude that the military-dominated Pakistani establishment has made an irreversible strategic decision in favour of friendship, cooperation and amity. However, the significance of recent developments on the other side of the border must not be underestimated. The two attempts to assassinate General Musharraf brought home to the Pakistani leadership the dangers inherent in its sponsorship of jihadi elements.

Editorial in The Indian Express, a liberal New Delhi newspaper

... Given the history of relations among the states of the region, there may be a tendency to see the declaration as just that and nothing more. But that is exactly why Prime Minister Vajpayee in his address to the summit had [emphasized] that history should not be allowed to shackle us from future progress.

The political success of the summit does great credit to the states and their leaders. Few would have expected that much progress in view of the difficult relations between Pakistan and India who went almost to war two years ago. Islamabad deserves credit for dealing with vital issues independent of the K-word [Kashmir]. ...

What will need to be seen is how far the concept of violence in the name of political aspirations would be allowed to prosper. The process of normalization between the two key players, which started last April, has received a degree of stimulus from the summit. This may well be the last opportunity ... for cooperative peace between Pakistan and India.

Editorial in Dawn, a centrist newspaper in Karachi, Pakistan

... All along these years, Islamabad was asking for just this - that a dialogue should begin between the two countries. The inclusion of the phrase "to the satisfaction of both sides" in relation to Kashmir also implicitly recognizes Pakistan's long-held stand that it is a party to the dispute, along with the people of Kashmir. ...

The people of South Asia, and the entire world, expect the two governments to maintain the momentum towards peace. The problems the leaders of Pakistan and India face are gargantuan. They are as much a leftover of history as they are a result of the mess the two sides have made of their relationship. The problems may be daunting, but they are not beyond solutions. Given a sense of realism and a shared vision - the vision of a South Asia free from tension and conflict - Pakistan and India can make it.

The Musharraf-Vajpayee summit proves that a meeting of minds is possible if the two sides show flexibility and avoid pointless rhetoric.

Ijaz Hussain, international relations professor, Quaid-i-Azam University, writing in The Daily Times, an independent newspaper in Lahore, Pakistan

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