New Delhi: Imran Khan is repeating an old chestnut that a Bharatiya Janata Party government would be able to secure a Kashmir deal with Pakistan. Such was the conventional wisdom before Atal Behari Vajpayee formed the government. By any standard, Atal Behari Vajpayee was an outstanding prime minister. However, even he was unable to manage a Kashmir deal. In revenge for his peace efforts with Nawaz Sharief, the Pakistan army struck in Kargil. His efforts were not entirely fruitless though. Vajpayee’s visit to the Minar-e-Pakistan at least sent the message to thinking Pakistanis that a section of the Indian political establishment that spoke recurrently of “Akhand Bharat” had accepted Pakistan’s right to independent existence. Drawing on the goodwill he had generated, Vajpayee was also able to extract a border ceasefire agreement from Pakistan. It was far less than a Kashmir deal. But it was not insignificant.

And if Atal Behari Vajpayee could not secure a Kashmir deal from Pakistan, it is doubtful if any other Bharatiya Janata Party prime minister can. Vajpayee was rather unique for a BJP prime minister. He was liberal, deep, consensual, and had more friends in other parties than in the BJP. His relations with the RSS were strained. He was intimately knowledgeable about Kashmir because his political formation occurred in the early years of the Kashmir crises. He was part and parcel of the political scene when the Simla agreement was signed with Pakistan. Its terms were at once advantageous to India while leaving the final outcome, as it were, suspended. It was advantageous because it closed the UN chapter once for all and made Kashmir a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Indira Gandhi urged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to accept the 1949 Ceasefire Line as the India-Pakistan border but he sought time for consultations. She didn’t press the case because it could be seen as imposing a victor’s justice on Pakistan which world history had determined to be unhelpful. In the event, Bhutto spurned Mrs Gandhi’s offer and indeed vowed vengeance on India for the Bangladesh War victory.

The Simla Agreement, nevertheless, is the pivot around which all Kashmir-related dialogues with Pakistan revolve. It cannot be any other way. While India could not convince Bhutto in 1972 to accept the Ceasefire Line as the border, he did acquiesce in its conversion to the Line of Control as it has since become known. The only agreement that is possible between India and Pakistan on Kashmir is what Indira Gandhi desired. Preserving the status quo, the Line of Control has to become the border. Once peace returns to the region, military threats abate, trade flourishes, people-to-people contacts grow, and borders come to remain only in name -- a project of history that may take another fifty to one hundred years to accomplish -- anything is possible. But till utopia arrives, ground realities remain harsh. Prestige of the two countries and domestic nationalism won’t permit anything more than recognition of the LoC as the border, and even that shan’t be easy.

As prime minister, Manmohan Singh said that boundaries of India cannot be altered. This was the position of all prime ministers before him. A post-Vajpayee BJP prime minister cannot cut a more advantageous Kashmir deal for Pakistan. Pakistan should learn to deal with all Indian governments. And it should know that terrorism will not bend India to Pakistan’s will. Three years after Pakistan opened the Kashmir chapter of terrorism, India inaugurated economic reforms. The events were not linked. India has not looked back since the 1991 reforms; any recent hiccups promise to be temporary. If Pakistan concentrates on the economy and leaves Kashmir to historical processes to resolve, it would do itself a world of good.