The problem with bold gestures
If Musharraf has a genuine intention to allow Indian relief workers and ordinary people to cross over into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, he had a strange way of expressing it. In a televised press conference he said ‘any amount of people were welcome to cross over’ to help, if ‘India agrees and we work out the formalities’.
India, of course, agreed immediately, pointing out that the details needed to be worked out. Expect some contentious negotiations of the kind that preceded the bus service.
But why did the General have to conduct such an important piece of diplomacy over television? Hotlines have been set up for some time. Diplomatic channels of communications remain open. Unless Musharraf’s intention was to score points by putting India in a spot, it is hard to explain why he should resort to megaphone diplomacy. Perhaps he was trying to portray himself as the initiator of bold peace initiatives. Perhaps he did it to release the pressure that was mounting on him. But after so many months of the peace-process and confidence-building measures, the least Musharraf could have done is to inform and consult India before making a grand announcement and creating expectations among a despondent people.
India now faces a politically difficult task of insisting on proper travel documents. While it should do everything possible to expedite the movement of relief and aid across the border, it must not compromise on border security. Not when Pakistan-trained terrorists are busy assassinating politicians. Opening the Line of Control should not mean travel without proper documentation. Insisting on passports — given that there are good guys and bad guys of different nationalities in the region — will not be a bad thing to do. But many ordinary people may not have passports, and it may be necessary to use identification papers issued by local authorities. India will be taking significant risks on this one — both of terrorists slipping in, and of a large number of refugees entering Jammu & Kashmir, who if they do not return soon, can upset the already tense demography of the state. The Indian government cannot be faulted for treading carefully.
Dr Manmohan Singh may feel compelled to respond with another ‘bold gesture’ in the interests of peace. Bold gestures certainly attract international applause, but India can ignore hard realities at its own cost.