Kashmir Talks, A labyrinth of intricacies

By Kashinath Pandit,

Inconsistency:

 “I would like to appeal to all the groups outside the political mainstream that our government is ready for dialogue if they shed violence,” the prime minister said at a press conference in New Delhi on 24 May 2010 to mark the first year of his United Progressive Alliance government. Two weeks later he was scheduled to be on an official visit to Kashmir. 

The appeal come barely two days after the APHC (M) faction had urged the prime minister to announce renewed meaningful talks with the Hurriyat (and Pakistan) during his forthcoming visit to the state. 

Two weeks later, in his address at SKUAST convocation at Srinagar, the prime minister reiterated his earlier statement given in New Delhi.

In this, some commentators have found a shift in UPA government’s earlier pronouncements on Kashmir dialogue; generally vague as usual without carrying any specific condition of separatist groups “shunning violence”,

Two days ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s scheduled visit to the Kashmir Valley on 28 October 2009 BJP demanded that he clarify his government’s policy on Kashmir. Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, said, “The Prime Minister appears too vague about his Kashmir plans. He should make it clear as it is a question of our sovereignty. There is a Parliament resolution about Kashmir (1).

Ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s October 2009 visit to the state, Home Minister P Chidambaram had announced on 14 October that:

“The Government of India was working on holding “quiet” talks with “every section of opinion” to find a “unique” solution to the problem of Jammu and Kashmir.
The talks will be held silently, away from the media glare,” Chidambaram told the All India Editors’ Conference on Social and Infrastructure issues.

The Centre recognizes that there are different shades of opinion in the state, and, therefore, the need to hold consultations with all sections. Every voice would be heard, he said, as long as there was no recourse to violence.

There will be political differences. There are different shades of opinion which could be described as extremist views. There would be some voices who are pleading for a separate nation. That is a reality, but whatever shade of opinion one has, there is no place for violence.”(2)

The impression gathered is that the Government of India recognizes not only “different shades of opinion” but also “extremist views” in Kashmir. When analyzed in historical perspective, the understatement “extremist views” simply alludes to groups adhering to religious extremism and violence. If that is the realization, then the phenomenon, meaning elements professing religious extremism and violence, have to be taken on board for a dialogue. But then imposing sardonic rider like “there is no place for violence” exposes the flip-flop of government’s policy on Kashmir. The Home Minister has been blowing hot and cold in the same breath.

Reaction:

The Mirwaiz (APHC-M) was disappointed with Prime Minister’s statement and rejected the offer saying there was nothing new in it. He had expected a “direct offer for talks from the prime minister during his visit to Srinagar. “Instead of extending a direct invitation for resumption of the stalled talks for the political settlement of the six-decade old Kashmir dispute, prime minister chose a circuitous route” Mirwaiz stated.(3)

Incidentally not only Mirwaiz-led APHC faction but even JKLF Chief Yasin Malik lost no time in asserting that their respective organizations were not militant organizations. Senior APHC (M) leader Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat remarked that Prime Minister’s allusion to violence was directed against Muzaffarabad-based United Jihad Council supremo Sayyid Yusuf Shah alias Salahu’d-Din. Bhat told a reporter that neither he nor his colleagues in the APHC were either terrorists or indulged in any act of violence. “We are politicians and we opposed to laying conditions for holding talks, Bhat added.(4)

In the same vein JKLF chief Yasin Malik said,” I am not a terrorist: I believe in non-violence”.(5)

This is not the first time these groups have cautiously expressed their distancing from violence. But true or not, they have to be taken at their word. Mirwaiz said that by deciding not to initiate a dialogue New Delhi has only emboldened and strengthened those elements that are hell bent on perpetuating an atmosphere of violence and hatred in Kashmir. (6)

But he seldom has a comment on those who perpetrate violence.

This apart, both groups have been engaged in covert talks with New Delhi in the past. Hurriyat (M) has already held three rounds of direct talks with New Delhi in 2004 and 2005. However, the process slowed down after the Congress government was ushered in in New Delhi and later broke down completely following the removal of Gen Musharraf as president of Pakistan. Why then did not the Prime Minister invite them to talks for carrying forward much trumpeted peace process?

Maybe the element of protocol has bedevilled Prime Minister’s meeting with “moderate” factions. If the Mirwaiz expected the PM to announce political package while in Srinagar, officials expected Mirwaiz and other “moderate” group to approach the PM for talks in Srinagar in the light of his statement of 24 May.

