April 2004 News

Indian scholar suggests Line of Control as final Kashmir solution

29 April 2004
The Daily Times
Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: An Indian scholar has said that the only way of settling the Kashmir dispute is to soften travel restrictions between the two parts of the state, promote trade and tourism, generate an atmosphere of goodwill, but under no circumstances should any transfer of territory take place, except 'minor adjustments' on the Line of Control.Wajahat Habibullah, a senior Indian civil servant who has served for many years in Kashmir, and who is currently a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace (USIP), was introducing a part of his research thesis on the Kashmir dispute, his year-long assignment at the Institute.He argued that the accession of the state to India was not only legally and constitutionally valid, but immutable. He was of the view that by the close of the 1970s, Kashmir had become a non-issue between India and Pakistan. He also argued that the Simla Agreement had made the UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir redundant and the two countries had agreed to arrive at a 'final settlement' bilaterally. After the 'demise' of the two-nation theory with the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, he said, Pakistan's case on Kashmir was finished. He said the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975 led the Plebiscite Front in Srinagar to accept the state's constitution promulgated in 1956, which amounted to a consummation of the state's accession to India. With the return of Abdullah, support for Pakistan in Kashmir began to wane and with the overthrow and execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the disillusionment of the Kashmiris with Pakistan became complete.Mr Habibullah called the insurgency that broke out in 1989-90 Pakistan-backed. Its initial idealism soon dissipated into a struggle for domination between different insurgent groups and what had begun as an ethnic conflict was given a religious colour by the Pakistani military intelligence agency, ISI. Soon the Kashmiri Pandits were expelled from the Valley, bringing its long-held 'Sufi tradition' under severe threat. He said, 'The insurgency damaged India's international standing and her pride in sustaining a vibrant, multi-ethnic democracy under a unified state.' The grievances of the Kashmiris were 'exacerbated by the human rights excesses that are an inevitable collateral to an insurgency'. It also generated local support for the insurgents, or at least, absence of any resistance. But the insurgency, before long, turned into a low-intensity war between India and Pakistan, 'sustained by widespread alienation among Kashmiris' from India.'Mr Habibullah said, 'If indeed Kashmir is to be treated as an 'integral part (atoot ang)' of India, it is time that India stood true to her constitution and the Kashmiris enjoyed the freedom which is guaranteed to them by the constitution.' He recommended that the people of the Indian-held state, which has a constitution of its own, should apply themselves to making 'azadi' or freedom to govern themselves, 'a living concept', especially as the Indian constitution does not place any serious impediments to increased decentralisation. India should ensure open elections to enable the unimpeded participation of all elements of the political spectrum of the state, he added. According to Mr Habibullah, the Kashmiris are not sure what they mean when they say that they want 'azadi'. Kashmir, even if it were to become independent, would not be allowed to stay independent for long, he argues. However, he believes that the Kashmiris can gain a fair amount of internal autonomy within India and be happy. 'All the ingredients for the exercise of real freedom are present in the existing framework and over the years, India's constitutional framework and institutional machinery has evolved to meet that requirement as it is doing in the rest of the country, should India bring herself to do so,' is Mr Habibullah's conclusion.


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