The faded roadmap to India-Pakistan peace
LONDON (Reuters) - India and Pakistan may have begun talking to each other again but as yet there is no clear vision on where those talks might lead.
As a result many analysts are looking to a roadmap agreed in secret two years ago -- and which only really came to light this year -- as probably the best model around for a peace deal.
"It's a good deal for Pakistan, for India, for the Kashmiris," said Bruce Riedel, who led a review of strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan for President Barack Obama.
Negotiated by advisers to former president Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the accord made an ambitious attempt to lay out a framework for peace in Kashmir, which has been divided between the two countries since independence.
While there was to be no exchange of territory, borders were to be made irrelevant by encouraging the movement of people and trade across the Line of Control which divides Kashmir.
At the same time, a joint mechanism would be set up which would allow both countries to supervise Kashmir affairs.
One source familiar with the deal said there was no evidence it would ever have worked -- the exact nature of the joint mechanism, for example, was never agreed.
But the negotiating process alone functioned as an important "shock-absorber" between the two nuclear-armed countries, which have fought three full-scale wars and faced many spikes in tensions, most recently after last year's attacks on Mumbai.
According to Riedel, who is now at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, western diplomats would like to see them getting back into the position they reached in 2007.
Yet doing so is difficult for both countries.
Pakistan's civilian government would find it hard to embrace a deal negotiated by Musharraf after fighting to force the former army general out of office last year.
"Politically it would be very difficult to accept this was Musharraf's achievement," said journalist and analyst Steve Coll, who was the first to write in detail about the accord.
And in India, there is little public support for peace moves after the three-day assault by Pakistani gunmen on Mumbai.
"There is a hardening of posture. Outside of Manmohan Singh, there are no doves left in this government," said Praveen Swami at The Hindu newspaper -- though he added that a return to the principles of 2007 would be great from an Indian point of view.
India is also dubious about whether any deal with Pakistan's civilian government would be backed by the army, adding a layer of complication which did not exist with Musharraf.
LASKHAR-E-TAIBA COMES LAST
So for the moment the two countries are engaged in tactical battles which focus more on form than on substance.
Though they agreed at a meeting in Egypt last week to hold further talks, India rejected Pakistan's call to hold these within the "composite dialogue" -- the formal peace process broken off by New Delhi after the attack on Mumbai.
And despite public rhetoric about working together to fight terrorism, they are locked into an almost impossible situation.
India wants action against the Laskhar-e-Taiba, the militant group based in Pakistan's Punjab province blamed for Mumbai.
But realistically few believe Pakistan is about to disarm all the gunmen in the LeT -- whose estimated numbers run into the thousands -- at a time when its army is battling the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
"President (Asif Ali) Zardari, the government and the Pakistan Army are very aware of the limits to how much they can take on at any one time," said one observer.
Without a peace deal, Pakistan would be unlikely to disarm a militant group it once nurtured to fight Indian rule in Kashmir, and whose armed cadres could still be used as a first line of defense in the event of an invasion by India.
At best it will take limited action under pressure.
"LeT is the group Pakistan wants to wind down last, not first," said one analyst who tracks militant groups there.
Real progress in talks between India and Pakistan would therefore require a precarious balancing act -- of the kind nearly managed in 2007 -- in which moves toward peace would be matched by curbs on the LeT and other militant groups.
Riedel said that in any case, western governments should keep pushing for action on the LeT, increasingly seen as a threat not just to India but also to the West.
But he also said India had been "awfully slow" in taking up the deal offered by Musharraf in 2007 before he become embroiled in political problems that eventually forced him out of office.
"India does not deserve a get-out-of-jail free card," he said. "They should have grasped this when the chance was there and they missed a major opportunity."
ANGER AND DESPAIR IN KASHMIR
The Obama administration, desperate to bring stability to Afghanistan by convincing Islamabad to take action against militants on its territory, is likely to keep pushing quietly for India and Pakistan to pick up where they left off in 2007.
But even for the two countries themselves, the clock is ticking. If they cannot reach a peace deal soon, they run the risk of future wars over water as the Himalayan glaciers which supply shared rivers recede because of global warming.
Kashmir, now in a relative lull in a separatist revolt which began in 1989, could also erupt into "a second intifada" which would complicate peace efforts even further.
And as for how it looks inside Kashmir?
"On the question of expectations, there aren't many here," said Basharat Peer, a Kashmiri journalist who has just published a book on the impact of the conflict on ordinary people. "It is pure anger and a lot of despair in Kashmir nowadays."
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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