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Discussion with Sunil Dasgupta on India-Pakistan Relations - 2003-05-06


Encouraging diplomatic news in south Asia. Pakistan has agreed to India’s offer last week to resume full diplomatic relations and restore transportation links. Joining VOA's David Borgida from the Brookings Institution- Sunil Dasgupta - and here in our studio - VOA South Asia editor Ravi Khanna.

MR. BORGIDA
Now joining us from the Brookings Institution, Sunil Dasgupta, and here in our studio in Washington, VOA's South Asia Editor, Ravi Khanna.

First, Mr. Dasgupta, tell us, if you will please, how significant this development is. Are you encouraged that the tension between these two nuclear rivals will be over soon?

MR. DASGUPTA
As Prime Minister Vajpayee of India pointed out, this is something of a last chance for India, which has tried twice before to initiate some sort of talks with Pakistan. But also, on the Pakistani side, it's something of a last chance for them as a new regime is trying to consolidate itself against quite grave odds. And for the United States, too, it is sort of a last chance, because tension between India and Pakistan hurts the U.S. war on terror. So, everybody is looking to make this succeed. Whether that happens, it's too early to tell.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's turn to Ravi Khanna here in our studio. Ravi, we heard him say last chance a couple of times. Do you view it that way too?

MR. KHANNA
I actually view it as a golden chance, because at this time in Pakistan you have the army in power and you have Muslim fundamentalists in parliament, and they're in power in two provinces. And they had a big discussion with Prime Minister Jamali before they responded to India, and Jamali did a very good job, in the sense that he got all the opposition parties together and made a consensus that, yes, we should talk to India and we should restore diplomatic relations. But my sources in New Delhi say that Pakistan did not say anything about cross-border terrorism, and India is viewing it as inadequate.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's talk about one problem area which we could all agree on, and that is of course Kashmir. Is it your sense that even though they all agree rhetorically and politically, the hard work of really working on these tough issues like Kashmir, cross-border terrorism and other things, that remains to be seen?

MR. KHANNA
Absolutely. And for that you need consensus. In India, nobody can accuse Mr. Vajpayee of selling India short on Kashmir, because he loves India. People know about that. And in Pakistan right now there is a very peculiar situation where the Muslim fundamentalists have also agreed with Mr. Jamali that we should talk to India on Kashmir. But again, there was no mention of cross-border terrorism.

MR. BORGIDA
Mr. Dasgupta, over at the Brookings Institution, any reaction to that? Any thoughts about Kashmir and how that is going to be settled?

MR. DASGUPTA
Yes, I think that is the key issue. And the problem is that the peace process now is really hostage to, in some ways, extremists. And if there were another major terrorist attack within India, I think India would be inclined to back out of the process. But if there wasn't a terrorist attack and if Pakistan were able to curb cross-border terrorism, I think you have what Mr. Khanna has described, a golden opportunity to go ahead.

MR. BORGIDA
And, Mr. Dasgupta, again, back to you, you did mention in an earlier answer that there is a moment here for the United States. And I'm wondering, sir, if you think that this is an opportunity for the Bush administration, which is certainly distracted by lots of other foreign policy issues, to perhaps get into this fray and make sure that something positive comes of it, given what you both have said is what might be a last chance?

MR. DASGUPTA
David, I think the consensus in Washington – in the policy community at least -- is that the role that Washington should play is behind the scenes rather than up front and it is a role that is more similar to the Middle East. I think Washington has played an active role behind the scenes and will continue to do so in the future.

MR. BORGIDA
Ravi, your thoughts on what Washington can do or should do?

MR. KHANNA
I think what they have said is -- and it's a reverse psychology -- we are not going to mediate, because India doesn't want us to mediate, but we can help. And that is the way -- as Mr. Dasgupta said -- it's better if it is behind the scenes.

MR. BORGIDA
And, Mr. Dasgupta, quickly, sir, too, how dangerous is South Asia now? And is this going to lower the temperature in a significant way? Or does it remain very tense until there is something very tangible in the way of a breakthrough?

MR. DASGUPTA
I think we are actually inching into a very dangerous time, especially because infiltration across the border picks up in the summer months as the mountain passes open up. So, there is a danger of heightened expectations, and that needs to be checked somewhat. I think Pakistan is interested in getting something done quickly, while the Indians are going to take it slow and steady.

MR. BORGIDA
This is a fair point, and we will wind up with you, Ravi. We talked about this, for any of our viewers who were watching on Friday I believe, this expectations game. Now it seems like we're closer and closer, but if it fails, do we then fall back into a dangerous [situation]?

MR. KHANNA
As I said, it's a last chance, and then what happens after that? If this is a last chance for peace, then what happens after that if it doesn't succeed?

MR. BORGIDA
Well, let's all hope, all of us here, that this moment is seized and peace can come to the South Asia region. Thanks so much, from the Brookings Institution, Sunil Dasgupta, and here in Washington in our studio, VOA South Asia Editor Ravi Khanna.

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