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July 07, 1999atimes.com
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India/Pakistan

ANALYSIS: U.S. brokers Kargil peace but problems remain
By Praful Bidwai

NEW DELHI - The hurriedly organized meeting between President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has yielded results that favor a defusing of the two-month-old crisisin Kargil. But it leaves some old problems and creates new ones. The situation on the ground along the Line of Control (LoC), as the disputed border in Kashmir is known, may remain muddled for some time although India has claimed significant military success in recapturing Tiger Hill, a 5,000-meter-high peak overlooking a major supply line.

The Clinton-Sharif meeting follows more than three weeks of triangular diplomatic maneuvers by Washington, many of them low-profile, to defuse a crisis that has every potential to escalate with horrendous consequences for the two newly nuclearized South Asian rivals. The communique issued at the end of the three-hour meeting, organized on extremely short notice on America's Independence Day, commits Pakistan to take ''concrete steps'' to restore the LoC - which India claims the Pakistan army, working with a small number of mujahideen, violated. The communique does not expressly involve a cease-fire obligation but merely notes that Clinton ''urged immediate cessation of hostilities.'' In some ways this formalizes what Washington and the G-8 have been asking Pakistan to do: unconditionally withdraw from the Indian side of the LoC forces that have encroached on over 200 square kilometers of territory.

Islamabad has been stoutly resisting unconditional withdrawal, claiming at different times that it is not involved with the ''freedom fighters'' battling Indian troops, or that the LoC isitself disputed (its actual position being unclear and ambiguous) or that withdrawal must be linked to a resolution of the larger, very thorny, 52-year-old Kashmir dispute. The Paksitan government had publicly stated that one principal objective of the Sharif visit to the U.S. was to seek international mediation over Kashmir as a quid-pro-quo for withdrawing forces from the LoC. India opposes such ''mediation,'' insisting that all outstanding issues between New Delhi and Islamabad must be resolved bilaterally under the Shimla opposition to overt mediation. Prime Minister Vajpayee politely declined Clinton's invitation to Washington.

In any event, both Pakistan and India had to retreat from their stated positions. Sharif has not quite obtained a quid-pro-quo for taking ''concrete steps'' to restore the sanctity of the LoC, and certainly he has received no U.S. endorsement of his position that the Kashmir issue must be ''internationalized'' and resolved through overt third-party or multilateral mediation. All he got was a statement that Clinton would take a ''personal'' interest in ''encouraging'' a quick ''resumption and intensification'' of India-Pakistan bilateral talks after the LoC status quo is fully restored.

India, for its part, has had to increasingly depend on external mediation to get Pakistan to agree to respect the LoC and withdraw forces. However much New Delhi may quibble over words like ''mediation,'' ''intervention,'' ''facilitation'' or ''encouragement,'' the truth is that its diplomatic thrust for the past month consisted in pleading with the major powers, the U.S. in particular, to exert pressure on Pakistan. This amounts to seeking their intervention, however subtle and indirect. India may not want a visible high-profile Camp David visit, but it has certainly not been averse to a Washinton-centered, low-profile, three-way process.

Vajpayee and his colleagues have not only participated in this process, they have actually sought U.S. support for their position that Pakistan should withdraw from the LoC. Just prior to the June 19 G-8 summit at Cologne, Vajpayee wrote a personal letter to Clinton, stressing that he was under pressure to permit the Indian army to cross the LoC so as to encircle the ''intruders,'' cut off their supply lines and vanquish them.

This letter combined entreaty and subtle pressure comparable to the tactic Islamabad employed following last year's nuclear tests of converting its economic weakness into bargaining strength to extract concessions from multi-lateral agencies - in the absence of which it could collapse into a ''nuclear Somalia."

Despite the compromises they have made, neither Pakistan's nor India's government will find it easy to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution to the present crisis. Sharif in particular is likely to experience serious difficulties in both ''selling'' the Washington deal domestically and in implementing it. The link between troop withdrawal and Clinton's offer of a ''personal'' interest in promoting India-Pakistan dialogue is at best a tenuous one. This can come only after the ''sanctity of theLoC is fully restored.'' Sharif has also had to accept that bilateral dialogue with India remains the ''best forum'' for ''resolution of disputes."

The Pakistan opposition is certain to interpret the communique as a sellout, a unilateral commitment to withdraw forces and liquidate ''precious'' strategic gains. Indeed, not only non-parliamentary extremists such as the Jamaat-i-Islami, but even former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, have warned of a civil war in case of a withdrawal. The ''mujahideen'' forces involved in the Kargil operation also say they do not answer to Islamabad and can only consider an appeal once it is made. Such groups, helped by their past links with organizations like the Inter Services Intelligence have strong supporters in the establishment, especially the army. It is far from clear that they will withdraw readily and without stiff resistance.

More ominously, if a significant section of the army translates its reluctance to give up the Kargil card into active resistance, Sharif could find himself beleaguered on all sides. Sharif may have emerged as one of Pakistan's most powerful civilian Prime Ministers but he cannot challenge the authority of the army, the final arbiter of Pakistan's politics. How he works out the ''cessation of hostilities,'' and withdrawal of troops and mujahideen is an open question. Given that the Washington communique is silent on the time-frame, thereis a serious possibility of delay and complication on the ground.

In India too, the process of reaching a ceasefire and peace is unlikely to be smooth. The political opposition, which barely two months ago defeated the BJP-led coalition in a confidence vote is deeply suspicious of the BJP's growing dependence on Washington as regards Kargil. The opposition has criticized efforts at clandestine diplomacy, the BJP's attempt to politicize Kargil and court Washington by citing the common threat of Islamic fundamentalism. The BJP, a Hindu-communal and right-wing party with a history of pro-U.S. orientation during the cold war, has been trying to whip up nationalist hysteria over Kargil. Its bellicoseanti-Pakistan, anti-Islam rhetoric mimics the sectarian campaigns of Pakistan's jihadists. The real danger now is that India and Pakistan's policy makers could become victims of their own propaganda and get trapped in the militant rhetoric they have unleashed.

(Inter Press Service)



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