As against this, Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani, the chief of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat reacted negatively saying that the Indian prime minister’s speech had nothing new in it and he was only resorting to old tactics. He said, “The terrorism to which the Prime Minister referred had nothing to do with the Kashmiri nation; it was being perpetrated on them by the Indian armed forces.” Commenting on the talks offer Geelani said Mr Singh had talked about the dialogue in a way as if he was doing a favour to Kashmiris.

However, he added that though they were not against talks in principle but talks would not serve any purpose if held for mere photo sessions and that according to him would be a mockery with the blood of countless martyrs.(7)

Violence or no violence:

Meanwhile United Jihad Council, an amalgam of various militant groups based in Muzaffarabad, rejected prime minister’s offer of talks and described it ‘old wine in new bottle’

Ironically the idea of creating “atmosphere conducive for talks” is often alluded to by both sides but with different meanings and import. For example, the Mirwaiz said that for any meaningful dialogue to succeed, a favourable atmosphere needs to be created first.(8) 

In his opinion atmosphere will be conducive when Delhi repeals harsh laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which give sweeping powers to Indian army in Kashmir, and when troops are withdrawn from the region and all political prisoners are released before any dialogue takes place. On the other hand, the prime minister insists that shunning of violence alone can create atmosphere conducive for dialogue in Kashmir.

Apparently just to say that they are not terrorists and do not believe in the use of violence as a means of achieving the goal is not really reassuring when the ground situation is taken into account. APHC (M) has refrained from condemning violence as the means of solving Kashmir problem.  It never raised its finger against Pakistan training Kashmiri secessionists in her training camps for subversion in the valley. In all probability, the organization cannot brush aside threats it receives overtly or covertly from active militant groups. It never demanded instituting an inquiry into the killing of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, the father of Molvi Umar Farooq.

Last year, Muzaffarabad–based United Jihad Council chief Sayyid Salahu’d-din expressly asked the Hurriyat (M) leadership “not to take a hasty decision with regard to dialogue with Delhi, as bilateral talks had proved futile in the past.” In February, he asserted that there was “no option other than the armed struggle”.(9)
 
Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, for his part, called in a recent speech for closer jihadist-secessionist politics. “The first priority is to end this [India's] tyrannical occupation, and to end it, it is critical that both armed struggle and political parties must be united.” “The most important thing,” Saeed went on, “is that the people of Kashmir, through their untold sacrifices in the struggle for freedom, have shown that they can give their all in the struggle against Hindu imperialism.”(10) 

In practice, this means the jihadis have thrown their weight behind Islamist patriarch Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani, who’s Tehreek-i-Hurriyat, has long rejected dialogue with New Delhi. Pressure from Mr. Geelani and the jihadis has made it difficult for the Hurriyat – the second key actor in the peace process — to move forward.

Jihadis vs. moderates:

The scale of violence which the jihadis have no qualms to unleash against the “moderate” Hurriyat leadership will be understood from their assassination attempt on 65-year Fazl Haq Qureshi,  a senior leader of Mirwaiz faction evidently intended to disrupt ongoing covert negotiations between the Government of India and secessionist groups in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mr. Qureshi is believed to have been a key player in the secret talks held between the Mirwaiz-led APHC and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram.(11)  

A trusted lieutenant of Mirwaiz, he had been tasked by his leader with securing hardliner Sayyid Ali shah Geelani’s support for the dialogue.

In October 2009, at a conference organized by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, Fazl Haq Qureshi also offered to engage pro-India formations like the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party.

The Srinagar-based Kashmir News Service said a spokesman for the al-Nasireen group claimed that it had carried out the attack as Mr. Qureshi was playing an important role in dialogue with New Delhi.

Believed to be a name used to designate joint operations by the Pakistan-based Hizb ul-Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the al-Nasireen had claimed responsibility for several bombings and suicide squad attacks as well as the 2003 assassination of the pro-dialogue Hizb ul-Mujahideen commander, Abdul Majid Dar.

Dar, who helped to co-find the Hizb ul-Mujahideen along with Mr. Qureshi, had initiated a 12-day unilateral ceasefire with the Government of India in 2000. Mr. Qureshi played a key role in brokering the ceasefire, along with Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone, who was assassinated in 2002.(12) 

According to New Delhi-based knowledgeable sources there was credible information that the assassination bid was carried out by a Srinagar-based Hizb ul-Mujahideen cell also thought to have been involved in the targeted killings of police personnel in the city earlier this year.

