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India, Pakistan cricket diplomacy no game it's real
Updated: 2005-04-19 18:37

It was billed as an informal visit to watch a cricket match, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's trip to India this week may go down in history as a major step towards peace in troubled South Asia.

After five decades of enmity and war, the leaders of nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan declared on Monday their peace process was "irreversible". They were not empty words.

"There has been a momentous shift in the attitudes of the two governments, a shift from total confrontation to full cooperation," said retired Pakistani General Talat Masood.

Musharraf and India's Manmohan Singh share not just a rare chemistry between rival leaders, but something@fundamental" Instead of banging their heads together over rival claims, they agreed to push the process by transforming the heavily militarised frontline dividing Kashmir into a "soft border".

Musharraf and Singh agreed to allow more buses to unite divided Kashmir, after launching a limited service this month for the first time in nearly 60 years. Trade will also be allowed for the first time directly across the so-called Line of Control.

Hand-in-hand, comes a joint commitment to prevent terrorism from disrupting that process. For more than 15 years, militants have fought Indian rule in Kashmir with the clandestine support of Pakistan. They can no longer count on that support.

Both sides condemned a rebel attempt to kill passengers on that first bus. Kashmiris, too, have an interest in peace.

"This is the logic of the soft border," said Pakistani newspaper editor Najam Sethi. "Militants become people who are swimming against the tide of history. They either have to concede or find the weight of two states against them."

In a sense, Pakistan has moved much further than. "The world has changed," said Musharraf. "I have come with a new heart."

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Pakistan's support for militancy in Kashmir came under much closer scrutiny and, increasingly, condemnation.

As he built closer ties with Washington, Musharraf found himself the target of assassination attempts by the same Islamic militants who were fighting his proxy war in Kashmir. Gradually, he began to distance himself from the hardliners.

American pressure played a part, while India and Pakistan also saw the benefits of linking their growing economies.

Sethi, once one of Musharraf's fiercest critics, says the Pakistani leader now has his eye on a place in history -- as a peacemaker who will make Pakistan a modern, moderate country.

"Musharraf is the man of the hour," he said. "He is not a general any more. He is a politician."


It won't be easy to shed half a centry of hostility.

But if Pakistan has abandoned its hardline policies, India is showing new patience and new trust. It, too, faces challenges in the months and years ahead if it is to cement these gains -- not least in ending abuses in Kashmir and Kashmiris' deep alienation.

Indian foreign policy expert and author C. Raja Mohan says the peace process now needs to be cemented with a bold gesture on India's part -- a unilateral ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir.

"A ceasefire will also ensure that the shared vision with Pakistan for a softer dividing line in Kashmir ... would not become a victim of terrorism," he said.

In the short-term, much will also hinge on the issue of water, and a controversial dam India is building on the Chenab River in Kashmir. Much of Pakistan's water flows from Kashmir, and this has become a major factor in Pakistan's desire to advance its claim to the Himalayan territory.

Pakistan says the Baglihar dam violates a treaty for sharing water, and could allow India to close the tap on the river. Singh has promised to look closely at those concerns.

The issue has become symbolic, says Masood, of India's attitude to Pakistan's water resources and its ability to shed its "hegemonic" stance and genuinely take into account its smaller neighbour's concerns.


While Musharraf and Singh now have the public behind them, they often seem far ahead of their own bureaucracies. And they are, of course, still far apart on a final solution to Kashmir.

India will not accept a redrawing of boundaries; Pakistan says the Line of Control cannot be made the permanent border.

"Boundaries cannot be adjusted, boundaries become irrelevant and the Line of Control cannot be made permanent," said Musharraf. "Take the three together... now discuss the solution."

In many commentators' eyes, that logic leads towards a@autonomous Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control, with joint institutions and free movement of people and trade. Whose flag flies where becomes less and less important.

"All that comes very easy when there is trust between the two countries," said Prem Shankar Jha, an Indian columnist. "There are many ways to build this in both countries, and to work for the benefit of Kashmiris."

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