According to the region's newspaper, peace talks between archrivals India and Pakistan are over before they've even started. Last week, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee surprised Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf with an invitation to talk about détente this summer. On the table would be the contested Kashmir region, the two nations' nuclear arms spiral, and, most recently, Pakistan's invasion of Kargil.
Seeing the bright side, the Times of India claims that "if there's optimism, it stems from the admission on both sides—contained specifically in the letters written by the two leaders—that the two countries share a past of mistrust." However, several Indian government officials have already undermined that opening expression of goodwill by literally accusing Pakistan of "denominational nationalism." The paper concludes that "It's almost certain that mutual differences will dog the agenda for talks" and that "[t]he most that can be expected … is that it will lead to a degree of rapport between the two leaders."
Even if the chemistry is right and the two wish to move ahead on the large agenda before them, the objective situation may not permit anything much to be done. The problem, of course, is Kashmir. Unless some meeting ground, however exiguous, can be found on this issue, plans for future progress may rapidly reach a dead end. Neither can push for a one-sided arrangement—there must be something for each of them if any agreement is to hold. One assumes that both parties will approach the meeting with sober expectations. No final settlement, or even a dramatic move forward, is on the cards.
An editorial in Pakistan's the Nation dismisses the rush to détente, too, blaming India for the nuclear standoff, saying, "While India might have been motivated by reasons of prestige to stockpile arms … Pakistan suffers from no delusions of grandeur. It has been forced to divert large funds to upgrade its defence only for self-preservation." It also paddles India for the intractable Kashmir dispute: "The resolution of the core issue requires flexibility on the part of India. If New Delhi fails to budge from its maximalist position, there is little hope for the talks to succeed."
An opinion column in the Japan Times criticizes Vajpayee for flip-flopping on Pakistan yet again. Until last week, India was so hostile to Pakistan that it wouldn't play its neighbor's cricket teams. But just prior to the Kargil invasion, Vajpayee had warm relations with the Pakistani prime minister. The column concludes that the "unending policy dance … has left the Indian public dazed," and it argues that the talks will hurt India's international credibility with no benefit:
The dual initiative … is bereft of a larger vision. India can handle Pakistan only through a calibrated, carrot-and-stick approach that rewards good behavior and imposes penalties for errant or belligerent behavior. The invitation to Musharraf rewards unrepentant, unchanged bad behavior. Vajpayee ignored even U.S. President George W. Bush's advice that Pakistan should create an atmosphere conducive for dialogue.
As Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid's date with impeachment approaches—a special session of the upper house is set to meet Aug.1, and the speaker says Wahid is finished—the papers are still puzzling over what will happen next. The Jakarta Post fears for the future of democracy in Indonesia. When Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri (who is set to replace Wahid) lost the presidential race in 1999, she called for her supporters to stop their violent protests of the outcome. But Wahid has encouraged his people to rampage in the streets. "Unless the violence is stopped and mob action brought to an end, the biggest victim in terms of the nation's drive for reform is democracy itself. If that is allowed to happen, the nation will find itself back where it was before the reform movement started."
The Age, which earlier this week ran an opinion column supportive of Megawati, follows it with an opposing one, denouncing her as a tool of the elite. She possesses "little or no administrative or conceptual capacity," "has never displayed democratic credentials," and "would be happier as a Javanese queen—a figurehead—and not an executive leader."
Fired Water: According to the Irish Independent, workers at a soon-to-close Guinness factory in Dundalk negotiated one of the sweetest redundancy deals in history. Sure, they get money. Guinness will shell out almost $21 million in pensions for the 140 displaced workers. But what was the key to the deal? The weekly beer allowance, of course. Employees will also receive special Guinness hampers at Christmas and during the summer, bringing the total allowance to about 14 bottles a week. Guinness will also subsidize the pensioners' club to compensate for the closure of the factory pub, which provided employees with cheap beer. A union representative said the redundancy deal is so costly that Guinness will be unable to afford further factory closings.