The month of December saw the high point of a series of measures, which India and Pakistan have been taking, to improve their bi-lateral relations with a view to keeping peace among themselves and hopefully in the region. This culminated in both New Delhi and Islamabad looking forward to new bonhomie in the year 2004 and ahead especially in the context of the upcoming SAARC Summit scheduled in early January in Islamabad. And this is in sharp contrast to the last summit, which saw some dramatics but no positive developments between the leaders of both the nations. As what can be termed as its New Year’s gift to each other, New Delhi and Islamabad exchanged a series of confidence building measures (CBMs) designed to promote trust and widen people-to-people contacts. These, beginning with Pakistan’s declaration of ceasefire along the Line of Control (LOC), include opening the airspace to each other, restoration of civil aviation, exchanging the lists of their nuclear installations and facilities as stipulated under the Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations and Facilities between India and Pakistan, 1988, and offer for talks on opening other road and transportation links. Musharraf raised the possibility of keeping the UN resolutions on Kashmir on the back burner and hinted that he will not raise the Kashmir issue during the SAARC summit. Islamabad also took a series of steps to build up a credible front as with its massive crackdown against a number of militant groups including Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Toiba etc, banning these groups which resurfaced under different names, confiscating their bank accounts, arresting key leaders etc. Musharraf also asserted that his country was ready to withdraw its 50,000 troops from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) if India pulled out its 70,0000 forces from Kashmir.On its part India decided not to adopt a hostile view on Pakistan’s re-entry into the Commonwealth CHOGM summit at Nigeria. The summit now provides the “rare and historic” opportunity for Pakistan and India to move towards a dialogue process. “Since there have been no talks or dialogue since Agra, it is time the two countries engaged each other comprehensively. The venue of SAARC presents that opportunity. Thus for the first time after a long hiatus, one can look forward to some credible and positive outcomes in the year ahead.
In an interview in BBC Radio programme ‘Talking Point’ Pakistani President Pervej Musharraf said, “The steps both the countries have taken recently are just a beginning towards establishing a long-lasting peace in South Asia.” It would be unfortunate if SAARC were dwarfed totally by the bilateral agenda. Yet it would not be an exaggeration that movement on the Indo-Pak arena would accelerate SAARC. The speed with which progress has been made on the Indo-Pak track since Vajpayee held out his hand of peace on April 18 in Srinagar. Between Agra, July 2001, and Islamabad, January 2004, the world is a radically altered place. The 9/11 attack, October air strikes on Afghanistan, the 2003 occupation of Iraq had their own impact on South Asia, determining the now-forward, now-backward movement in the Indo-Pak pirouette.
The ceasefire and increasing build up in bilateral relations has put intense pressure on the militant groups on both sides of the border. The rate of infiltration has gone down significantly, the supply base and networks disrupted due to the actions taken by Pakistan. Besides, much opinion both in the region and worldwide is build up in favor of dialogues instead of armed engagements. Some militant groups have reacted against the steps such as Syed Salahuddin, chief of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen expressing its surprise said “the latest offer, if made without ensuring reciprocal measures by India, is regrettable and should be withdrawn, “ as successive unilateral concessions to India would create a negative and demoralizing effect upon the Kashmiris. However leaders of major Kashmiri militant groups are considering a unilateral ceasefire in the Valley, expected to be announced before or after a meeting between Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf in Islamabad, for two months to facilitate Pakistan and India in their talks during the SAARC summit and thereafter. General Musharraf will meet Kashmiri guerrilla leaders in the first week of January “to take them into confidence on proposals to be discussed with Vajpayee.”  it is quite evident, as European Commission President, Romano Prodi put it, ” that the fight against terrorism is not only a kind of declaration, but also daily, daily action… we know the difficulties… but it is in the interests of the countries [India and Pakistan] to cooperate in the common action against terrorism.”