In a November 26 interview, Hizb ul-Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah attacked Mr. Chidambaram’s efforts to bring about a dialogue between New Delhi and the APHC as “a ploy by India to create fissures in separatist ranks.”
Covert negotiations

Sources disclose that Hurriyat chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, along with his coalition colleagues Abdul Ghani Bhat and Bilal Lone met with Home Minister Chidambaram in New Delhi for two hours on November 15, 2009. The Mirwaiz, Mr. Bhat and Mr. Lone were met at Khan Market, New Delhi at just after 12:30 p.m., and driven in an unmarked official car to a government facility in the nearby Lodhi Estate area.

Jammu and Kashmir Police and Delhi Police intelligence personnel, who maintain surveillance on the Hurriyat leadership during their visits to the capital, were instructed to withdraw their watch units before the meeting took place, the sources said.(13) 

Though the Mirwaiz denied having met with Chidambaram yet he admitted that there had been “some back-channel contacts between the Hurriyat and the government.” He argued that these contacts amounted to “communication, rather than a dialogue.”
Mr. Chidambaram’s office did not reply to queries from media persons but he had announced the initiation of a process of “quiet diplomacy” on Jammu and Kashmir, and would not make its details public.

Earlier in November 2009, The Hindu broke the news that the Mirwaiz and Mr. Chidambaram met in secret in September, before the cleric’s departure for a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in New York.

Playing safe about these secret meetings, the Mirwaiz instead called for a “triangular engagement” between representatives of Jammu and Kashmir and India, representatives of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan, and the governments of India and Pakistan. These talks, he said, “should culminate into tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people.”

In all, so far there have been five rounds of secret talks between the Government of India and the APHC (M) group. Each time in the past, talks with the Hurriyat have led to what has become depressingly familiar impasse. Nevertheless New Delhi’s renewed pursuit of peace isn’t difficult to understand. Levels of jihadist violence have diminished steadily since 2002, and a record number of voters defied secessionists to participate in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections last year. But Islamist-led hardliners have succeeded in generating urban protests which, though limited in scale, have repeatedly brought the State government to its knees.

Policymakers are hoping that the foundations for a successful dialogue can soon be put in place. Kashmiri secessionists are being encouraged to articulate a political vision that acknowledges India’s concerns over sovereignty.

Rejectionists such as the hard-line Islamist leader Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani and his jihadist allies are also being addressed, commented The Hindu.(14)

During the summer of 2002, the Hurriyat leader late Abdul Ghani Lone emerged as the principal voice of pro-dialogue realists. He traveled to Sharjah for discussions with the powerful PoK leader Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan and the then Inter Services Intelligence Chief, Lieutenant-General Ehsan-ul-Haq. Lone is believed to have told both men that the Hurriyat Conference had no choice but to initiate a direct dialogue with New Delhi. Not long after the meeting, though, Lone was assassinated by a Lashkar-e-Taiba hit squad – a blunt message to all those contemplating making a deal with New Delhi.

In an effort to move the dialogue process along, the then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani met with the Hurriyat leadership for the first time in January 2004. This was followed up with a second meeting that March. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held two more rounds of talks, in May and September 2005.

But fearful of the jihadist wrath, the Hurriyat never brought an agenda to the table. In March 2006, APHC leaders promised the mediators that they would attend Dr. Singh’s second Roundtable Conference on Jammu and Kashmir, but backed off after threats from the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.

Talks with Pakistan:

Assessing the constraints of the Hurriyat (M) in carrying forward the process of negotiations, New Delhi arrived at the conclusion that now it needed to focus its energies on Pakistan. In secret meetings which began in 2005, PM Manmohan Singh’s envoy, S.K. Lambah (former High Commissioner to Pakistan), and his Pakistani counterpart, Tariq Aziz, arrived at five points of convergence. First, the two men agreed, there would be no redrawing of the Line of Control. Second, they accepted that there would have to be greater political autonomy on both sides of Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Lambah and Mr. Aziz also agreed that India would move troops, co-operatively manage some resources, and, finally, open the LoC for travel and trade.

