12 April, New Delhi
Let it be 8 p.m., “my whisky time”, noted nonagenarian lawyer Ram Jethmalani vowing to help resolve disputes between India and Pakistan at a meeting with former Foreign Minister from that country, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.
Kasuri, who was in the capital for a peace building initiative between the two countries, shot back: “It is a great honour, sir!”
And the tense atmosphere was filled with sounds of loud laughter at the Tuesday evening panel discussion “Improving Indo-Pak Relations” — organised by “Centre for Peace and Progress” — that was otherwise clouded by Pakistan’s sentencing of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav to death.
Kasuri, who has written an insider’s account of interaction with India on resolving Kashmir in a book “Neither A Hawk, Nor A Dove”, admitted that it was not a good time to be here “when the situation isn’t particularly good” between the two countries.
“But it is during these times that we must persist and talk about peace,” he said at the conference which was also attended by Pakistan High Commissioner here Abdul Basit.
There was a lot of talk about rhetoric, allegations and counter-allegations, cross-border terror, war and isolating Pakistan. But Kasuri, a moderate who boasts of being a Muslim with South Asian roots of Sufism, warned that war was “not good for either side”.
He was “quite hopeful” that India and Pakistan would restart working for peace soon, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi “must have a sense of history since he has risen so swiftly”.
He said “he (Modi) wishes to be part of the history of India and Pakistan relations”.
Kasuri said his hope emanated from his belief that the two countries had the capability of improving ties on their own and cited the 1960s Indus Water Treaty (IWT) that is regarded as one of the few successful implementations of a trans-border water basin conflict in the world.
Possibility of peace through another war — “after nine wars and near wars” — between the two countries was ruled out, he said.
“I have a purpose, a purpose of peace. I don’t want to generate negative headlines. I know peace is possible. Have you realised that peace process between the two countries started when guns were ready to blaze at the border,” he said, referring to the 2002 military buildup across the borders after Pakistani militants attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001.
Jethmalani, also a former BJP minister, said solution to every India-Pakistan dispute, including Kashmir, “is very, very easy”.
He claimed: “I have solved many disputes after 8 in the evening. My whisky time. And Kasuri sahib will meet me at 8 p.m. and we shall again meet. Believe me, it will be solved if not today then tomorrow,” said the lawyer, a veteran Track-II activist, known to be close to Kashmir separatists.
Kasuri accepted the invitation as “a great honour” and said he has had indeed “an amazing experience” of peace building initiatives between the two countries.
Even as he blamed Pakistan for the Kashmir mess right from 1947, Jethmalani was of the view that Kashmir had its own “independently drafted constitution” and issues could be solved within its framework.
As the discussion dragged on, reporters kept asking Kasuri and Basit about Jadhav’s death sentence. Both remained tight lipped about it.
Basit spoke but it was about his birthday on April 10 when the sentencing was announced. “There was no party but”, the envoy said in his two- sentence remark.
There was one man with a saffron tilak mark on his forehead standing in a corner of the jam-packed India International Centre hall who repeatedly interrupted speakers, including Congress’ Mani Shankar Aiyar, former BJP leader Sudheendra Kulkarni, Justice Rajendra Sachar and Saifuddin Soz, reminding them about how Pakistan was bombing India and why should anyone call for peace between them.
He was largely ignored.
After the meet, dozens of scribes mobbed Basit and Kasuri for their comments as they left the venue. But they kept their cool, smiled and didn’t utter a word.
Kasuri was escorted out from a backdoor and Basit moved briskly through the horde of mike- and camera-toting media persons. Questions were shouted at him, but he kept his counsel.
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)