February 2000 News

J&K the way forward

9 February 2000
The Hindustan Times
By Karan Singh

The two autonomy reports tabled by the Jammu and Kashmir government and approved by the State Cabinet, have now been sent to the Government of India.

The response of the National Democratic Alliance will indeed be interesting. The whole matter is extremely sensitive and fraught with widespread implications that need to be thoroughly and extensively debated. What I wish to point out that the entire issue has to be viewed in the context of the larger question of Jammu and Kashmir which has three dimensions the conflict and dispute with Pakistan, in which China is also involved; the precise relationship with the rest of India; and the prevailing perceptions of the three regions of the State where the people have widely differing sentiments and aspirations. The status and welfare of the people living in those areas of the State which for half a century have been under Pakistani control, must also be taken into account for a final settlement.

With regard to the first issue; although military rule is an undesirable phenomenon, we have to be pragmatic and deal with whoever happens to be in power in Pakistan. We have done so in the past, and should therefore not be averse to talk to General Pervez Musharraf who seems to be in control in Pakistan at present. In the course of the talks it should be made clear that imposing a solution through force and violence, or by stoking the fires of militancy and fundamentalism is entirely unacceptable and will prove counterproductive. It is in the spirit and letter of the Simla agreement that the dialogue between our countries must proceed.

Regarding the autonomy reports, the suggestion to revert to the 1953 status even if that were constitutionally, financially and administratively possible, which is open to serious question would certainly meet with strong resistance from the Jammu and Ladakh regions. Similarly, the disingenuous attempt by the Regional Autonomy Committee to divide the Jammu province into three new regions on religious lines is entirely unacceptable. Quite clearly, therefore, the reports as they stand today will not find favour in the broader tapestry of national interests.

However, with law and order deteriorating both in the Kashmir Valley and in Jammu due to renewed insurgency, a definitive political initiative is overdue. An internal dialogue with established political parties as well as with groups representing differing approaches such as the Hurriyat in the Valley, the Dogra Sadar Sabha in Jammu, the Ladakhi Buddhist Association, Panun Kashmir and others, needs to be initiated, because in a democracy the process of dialogue must never be allowed to grind to a halt. In this context, my good offices will always be available.

Finally, however utopian it may appear in the present atmosphere, my considered view is that both India and Pakistan should seriously try and move towards a larger Sub-Continental Economic Confederation on the lines of the EEC in Europe, with the focus on economic development and poverty eradication. Let us not forget that the peoples of the subcontinent, who constitute almost a fifth of the entire human race and share centuries of common history, culture and civilisation, are also among the poorest on planet Earth. Such a confederation will make this region an economic power house and help to life its people out of the morass of prevailing social inequities.

It is to be hoped that better sense will prevail in Pakistan so that they change track and adopt the road to friendship rather than confrontation, and replace their hostile and aggressive obsession with Kashmir by a more realistic and balanced approach. Let the once-beautiful, now ravaged valley become a bridge to harmony and friendship rather than an apple of discord and self-destructive animosity.

Hawkish statements about the inevitability of war are extremely dangerous, as they can act as self-fulfilling prophecies which would cause unimaginable death and destruction to millions of people in both countries, and set us back by a century in our efforts to build a better life for our people. This must be prevented at all costs.


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