Emboldened by this progress, Mirwaiz Farooq began to prepare his constituency for the future. During a January 20, 2006 dinner hosted by PoK Prime Minister Sardar Atique Khan the Mirwaiz candidly admitted that the secessionist movement had failed. “We have already seen the results of our fight on the political, diplomatic and military fronts, which have not achieved anything other than creating more graveyards,” he said.(15)

“I think the agenda is pretty much set,” the Mirwaiz told an interviewer in April 2007. “It is September 2007,” he went on, “that India and Pakistan are looking at, in terms of announcing something on Kashmir.”

The Hurriyat leaders were appreciative of these parleys secretly hoping that the deal would hand them power.  But by the time Mr. Lambah and Mr. Aziz arrived at their five-point formula, President Perez Musharraf was in the midst of a storm that would sweep him out of power.

Desperate, the Hurriyat leadership reached out again to New Delhi. “Let us come out of our delusions,” Mirwaiz Farooq said at a May 19, 2008 seminar in Srinagar.  Prof. Ghani Bhat, in turn, called on the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party to work with the secessionist formation to “mutually work out a joint settlement.” For his part, the People’s Conference chief Sajjad Lone called on the secessionists to focus on the “achievable.”

Behind all this lies one stark fact: the realists have never been in a weaker political position. Even in his old-city Srinagar heartland, Mirwaiz Farooq’s repeated calls to pro-Islamist youth to end their now-routine clashes with the police have been ignored. Sajjad Lone’s historic decision to fight the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency elections ended in an ignominious defeat.

Mishandling of Amarnath Shrine land row in summer 2008 by communal elements both in Jammu and Srinagar not only disheartened APHC (M) in peace talks but also gave a strong handle to hardliner Ali shah Geelani who quickly grabbed ethnic-communal issues to mobilize people in the valley against what he described as a sell-out.

Speaking at a religious conference in Baramulla on May 26 last year, he warned his audience that India was seeking to change “the Muslim majority into a minority by settling down troops along with their families.” Then, “they will either massacre Muslims as they did in Jammu in 1947, or carry out a genocide as was done in Gujarat” he stated.(16)

In a June 19 declaration, authored in the midst of the Shrine Board violence, the Mirwaiz dropped the option of direct talks with the Indian government. “Both sides,” the document stated, “after considerable argument and discussion, reached the conclusion that the Hurriyat Conference will continue its political struggle for self-determination, which can be achieved through tri-partite talks [involving Pakistan] against the backdrop of the historic struggle of the Kashmiris.”

Hurriyat backtracking under militant pressure could have made the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announce in June, on his way home from Yekaterinburg in Russia that he had “not given up hope on Jammu and Kashmir.” “I have always said that we would be happy to engage in a dialogue with any groups, and I mean any groups,” he said.(17)

Away from New Delhi-Hurriyat (M) engagement, J&K mainstream political party, namely National Conference, has been conducting secret talks with Pakistani leadership over the Kashmir dispute. Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto and former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, started ‘Track II Diplomacy’ for forging a formula that would put an end to Kashmir dispute. In a meeting in London on June 1, 2004 Benazir Bhutto and Farooq Abdullah discussed the latest situation of Kashmir with Kashmiri leadership from both sides of the Line of Control (LoC). According to Mohammad Yousaf Tirigami, CPI(M) member in J&K Legislative Assembly, during the meeting both leaders stressed the need of sanctity of LoC and easy crossing on borders for promoting cultural and commerce activities between Pakistan and India. During the meeting Benazir and Farooq Abdullah also discussed the issues of Gilgit, Jammu and Ladakh, he added.(18) 

Omar Abdullah, present J&K Chief Minister once said that National Conference emissary, Abdur Rashid Shaheen (MP-NC) was silently visiting Pakistan almost every month to interact with Pakistani stakeholders on Kashmir.

Track II diplomacy:

In November 2004, during his first visit to Srinagar as Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh called on young people to join him in the “adventure of building a new India and a new Kashmir.” The next year, he met twice with leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. He also initiated a consultation process with major political groups, and held separate discussions with secessionists like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front’s Yasin Malik. From 2006, New Delhi’s envoy Satinder Lambah and his Pakistani counterpart Tariq Aziz started working to close a deal on Jammu and Kashmir’s future.

The campaigners of Track-II diplomacy told Dawn that President Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had mandated their groups of former bureaucrats, intellectuals and former generals to help governments in discussing various options on Kashmir.

