A buffer by mutual agreement

By K.N. Pandita

Some bizarre yet contradictory statements on Kashmir issue coming from responsible leadership in India and Pakistan have cast a pall of mystery on the bilateral talks between the two countries underway for more than two years in the past. They go even to the length of anticipating a time frame for the final resolution of the tangle.

The actors have kept the main features of this dialogue a closely guarded secret. The opposition’s demand that the Prime Minister take the house into confidence on the subject was not responded. Even a reference to the parliament’s unanimous resolution of 1994 on Kashmir made no impact and the government was not forthcoming.

Soon after 9/11 that trapped Pakistan into making the choice of aligning with Washington in a war against terror, Islamabad began bringing pressure on Washington to reward her camaraderie with a prize called Kashmir. Washington handled the situation with considerable caution often adopting the public posture of only “facilitating a dialogue but not mediating.” Nevertheless official American think-tanks evinced keen interest in Track II and ‘People to People Dialogue’ options, covertly goading the parties to show resilience and pragmatism. Intermittently, hints continued to flow that the deck could not be cleared in one go as it was a complicated and hence time-consuming process. Procrastination ensured movement forward in small steps.

Behind the prospect of expanded Islamic resurgence network on a wider scale than what was imagined, Bush administration did identify Kashmir as a flash point even though that remained only its restricted official stand.

With bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda entrenched in the Waziristan part of Pakistan’s NWFP, and the resultant shift of Pakistan to a policy of hunting with the hound and running with the hare under the pressure of domestic extremists, Washington began re-assessing the nature and scope of Pakistan’s alliance in war against terror. Pressure on India in the matter of Kashmir somewhat began to soften. Washington was convinced that Pakistan needed to show resilience and pragmatism. Something done in Kashmir sixty years ago could no more be undone in the wake of great geopolitical sensitivity of the region.

If the Kashmir situation was a matter of tactical maneuverability for Pakistan, for India it had far deeper implications. India was answerable to her democratic credentials and international opinion. A realization dawned that containment of an armed uprising in Kashmir enjoying considerable mass support was hard to achieve leave aside its total eradication.

Convergence of these broad strands of realization of ground reality in Kashmir produced the softening of stances on either side. Pakistan decided to abandon the probability or improbability of UN resolutions, plebiscite and independence for Kashmir. India eschewed the “internal issue” hype, which, in other words, meant conceding the disputed status of Kashmir and with that the inevitability of seeking a peaceful solution. Political leadership on both sides sometimes laconically called the process as “give and take” policy. This substantiates the recent statement of Pakistani Prime Minister that the people should expect not the first best but the second best solution of Kashmir and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that drawing of another partition line in Kashmir was out of question.

Along the Line of Control (LoC) in the entire Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State, transit points have been opened. A process of arranging a hassle free crossing is underway. Trade and commerce between the two parts of divided Kashmir is in the offing. Top political leaders and credible representatives from civil society are exchanging visits. Bitterness of past half a century is sought to be replaced by goodwill and mutual friendship. A phenomenon of cooperation is envisaged in which constitutional and legal relaxations would guide the relationship between the two parts of the disputed state. The LoC is bound to become irrelevant. When people change their hearts, the LoC loses its sanctity.

In final analysis, it seems that while retaining its titular geographical entity, the State of Jammu and Kashmir can become a meeting ground for the two neighbouring countries of India and Pakistan to convert it into an autonomous buffer that arms the local people with constitutional power and management. This could be a modified version of the buffer of colonial history with a commitment from both the countries for its constitutional, economic and social empowerment.

The people of Kashmir have already been provided ample opportunity of exchanging their ideas with the leadership in India as well as Pakistan. While the dissident leadership led by the APHC has been enthusiastically seeking conferences with Pakistan leadership, it has stubbornly refused to enter into a dialogue with the Indian leadership. New Delhi has no problem with them as long as they dance to the tune of Islamabad. This indirectly means that New Delhi recognizes them as represented by Pakistan. An understanding with Islamabad naturally makes them irrelevant.

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

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