With the election behind it, it shouldn’t be back to square one for India in its quest to settle the bitterly divisive issue of Kashmir, one that has led to three wars and once brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear war.
India missed its great opportunity to settle the burning dispute while the military president, Pervez Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan until his overthrow last year, was in power.
According to diplomats I talked to eighteen months ago, both British and American, in New Delhi and Islamabad, a deal was tantalisingly close. One British ambassador told me that the main barrier to a deal was “psychological” and that India had to make very few concessions to make a final deal.
If Musharraf wasn’t prepared to give away the store, the Pakistani compromises came close to it. But India, despite the seemingly friendly diplomacy of the Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the unwarlike prime minister, Manmohan Singh and, in the background, another unwarlike figure, the chairwoman of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, couldn’t bring itself to go the extra mile.
Observers had different explanations for Indian intransigence- that Musharraff was trying to force the pace; that the Indian army, the intelligence services and senior bureaucrats in the foreign ministry were resisting an accord; that the leadership had not made an effort to educate the electorate as Pakistan’s had done; that the prime minister was weak and over preoccupied with the economy; that his (successful )attempt to lower the grinding poverty in the rural areas was also a preoccupation; that the time consuming nuclear deal with the U.S was critically important; and that India rather liked the status quo, since stubbornness fitted in with its self-image of being the sub continent’s super power. There was also the failure of the Bush Administration that was, in Singh words, “loved” by India for pushing a deal through Congress that lifts the long standing embargo on selling nuclear materials and reactors to India. America could have used the muscle that the nuclear deal gave it to help push India to sign on to Musharraf’s magnanimous offer.
Now Prime Minister Singh unexpectedly finds himself riding high. Not only did Congress win hands down, but…