To move further at the least, the ceasefire in the Siachen area need to be further worked upon, the region should be de-militarized as soon as possible. Deploying battle-ready troops in such high altitudes is a fruitless exercise that is taking a heavy toll on both the armies as well as destroying the region’s fragile environment. An important task for both countries should be clearing the glacier of all debris and environmentally dangerous material stored or discarded in the region due to years of military activity. Among various proposals being mooted for the settlement of the Kashmir issue, the one being under serious consideration in Islamabad and Delhi is the adjustment of border areas. According to official sources, under the proposed plan, Machel, Keran and Gurez were to be incorporated into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, thereby enabling Islamabad to have something out of the deal. The sources said the plan also envisaged internal autonomy to the extent of self-rule in the Kashmir valley, autonomous hill councils for Poonch, Rajouri and Doda districts and Union Territory-status for Ladakh region. The Hindu-dominated belts of Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur districts will remain with India according to the plan.
On the sidelines it is worth considering the options for Musharraf and the nuances of his still evolving Kashmir / India policy which witnessed marked changes quite rapidly, recently. Observers initially attributed it to the desire to make the SARRC summit a success and show Pakistan as a stable and reasonable state. Now it also appears that the impetus may be coming from the sharply enhanced terrorist threat to the General himself. With his present grip on power, Musharraf at least appears to be a credible interlocutor in any future negotiations with India. The uncertainty in Pakistan would certainly be debilitating. The complicated deal with the opposition alliance, the Mutthaida Majlis-e-Amal that legitimizes Musharraf’s appointment, as President would collapse. Second, there could be major dissensions in the Army over his successor. The Indian News paper, The Hindustan Times gave three reasons for Musharraf’s statement on ‘“we have left aside” the United Nation Security Council resolutions.’ One is to recapture the image initiative in the run-up to the SAARC summit in Islamabad. Pakistani officials are painfully aware that India’s rapid-fire concessions on people-to-people contacts and trade have made New Delhi seem the peace monger. Western diplomats say Musharraf is also concerned about his place in history and doesn’t want to look the passive, reluctant party. A second motive is a need to get Kashmir back into the diplomatic crosshairs. India’s traditional negotiating stance has been to sidestep Kashmir and focus on everything else. Pakistan’s has been the opposite. The buzz of the past few weeks has been almost solely about buses, trains and trade agreements.Third, some analysts believe Musharraf is desperate to use the SAARC summit as a launching pad for a new dialogue with India, one that puts Kashmir on the agenda. However even as there was retractions from Pakistan on the issue saying that Musharraf was quoted out of context, what come out as a positive indication that there are signs of change from very rigid positions. While welcoming the proposal by President Musharraf to relinquish the demand for referendum on the status of Kashmir is constructive.
Whatever the compulsions, there is merit for New Delhi now to take a more positive view of the post-ceasefire situation. Handled creatively, the process can lead the subcontinent along the road to peace.In the affairs of nations, sometimes it becomes necessary to experiment with history — if you want to change it. As the Pakistani newspaper, The News put it; the daring step President Musharraf took in speaking on ways of resolving the controversial Kashmir dispute from a bold and flexible perspective is praiseworthy and should be supported. It touches ground that no other government has dared to reach and shows the extent that Pakistan is willing to go in negotiating on the issue that goes beyond the present parameters of the dispute. A courageous step was needed to break the deadlock, which has led to three wars and defied resolution by international mediators. Now with both the states armed with nuclear weapons there is a greater need to settle the dispute peacefully rather than again be forced to look for a military solution that could spell a doomsday for the region. 
New Delhi need to study the context in which General Musharraf made his latest move. Do these measures indicate a new willingness to freeze the status quo in terms of territorial control? It is not irrelevant that a proposal to convert the Line of Control into the permanent border, albeit one, which people can cross, has found favor with successive U. S. administrations. In the past week, General Musharraf thrice spoke of extremism being the biggest threat to Pakistan and the attempt made on his life could only have reinforced that belief. His regime is under pressure from the U.S. to crack down on extremist organizations in Pakistan because they undermine its policy in Afghanistan. No less has been Washington’s interest in persuading India and Pakistan to normalize ties. That guiding hand is unmistakable in the recent developments.