The first experiment of conducting back channel diplomacy on Kashmir was done in 1999 when former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif agreed to establish a back channel at the time of Lahore Summit conference. It was decided between the two leaders in one-on-one meeting that they would work “together to bring about forward movement on Kashmir before the end of the century”.

The single agenda back channel was established immediately after the Lahore Summit when Nawaz Sharif nominated his principal secretary Anwar Zahid and Vajpayee nominated a newspaper tycoon R.K. Mishra as their respective emissaries.
Anwar Zahid died after the first meeting in Islamabad and was replaced by Pakistan’s former Secretary Niaz A. Naik. Talks between Mishra and Naik started in March 1999 and continued even during the Kargil crisis.

In the initial rounds of talks the emissaries chalked out four-point agenda to give a fresh look to Kashmir dispute. The first principle that these two agreed to was to move beyond the publicly stated positions on Kashmir. Secondly, the two sides agreed that they agreed upon solution must be final and not partial, and it should be feasible for all the three parties to the dispute – Pakistan, India and Kashmiris.

The two Prime Ministerial representatives in their 11 rounds of talks in New Delhi and Islamabad discussed some nine different options for the solution of Kashmir issue that included the division of the former princely state according to the much talked about Chenab Formula. The participants of Neemrana talks compiled most of these nine options. Declaring LoC as permanent border was another proposal floated from the Indian side.

During these 11 rounds of talks the Livingston Plan, formulated by Kashmir Study Group KSG), remained in full focus, and, according to many sources, Livingston plan had the support of many Pakistani policy making circles at that time.
The Kashmir Study Group proposed that the portions of former princely state be reconstituted as a sovereign entity without any international character with its own legislature and police force. It also proposed a plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of Kashmiri people on both sides of the Line of Control, which would have to be demilitarized according to the Livingston Plan.(19)

In reply to a question of an Indian media person about specific formula for resolution of Kashmir issue, the leader of Pakistani delegation at Track II diplomacy Niaz Naik said he could not discuss it right now. When pressed, he said Chenab formula and the one proposed by the American Study Group along with a couple of other options could become a basis for any solution.(20) 

Towards the close of 2006, President Musharraf told a New Delhi TV channel that his country would back wide-ranging autonomy or self-governance for Kashmir, with Islamabad and New Delhi jointly supervising the region. Asked whether Pakistan would be ready to give up its claim to Kashmir, he said: “We will have to … if this solution comes up.”(21) 

He had a “four-point solution” to Kashmir, including a gradual withdrawal of troops, self-governance, no changes to the region’s borders and a joint supervision mechanism.”

Dixon alias Musharaf Plan:

The implication of General Musharraf’s proposal to “identify the region, demilitarize the region forever and change its status…” was to let it have independence, condominium, a joint control or a UN mandate’. What the General proposed was a modified version of Sir Owen Dixon’s 1950 plan, which, in turn, has resurfaced in various forms in recent years. He realized that J&K was not a single entity, but a collection of polities brought under the political control of the Maharaja. He proposed that the plebiscite be held on a regional basis and the area allotted to whoever won the vote there. His alternative proposal was to first demarcate the state into regions certain to go to India or Pakistan, and then hold a plebiscite in the remaining portion. This way India would get Jammu and Ladakh, and Pakistan, ‘Azad Kashmir’ and the Northern Areas, requiring the plebiscite to be held only in the Valley. India was willing.(22) 

But Dixon’s insistence (on Pakistan’s urging) that it be conducted after a demilitarization of the Valley and it being placed under a UN mandate was unacceptable to New Delhi. This was not only because India’s status in J&K was backed by international law, but also because of security, an issue that was important then, as it remains so today.

KSG (Kathwari) Plan:

Aside of Dixon/Musharraf Plan, Pakistan and India are engaged in serious discussion on American roadmap for Kashmir, prepared by US-based Kashmir Study Group, with official quarters asserting that the South Asian nuclear rivals have agreed to strive for solution to the core issue in accordance with this plan. Farooq Kathwari, a Srinagar-born naturalized American furniture tycoon formed Kashmir Study Group (KSG) in 1996, comprising, among others, former senior officials of the US State Department and academics. He made several visits to Islamabad and New Delhi to discuss his plan.

