A Roadmap For Peace In South Asia
28 February 2004
Fateh M. Chaudhri
Karachi: The quest for peace in South Asia over the last 56 years has encountered many vicissitudes. The on-again, off-again syndrome of bilateral negotiations since 1971 has not yielded any meaningful components of a peaceful coexistence. People with a high sense of optimism now feel that our fruitless wandering is over and we have finally come to the foothills of shining peaks called 'peace heights'. People on the other end of the spectrum insist that the enduring peace will elude us once again. Following a long saga of missed opportunities and bungled negotiations, the composite dialogue process is at a crossroads. We can either remain prisoners of our entrenched mindsets and lose the opportunity to win peace or our leaders try to break the chains of hatred, get a firm grip over the peace process and shepherd it to its logical end - living as neighbours with calm and tranquil borders. It is generally believed that the near-war situations between the nuclear-power adversaries in South Asia that developed on more than one occasion in the recent past have convinced the international community in general and the United States in particular that the long-term rapprochement between India and Pakistan is a must for world peace. The recent Saarc summit in Islamabad provided the much-needed occasion to achieve (a) thaw in the two countries' relations. (b) an agreement to start the composite dialogue, (c) a framework for holding meetings at different levels of country representation and (d) the first round of meetings from February 16 to 18. More importantly, one of the two key players in the peace process, Prime Minister Vajpayee has realized that he could cash-in on the peace sentiments and win another general elections- hence his recent decision to dissolve the Lok Sabha and advance the election date in his country. Similarly, with the opposition pacified and vote of confidence obtained, President Musharraf also is keen to usher in an era of peace and go down in history as a peacemaker. These, indeed, are the positive features of the current situation. However, it also cannot be denied that the likelihood of the peace process getting derailed is not insignificant if the two leaders do not exercise utmost restraint and do not choose their words, remarks and statements carefully. If the Islamabad agreement on the composite dialogue is genuine, then they must instruct their cabinet members-government spokespersons involved in the process to speak with great caution. Unfortunately, the Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha's remarks on Dr. A. Q. Khan episode do not fall within that category. Even though this time Mr.L.K.Advani appears to be' on board, Prime Minister Vajpayee has kicked off his party's campaign for the forthcoming elections with the old pledge to construct Rain Temple at the site of the Babri Mosque. This betrays an undercurrent of bitterness and religious emotions that are inconsistent with the call for caution and circumspection that the situation demands. We have to admit that the road ahead is steep and slippery. The leaders need to travel with a great deal of patience. The dialogue is going to be protracted, arduous and at times frustrating but it must continue. Not only the top leaders but their special political representatives as well need to coordinate and manage the dialogue without wavering in the commitment to peace and prosperity in South Asia. Following the joint statement most of the commentators and columnists were of the opinion that the two uncommon leaders appear to have ushered in the much-awaited steady march to peace. To avoid any pitfalls and possible derailment, both countries must exercise restraint. The blame-game syndrome and war of words must be banished to keep the environment congenial for talks. Utmost sincerity and a spirit of accommodation are, badly needed to resolve the thorny Kashmir dispute. There would be many a disruptive provocation but the dialogue must not be allowed to vitiate. Normal diplomatic channels are buzzing with activities but only a cool, well-informed and sagacious approach can solve the complex Kashmir problem that is acceptable to all the three parties: India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people. Notwithstanding the next general elections in India, the composite dialogue should proceed as committed in the joint statement. There is no room for half-hearted peace efforts. The broad- based Kashmiri leadership has clearly expressed their hope that the two countries will accord priority to the Kashmir issue during the talks even though no quick solutions are expected to emerge. Initial discussions on the sensitive Kashmir issue must move quickly with a proper sense of reconciliation. As President Musharraf has emphasized, certain proposed solutions that are unlikely to be acceptable to the other parties should be set aside. This means that while Pakistan seems to be agreeable to work, without the UN resolutions calling for a full and fair plebiscite, India must also drop the idea of Kashmir being the country's integral part. The chances of any further partition or making the Line of Control (LoC) as permanent border are meagre. Having identified which is likely to be completely unacceptable to the parties concerned does not necessarily throw up an acceptable solution in itself. It only pushes the parties to search for a mutually acceptable solution even harder. And that clearly indicates that the Kashmir dispute would take a long time to solve. Patience, perseverance and a single-minded focus on the dialogue would be needed to finally reach the peace heights. A roadmap to peace is needed to pursue a desired plan of actions but before that several supporting steps must be taken; (i) the recently established functional relationships between India and Pakistan should be strengthened, (ii) decisions should be made on both sides to get out of the fixed mindsets and entrenched official positions', (iii) efforts should be made to hammer out the agreed common grounds in a series of meetings at the secretaries and cabinet levels, (iv) 'quiet diplomacy' away from the media glare should be the main vehicle to discuss the nature and dimensions of all issue, including Kashmir, (v) ongoing initiatives on the confidence-building measures (CBMs) should be reinforced, (vi) all political prisoners should be released, (vii) Kashmiri leaders need to unite themselves not only to interact with the leaders of India and Pakistan but also to get international community's (IC) support for the resolution of the Kashmir according to their collective and consensus-driven wishes. At the same time, India and Pakistan leaders must realize that they cannot get the Kashmir issue resolved according to their own respective wishes; at same appropriate stage tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders must be part of the plan of actions now being developed, (viii) travel and trade arrangements between parts of the Jammu and Kashmir state should be effectively relaxed by reopening the bus routes and easing modes of travel, (ix) International community along with the international financial institutions (IFIs) must declare their willingness-to rebuild and reconstruct J and K that has been shattered by continuous violence and upheavals over the last 13 years. Let us now present a possible roadmap. As of now it seems that India is not ready for a plebiscite under the UN and does not want the J and K partition on the basis of religion. As the various Pakistan statements reveal, the LoC cannot became a permanent border. However, the Kashmiris detest the idea of setting aside the UN resolutions. The Kashmiris also do not want the division of the J and K on geographical grounds. In the interest of saving the composite dialogue let us recall that demilitarization of Kashmir was the critical issue more than five decades ago, and is still the key issue today. A key feature of Dr. Graham's 1952 plan of action was to reduce the number of Indian troops to a range of 12000 to 18000 and Pakistani troops to a level of about 5000. India wanted a larger presence of their troops and thus, the Graham plan got derailed. The first component of a possible roadmap should, therefore, deal with the absolutely minimum number of Indian and Pakistani troops in the overall J and K state. It should also be agreed that the LoC may be maintained but the Kashmiri people across it should be given almost free movement to bolster trade, sport events, social interaction, etc. A high priority should be given to restoring the law and order situation and rehabilitating the tourism infrastructure, once the highest foreign exchange earner. The current special status of Kashmir in the Indian constitutions may be maintained but steps should be taken to bless it with greater and greater autonomy. The question of sovereignty should be kept as a distant goal. Steps should be taken to develop and establish governance architecture based on appropriate number of representatives of political parties both on the Indian and Pakistani sides of the J and K representatives of Pakistan and from India. Once the broad framework of governance is agreed upon, the modus operandi and decision making rules to operationalize it should be devised. The governing council should work for the next 10 years or so, after which they would ascertain the wishes of the J and K people on the permanent political status that they wish to establish for themselves. After half a century of unending tensions, costing lives of more than 100000 people, all the three parties to the, Kashmir dispute need to redefine their functional relations along the broad lines suggested above. It is clear that wars have not and cannot, solve the Kashmir problem- they are part of the problem and not the solution that we are seeking so desperately. The 13 million Kashmiris need a new deal.