Kashmir issue: a pragmatic not idealistic approach

By K.N. Pandita – One needs to focus attention on the statement of the Foreign Secretary-designate Mr. Shiv Shankar recently given in a semi-official function in Islamabad. He is presently our Ambassador in Pakistan.

A thing like policy statement given by the foreign secretary – designate and on a very crucial subject, namely Indo-Pak relations, is something unusual to Indian diplomatic culture. Normally diplomats desist enunciating policy parameters.

Pakistan vigorously internationalized Kashmir question right from the day when armed insurgency began in Kashmir in 1990. Given the balancing act of the US in the case of Indo-Pak relations, political circles in the US gave only scant attention to the aspects of Kashmir insurgency, and falling to Pak propaganda, began speaking loudly on “human rights violations” in Kashmir. New Delhi was very slow and rather confused in countering Pak’s stupendous disinformation campaign as a component of its support to and sponsorship of Kashmir insurgency.

For full one decade Pakistani anti-India propaganda in regard to Kashmir made quite an impression on western governments and India remained under pressure. But the first breakthrough appeared with 9/11, which opened the eyes of the whole world on what the theo-fascists were up to.

Although the epicenter of Theo-fascism remains embedded in Pakistan, expanded to Afghanistan and then entrenched in Waziristan area, it yet remains high on the agenda of terrorists in Kashmir.

With US military involvement in Iraq heading towards near disastrous consequences, and with the Taliban making serious bid to resurge in Afghanistan, Washington will be re-visiting its policy of dealing with Islamic extremists in a broad spectrum. Israel’s debacle in its recent assault on Hizbollah and the resultant hardening of Iranian posture on nuclear weapons issue are taxing Washington’s patience. According to a recent opinion poll 61 per cent of the US population is against Bush administration’s Iraq war.

This is not an easy situation for the US, the self-perceived leader of democratic world. In this background, Washington should be seriously thinking of opening a constructive dialogue with the Islamists. This is also the line General Musharraf has been suggesting to the American policy planners. It is in pursuance of this scenario that the US has increased its pressure on India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir issue. One can understand that Pakistan has been trying to link up international terrorism to Kashmir dispute not today but from a long time. It seems that they find the time ripe to harangue Bush administration to do something to change status quo in Kashmir.

Ongoing Indo-Pak talks are a classical example of half-hearted business loaded with suspicions, fears, non-sincere intentions and escapements. Despite failure after failure, the rhetoric is that the parties are moving forward albeit at a snail’s pace. Siachin, Seer Creek and Tulbul talks have not yielded any result. Confidence building process makes no headway, and talks with Kashmir separatists have failed because faithful to roadmap drawn from across the border, the separatists have not agreed to sit around the same table where other Kashmir parties take their seat.

Of course, Washington has mounted pressure and is urging both India and Pakistan to find an amicable solution. It can be understood that Washington has pulled out the half – a- century old joint US-UK drafted paper called “elements of a solution to Kashmir issue” which was then placed on the table while Indo-Pak delegations were engaged in negotiations of 1962-63 during J.F. Kennedy presidency. It had suggested partition of the valley with an access route for India to reach Ladakh.

The way things have been moving in Kashmir for last two years could be imagined as precursors to the “elements” of this formula. In the opening of the border for travel between the two parts of Kashmir, and now the Kargil – Sakardu link in the offing, New Delhi seems reconciled to the division of the valley. This inference has to be drawn from the subtle diplomatic and wobbled statement of Shiv Shankar in Islamabad and by some more vociferous top functionaries in the country.

It may be reminded that the idea of partition of the valley did form an important option during Swarn Singh – Bhutto talks on Kashmir in 1962-63. Although Nehru had very angrily rejected the idea when Ambassador Chester Bowles broached it officially, yet according to the memoirs of the US Ambassador, Nehru, after thumping the table several times in anger, calmed down and contented himself with saying that “dividing the valley would be unfortunate.” Why Bhutto rejected the division in the next round of talks, is a subject on which this writer reserves his unverified information.

The option of dividing the valley is something to which Pakistan President would not be really averse. He has many domestic problems at hand: pressure for democratic dispensation, reassembling of political opposition Nawaz Sharif – Benazir combine, growing strength of theo-fascist organizations at home, proliferation of terrorism, Baluchistan insurgency and many other internal and external issues. He would like to see that Kashmir dispute, the one sitting so hard and heavy on Pakistani psyche, is taken off for all times.

But will he be able to negotiate a decision like that? There seems much less possibility that he can. The radical Islamic segment of Pakistani civil society would not stomach this solution. How the Americans would react to that is the real question. It means that while Washington is pressurizing both India and Pakistan, it will have to assess the strength of the ruling apparatus in both the countries whether they have the capacity of bearing the consequences of public opposition.
What is possible is to prepare the minds of the people in both countries for a far-reaching measure in resolving Kashmir tangle. This asks for time and sustained effort by the ruling structure. Both Indian Prime Minister and Pakistan President have given a few indications towards that end but the follow up interpretations and commentaries are altogether lacking. A public debate needs to be generated to sell the idea and then examine the reaction. Without undergoing that process the idea of harping on the division of Kashmir valley or self-rule etc. would be of little meaning.

If India wants to re-instate her hitherto eroded secular democratic credentials in Kashmir in right earnest, this solution paves the way towards that end. For Pakistan expecting anything more than what India would be offering, is what General Ayub Khan once told the American Ambassador as “sheer non-sense”. Pakistan and the world cannot close eyes to the fact that India is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world.

If the “elemental Kashmir Paper” that was tabled in 1963 suggesting division of he valley and was later on informally discussed by Swarn Singh and Z.A. Bhutto, is to be the basis of new approach today, then Wular lake becomes the watershed. This allows two districts to Pakistan (in addition to AK and NA), namely Kupwara and Baramulla, with a north-south dividing line running from north in Gurez or Kishanganga origination point down south to Afarwat range in Gulmarg..

It would be a very soft border allowing people on both sides to travel across freely with a simple identity card. The two countries, while exercising administrative control of respective regions, would provide local self-government arrangement but agree to pull out their armies and paramilitary forces beyond respective state borders. This arrangement would naturally and logically ask for international guarantee of security and non-interference in internal matters of he two regions. Trade, commerce, tourism and cultural exchanges could flow without any hindrance.

What the Indian foreign secretary – designate has said in Islamabad could be analyzed and interpreted as the beginning of an act of moulding public opinion along this formula. It is also possible to suggest to the parties concerned that while preparations would be made for the division, status quo would continue for seven years. This would offset all apprehensions of a backlash from parties that are rigidly set against the division.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir university, Srinagar).

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