Briefly, the plan recommends soft Kashmir borders with free access between the two sides while leaving the Line of Control undisturbed. With full support of the US Administration, Kathwari got into contact with President General Pervez Musharraf, Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and the top Indian leaders discussing the plan. “After hectic discussions, India and Pakistan agreed to implement the KSG plan in next two to three years,” a well-placed diplomatic source confided to Pakistani newspaper The Nation. “The plan proposes that India would continue to have overall control of Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh whereas Pakistan would retain control of ‘Azad Kashmir’ and the Northern Areas. The three regions in India – Jammu, valley and Ladakh – as well as the two regions under Pakistan’s control would coordinate issues such as internal trade and transportation. An all-Kashmir body would be set up to coordinate in areas of broader interest such as regional trade, tourism, environment, and water resources. Pakistan and India would be responsible for defence and foreign affairs of each of these regions, which would maintain their own police forces. However, these entities would have their own democratic institutions, citizenship, flags and legislatures. The citizenship of the entities would entitle citizens to acquire Indian or Pakistani passports, or use entity passports subject to endorsement by India or Pakistan.

Their borders with India and Pakistan would remain open for people, goods and services. The LoC would remain until India and Pakistan decided to alter it, but both countries would demilitarize the areas included in the entities. The two sides would continue with this arrangement for at least 10 years after 2007.
After that the Kashmiris would be allowed to decide the final settlement that they deemed fit to the core issues.”(23)

The increased US interest in the US backed plan has resulted in convergence of views on the roadmap on the part of Islamabad and New Delhi. As a result CBMs such as troop’s reduction, meetings of divided Kashmiri families and release of detained Kashmiris have been announced.

The Chenab formula to which allusion has been made earlier is almost a refresh of the KSG Plan. From what has been going on at Track II diplomacy, it is to be inferred safely that not only is the status quo position changed in J&K but much headway is being made towards hammering out a final acceptable solution. It is this line of thinking that makes Hurriyat (M) asks for continuation of dialogue and confidence building measures.

Current situation:

The rise of Al-Qaeda and Taliban combine in Af-Pak region gave a pretext to Pakistan to bring Kashmir dispute into the matrix of American war on terrorism in the region. Taking all steps that would induce Pakistan army fight America’s war in the region –– enormous funding, upgraded and sophisticated war equipment and now Kashmir — the US has been persuading India to make concessions in Kashmir. Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer writes:(24)

We also need to engage India constructively on how to reduce and then end the tensions, including in Kashmir that have resulted from partition. Ironically, the Pakistanis and Indians have made great progress on this issue behind the scenes in the last decade. Musharraf deserves credit for much of this. After trying to force India to give up Kashmir by limited war, nuclear intimidation and terror, he finally settled on a back-channel negotiation process. No one on either side denies how close to a deal they have come. Quiet and subtle American diplomacy should now try to advance this further.

Prime Minister’ Manmohan Singh’s speech in Kashmir during his June 7-8 visit has come under close scanner. In an interview given to ANI on the sideline of CICA Asia Summit in Istanbul, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, “I think the speech made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was a very visionary speech. I welcome that speech in Kashmir and I think it’s a good offer we should welcome it”.

National Conference President and Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy, Dr. Farooq Abdullah welcomed Prime Minister’s statement. Asserting that cordial relations between India and Pakistan were the “only guarantee” for the maintenance of peace in South Asia especially the subcontinent, Dr. Abdullah said the NC had been acting as a bridge between Indo-Pak relations for the last 63 years.(25)

But hardliner Ali Shah Geelani and chief of Muzaffarabad-based United Jihad Council, Sayyid Yusuf Shah both rejected PM’s offer of talks. The Mirwaiz faction of APHC, also, disparaged PM’s offer of talks saying there was nothing new in it.
In this context it will be proper to remind that Kashmir Valley observed total strike on the eve of Prime Minister’s recent visit. It is a repetition of the practice seen in the past. Amusingly no mainstream political party tried to neutralize the strike call. They have either no credibility with the masses of people or it is by design. The Prime Minister was shy of questioning the credibility of ruling coalition parties. His frugal cash doles for one or the other scheme presented to him clearly strengthened the belief that the Indian government had no qualms of conscience in continuing with its policy of appeasing the majority community in an almost crude manner. If the saffron cultivation needed a 100-crore grant for development, basmati rice cultivation in Jammu should have received double that support for identical purpose.

