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India Hopes Musharraf Resignation Will Not Impact Bilateral Relations


In India, Pervez Musharraf, who has resigned as Pakistan's President, is seen as the man who helped bring a measure of normalcy to relations between the rivals. But As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, there is uncertainty whether the gains made under Musharraf will survive under Pakistan's civilian government.

When India and Pakistan launched a peace process four years ago, President Pervez Musharraf was firmly in charge of the country.

In those years, relations between New Delhi and Islamabad improved to a level not witnessed since 1947 when they became independent from Britain.

The South Asian rivals put in place a truce along the volatile border in Kashmir, the divided region which is the source of friction between them. They opened up their tight borders to new rail and road links, renewed sporting contacts, and annual trade increased.

Musharraf instrumental in negotiating peace with India

A strategic analyst in New Delhi, retired General Ashok Mehta, says Mr. Musharraf's tight grip on the country's powerful army and spy agency made it possible for him to negotiate peace with India.

"He was virtually the prime minister, the president and the army chief, and therefore he exercised enormous control," Mehta noted. "And it was because of that that he was able to set aside many old problems with India."

History of mistrust between India, Pakistan

It is not as if there was always great trust between New Delhi and President Musharraf. Months before he seized power in an army coup, the army under his charge had supported an attempt by Islamic militants to seize territory from India in Kashmir.

But once peace talks began, India believed that Mr. Musharraf was a man who could deliver. In fact, many analysts blame New Delhi for being too slow in responding to attempts by President Musharraf to reach an agreement to the Kashmir dispute.

Will Musharraf departure leave vacuum for New Delhi?

On Monday, when Mr. Musharraf announced he would resign, New Delhi made no comment, calling it Pakistan's internal matter. But Indian policymakers worry that dealing with a weak civilian government in Pakistan may be much more difficult. India's National Security Adviser recently told an interviewer that President Musharraf's battle with his political foes had "left a bit of vacuum" for New Delhi.

Strategic analyst Mehta fears that gains made in recent years may be reversed.

"We are back about four or five years now in the peace process, because we do not know who is in charge in Pakistan," he said. "That is the biggest problem. We don't the future of the coalition, so as far as India-Pakistan relations are concerned, will be in a bind."

Other analysts say Pakistan alone is not to blame for any slowing in the peace process.

Future of peace process uncertain

Independent political analyst, Prem Shankar Jha, points out that recent anti-India protests in Kashmir, triggered by a land dispute between Hindus and Muslims, have complicated the situation.

"First and foremost India has its own problems in Kashmir which are very, very much not of Pakistan's making," Jha said. "Given that these problems exist, there will be no more possibility of talking to Pakistan until we got some kind of peace in Kashmir."

With India also bracing for elections next year, analysts see little likelihood of progress in the peace process between the rivals in the months ahead.