Two sides would do well to steer clear of technicalities and contentious side issues — India by not over-emphasizing the argument relating to the State’s accession as part of a dispensation that created Pakistan, and Islamabad by not insisting on the recognition of the Kashmir problem as a dispute. Pakistan’s plea for acceptance of the centrality of the issue is odd, considering that Kashmir had been pointedly mentioned in the bilateral documents — in the Shimla Agreement, the Lahore Declaration and the 1997 agreement between the Prime Ministers of the day, I.K. Gujral and Nawaz Sharif, for addressing eight — six plus two — outstanding issues. The centrality was thus implied. The departure from the extreme, maximal positions taken by India and Pakistan could be a helpful factor.According to C. Raja Mohan the judgment on whether the new signals from Pakistan are opportunistic or genuine can only be made half way through the process rather than at the beginning. Meanwhile, every advance in Indo-Pakistani cooperation, however minor it may be, creates conditions for additional movement forward. The Indian stress in the next few weeks must be on making progress on small steps that will generate the mutual confidence necessary to take more substantive steps. Until recently there was very little trust to go by. 
While Pakistan must sustain its proactive normalization policy towards India, the onus to convert it into sustainable peace rests on Indian shoulders. India set the ball rolling. Pakistan has whole-heartedlyand proactively reciprocated to Indian CBMs. The ball, as The News, saw it, is again in the Indian court. India will have to re-visit its policy on dialogue with Pakistan.
The bottom line as M B Naqvi wrote in The News is that despite the obvious hatred of India or of Pakistan in India, whenever common people of India and Pakistan come face to face, they are attracted to each other the way no other two peoples do. One’s inference is that these relations are ambivalent: if the wave of friendship and cooperation were to prevail, scope of friendly cooperation becomes unlimited. On the other hand hatred, distrust and conflict that stalked the subcontinent for most part of the 20th century can be economically ruinous, socially futile and politically dangerous for both. There is no option but to change tack and reverse the trend of communal distrust and emphasizing separatism. United voice of India and Pakistan will make a tremendous difference to Asia and the world. Today, they undercut each other. If both cooperate bilaterally and regionally the whole world will take note of a new factor. If a progressively greater proportion of resources are devoted to development based on meeting human needs of the millions in both the countries, eradication of the direr forms of poverty will take no longer than a decade or so.
For the first time credible steps with genuine intentions, are initiated between Pakistan and India to normalize relations. A chance for peace like the present one may not come again soon — or ever.
 India, Pakistan to exchange nuclear lists, The Hindu, 31 December 2003
 Let’s pull out troops: Musharraf, The Hindu, 2 December 2003
 Use SAARC to resume dialogue: Pakistan, The Hindu, 30 December 2003
 SAEED NAQVI, On the road to Islamabad, The Indian Express, 26 December 2003
 The Hindu, 21 December 2003
 The Indian Express, 30 December 2003, quoting The Daily Times, Pakistan)
 The Hindu, 1 December 2003
 Line of self-control, The Pioneer, 1 December 2003
 Plan to redraw Indo-Pak border, The Tribune, 27 December 2003
 Why Musharraf is crucial for India, The Times of India, 26 December 2003
 Why Musharraf has left aside plebiscite, Hindustan Times, 19 December 2003
 Hindustan Times, 19 December 2003
 H. K. Dua, Compulsions of peace, The Tribune, 2 December 2003
 Bold and flexible (Editorial), The News, 20 December 2003
 A Change in Rhetoric (Editorial), The Hindu, 20 December 2003
 A step forward? (K. K. Katyal), The Hindu, 22 December 2003
 Vajpayee’s experiment with Pakistan, The Hindu, 4 December 2003
 Pakistan’s win-win India policy, The News, 4 December 2003
 Where have we to go, The News, 24 December 2003
 Hans B Bremer, A chance for peace, The News, 3 December 2003
Compiled from media sources