 PM’s Kashmir–centric munificence has rekindled the oft-stated discrimination theory of the centre against Jammu and Ladakh regions. A newly founded organization called Forum against Dixon Plan (FADP) alleged that there was a sinister move to divide Jammu province along Chenab on communal lines to facilitate emergence of Greater Kashmir. At a press conference spokesman of the group said that the Chenab Valley Autonomous Hill Council Resolution in Legislative Council without any opposition from any political party, and many other administrative measures of the state government in recent times have clearly established that concerted moves are afoot to impellent the Dixon Plan. He added that “National Conference and PDP have been making regular forays into various areas of Jammu to polarize communal opining in favour of Grater Kashmir.”(26)
 
Two things happening recently are noteworthy. On May 28, 2010, the British High Commissioner in New Delhi, Richard Stagg said in Srinagar that Kashmir was a dispute and needed a political solution. “Off course Kashmir is a dispute between India and Pakistan and nobody cane deny it. We want peaceful resolution of the dispute through peaceful means,” Stagg told Greater Kashmir.(27) 

This statement came just four days after Prime Minister had said in New Delhi that the government would be ready to talk to any groups that were prepared to shun violence.

The second but more important happening is a rather curious statement by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake saying US feels that Kashmir issue won’t be part of the agenda during talks between Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan next month as the meeting will focus mainly on action against terrorism and the progress Islamabad has made into the Mumbai attacks probe “I don’t think Kashmir is really the question that’s on the table now.” He said the real question now is to get some progress on the trial of the Mumbai suspects, those who are already in custody in Pakistan and also see progress by Pakistan on stopping actions by Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Punjab-based terrorist groups against India.

“I think those are really the red lines that they’ve established for really establishing or reestablishing their composite dialogue. And so those are areas where I think we can help and encourage our Pakistani friends to move forward, and indeed we have,” he told BBC in an interview.(28)

This appears an understatement for public consumption in India. Pakistan foreign office, too, has somewhat reacted in the same manner. Apparently the statement is in line with Indian Prime Minister’s assertion that talks would be held with only such groups in Kashmir as shun violence, and secondly, with Pakistan  only if terrorism against India is stopped on Pakistani soil.

In final analysis, there appears little hope that any of the aforesaid plans will work in part or in full. In view of Indian parliament’s unanimous resolution of 1994 on Kashmir things can become complicated. There is a realization in some sections of US think-tanks that radicalization of Kashmir and doing away with the status quo in the region could embolden Islamists and further destabilize peace. This realization has come from serious doubts raised by many US law makers about Pakistan’s sincerity in fighting and destroying Al-Qaeda and Taliban networks. If the US-NATO forces feel the compulsion of direct action in the troubled areas of NWFP, Pakistan loses leverage on Kashmir. Maybe New Delhi wants to gain time.

(The writer is the former Director, Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University. His email).
The End

References:

1  IBN 26 October 2009
2  Indian Express, 15 Oct. 2009
3  Kashmir Observer, 8 June 2010
4  Early Times, Jammu, June 10. 2010, p.8
5  Ibid.
6  Kashmir Observer, op.cit.
7  Ibid
8  Ibid
9  The Hindu, June 7, 2010
10  Ibid
11  The Hindu, Dec 4, 2009
12  Ibid.
13  The Hindu, 17 Nov. 2009
14  Ibid,  September 5, 2009
15  Ibid
16  Ibid
17  Ibid
18  Pakistan Tribune June 8, 2004.
19  IndoLink URLhttp://www.indolink.com/displayArticleS.php?id=
20 Dawn, September 21, 2005
21 The Guardian, Dec. 5, 2006
22The Hindustan Times, 27 October, 2004.
23 The Nation, 15 May 2005.
24  See his article ‘Armageddon in Islamabad’ in The National Interest of July/August 2009. Bruce Riedel, a Senior Fellow in foreign policy at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution, a former CIA Analyst, a counter-terrorism expert, and an author retired in 2006 after 29 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97), and National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Intelligence Council (1993-95). His areas of expertise include counter-terrorism, Arab-Israeli issues, Persian Gulf security and India and Pakistan.
25 Daily Excelsior, June  9,2010
26Daily Excelsior, June10. 2010.
27 Greater Kashmir 28 May, 2010
28 IBN Live, 7 June  http://ibnlive.in.com/news/us-wants-indopak-talks-on-terror-not-kashmir/123201-2.html?from=trhs

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