The bus stopped

No case for India to yield

Pakistan’s stand on travel documents relating to the inter-Kashmir bus route mirrors its general expectation (no pun intended) that peace talks achieve what military campaigns failed. Specifically, Pakistan expects the much touted confidence-building measures to yield solutions that are consistent with its expectations of the entire peace process. And that is the main problem — from India’s point of view, yielding to Pakistan’s expectations just to allow confidence-building measures to succeed will eventually lead to death, if not by a thousand cuts, but by a thousand talks this time.

In the specific case of the inter-Kashmir bus talks, India has already, and unwisely, agreed to an arrangement where its travellers may use either Indian passports with Pakistani visa stamps or special travel permits. But to Pakistan this is not enough — nothing short of passport-less, visa-less travel would suffice. Quite clearly, the concept of confidence-building measures is differently understood; India perceives them literally as small steps to prove each other’s bona fides; Pakistan perceives them as deconstructions of its major dispute that need to be settled along the lines of its eventual solution.

In such circumstances, it is unwise for India to make any concessions at all, especially not in a bout of lofty-softy generosity.

But India, for it part, should ensure that the arrangements it proposes do not simply become like a regular visa regime by another name. It should ensure this, not because it is answerable to Pakistan, but because it ought to have the self-confidence to assure the Kashmiri people that it is willing to think out of the box. While India has every interest in identifying who comes and who goes, and it has every right not to cede the sovereignty question to Pakistan, it does have a responsibility to ensure that travel across the border is easy. It would only be fitting if India’s democracy, while safeguarding its territorial interests, made it easier for Kashmiris from both sides of the border to travel. Pakistan may have no locus standi on the question of borders and identification. But it will be India’s greatness if it can demonstrate to the Kashmiris that parchment barriers will not stand in the way of their freer movement. [IE]

Using words like democracy and greatness are just appeals to the irrational and the emotional — these are not the best ingredients for public policy of any kind, not least foreign or security policy.

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