At prime minster Dr Manmohan Singh’s farewell press conference, fourth during his 10-year rule, came the first official confirmation that India was about to strike a deal on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan. But the deal went haywire due to President Pervez Musahrraf making way for a different setup in Islamabad. Earlier, such corroborations have only come from Pakistani leaders, more so, its former foreign minister Mehmood Ahmed Kasuri.
In response to a question, Singh said he had tried to improve relations with all neighbours to the best of his ability. “At one time, it appeared that an important breakthrough was in sight. Events in Pakistan, for example, the fact that General Musharraf had to make way for a different setup, I think that led to the process not moving further,” he said.
Singh said he still harbours hope to visit Pakistan before he completes his term in May 2014.
Reminding that he was born in a village which is now part of west Punjab, Singh said that as prime minister he should go to Pakistan if conditions are appropriate to achieve solid results. “I have thought of it many times, but ultimately I felt that circumstances were not appropriate for my visit,” he said.
In fact, the paradigm shift in the engagements with Pakistan had come when prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had travelled to Islamabad in January 2004, opening a widow for an out of box settlement of Kashmir issue. The trajectory of this engagement got a boost, when Manmohan Singh took over and between 2005 and 2007, the peace process peaked, with both sides exchanging non-papers on Kashmir, stipulating their positions, as well as red lines. At the end of foreign secretary-level talks held in New Delhi in January 2006, the then foreign secretary Shyam Saran admitted that both sides discussed Jammu and Kashmir “substantively” almost after half-a-century.
Though the contents of these non-papers are not known, details filtered out count many convergences. While Pakistan had called for joint management and sharing of sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir, India has used the term cooperative management of resources. “The talks were first derailed after July train bombings in Mumbai and later by the domestic issues in Pakistan,” says a source in the PMO.
It is believed that Pakistan in its non-paper had listed the famed four point solution publicised by Musharraf later. It had offered to abandon its insistence on UN resolutions. These proposals were: Kashmir will have the same borders but people will be allowed to move freely back and forth in the region; the region will have self-governance or autonomy, but not independence; troops will be withdrawn from the region in a staggered manner; and a joint supervision mechanism will be set up, with India, Pakistan and Kashmir represented in the mechanism.
To sum up the Pakistan policy, it meant desisting from demanding any territory for Pakistan; rejecting the communal criteria; and giving up demand of Kashmir secession from India and to encourage Kashmiris separatists to talk to New Delhi. Sources say that it also included a road map to help India stamp out terrorism. In return, in the second leg, India was supposed to move towards resolving outstanding bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. In the third leg, India offered they would build up “a lasting relationship with Pakistan that involves creation of stakes in each other’s welfare.