July 2004 News

Progress On The Kashmir Knot

2 July 2004
Asia Times Online
Sultan Shahin

New Delhi: No dramatic declarations have resulted; even some of the announcements that could reasonably be expected from this week's talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan about new transportation links in Kashmir have been deferred. Yet there is optimism in the air. The mere fact that India and Pakistan could stick to the schedule set by the previous Indian government for talks on the final resolution of the 57-year-old dispute over the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is considered good enough. A beginning has been made and from all accounts it is a good beginning. From years of 'talks about talks', the two countries have finally moved to discussing 'solutions' for J&K. Though officials of both countries are unwilling to offer an opinion, there seems to have been give and take. India has again committed itself to a 'peaceful negotiated settlement' of J&K in a formal acceptance of its 'disputed' nature, while Pakistan has accepted the 'bilateral' nature of the dialogue and dropped the insistence on a plebiscite and third-party mediation. Kashmiris will be encouraged to talk among themselves; their mutual interaction will be promoted through new bus routes and they will be consulted by both countries in some form, though there is no agreement on holding tripartite talks. Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Masood Khan expressed the view that 'what will satisfy Pakistan will ultimately satisfy Kashmiris'. The confidence-building measures (CBMs) announced include advance notification of missile tests, reopening of consulate generals in Mumbai and Karachi, restoration of high commission strengths to 110, as well as the release of fishermen held in custody by one country to the other. The countries also proposed a comprehensive framework for conventional CBMs aimed at enhancing communication, coordination and interaction. Areas designated for composite dialogue include Siachen, Sir Creek and the Tulbul navigation project. Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh won a victory of sorts, with Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar and Indian Foreign Secretary Shashank signing a joint statement after two days of talks earlier this week reiterating their determination to implement the Shimla Agreement in letter and spirit. This is something on which Natwar Singh has been insisting ever since he was appointed minister. Pakistan, on the other hand, was not so keen on mentioning this agreement as this was made following its defeat in the 1971 war and many in Pakistan think it is a document imposed on them by the victor in that war. It was, however, able to get in a commitment to 'the principles and purposes of the charter of the United Nations' included in the text. The determination to implement the Shimla Agreement in the statement also endorses the UN role as article 1 of the agreement specifically provides that 'the principles and purposes of the charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the two countries'. Though this has been presented as a new development, even the Lahore declaration signed by previous Indian and Pakistani governments made a one-sentence mention to both Shimla and the UN Charter. The UN charter goes with Shimla easily as the 1972 document itself mentions the UN charter. Interestingly, and to the consternation of Yashwant Sinha, external affairs minister in the previous government and now a spokesman of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the joint statement does not mention the Lahore Declaration signed by former prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif and gives little importance to the joint press statement of January 6 this year, though both countries had described it at the time as 'path-breaking'. There is some disquiet among observers in India over the mention of the UN charter along with Shimla Agreement, as the two appear to contradict each other. The 1972 accord signed by late prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto called for a bilateral resolution of all disputes. Some analysts are calling this 'a major shift in Indian policy under the new Congress-led government', which has moved Kashmir back into the realm of the UN charter. Fears are being expressed that this can open the doors for 'self-determination' and Security Council intervention to resolve a 'dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security'. India has denied the UN a role in Kashmir consistently for close to three decades. But, according to some observers, it would now appear to have suddenly decided to follow Pakistan in reiterating its 'commitment to the principles and purposes of the charter of the United Nations' in the joint statement the foreign secretaries of the two countries signed on Monday. Some Indian analysts are saying that the shift could amount to a major concession for Pakistan, which has been steadfast in its demand for implementation of the UN charter in J&K. India has consistently said that the state was an 'integral part of India' and not a dispute. However, the nuclear tests conducted by the Vajpayee government in 1998 changed the situation dramatically and internationalized the dispute as Pakistan, too, followed suit and conducted its own nuclear tests within a fortnight. This turned Kashmir into a nuclear flashpoint in the eyes of the international community, which started demanding and pressurizing both countries that a quick solution to the Kashmir dispute be found. The Pakistan position articulated every year at the UN by its permanent representative has been in favor of the implementation of the UN charter for the resolution of J&K. The Vajpayee government continued to resist UN intervention, with at least two offers by UN secretary general Kofi Annan to send special envoys to New Delhi being rejected by the government. The Agra Accord that couldn't be signed due to a last-minute hitch and the January 6 joint press release endorsed by both Vajpayee and Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf did not carry a single reference, either direct or indirect, to the UN. Obviously, India has agreed to mention Pakistan's continued demand for a UN role in Kashmir after hard negotiations, though in a sense it had become inevitable with its insistence on bringing in the parameters of Shimla accord. Interestingly, just two days after India had accepted the role of the UN charter in the joint declaration, Pakistan, too, made a departure from its oft-stated position and asserted there was no need for third-party mediation to resolve the Kashmir issue with India as talks between the two countries on it were in progress. 'Pakistan is not asking for any mediation. It is not necessary,' Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar told Pakistan Television on Wednesday. Earlier, Pakistan always called for third-party mediation by the US, the UN or by European Union countries. With the joint declaration mentioning the Shimla pact and the UN charter in the same breath, it would appear that both countries have agreed to appreciate each other's position. But the Shimla pact that is so passionately favored by the Indian foreign minister is not without its critics. Indeed, its most vocal critic is former foreign secretary J N Dixit, who is now the national security adviser. In his considered view, as expressed in his book India's Foreign Policy 1947-2003, 'The Shimla Agreement, in effect, allowed the Kashmir issue to be kept alive with India acknowledging that it is a dispute still to be settled. This Indian stand vis-a-vis Pakistan is also in profound contradiction of the basic Indian position that the status of Jammu and Kashmir is not debatable, and that in terms of the India Independence Act and subsequent political and constitutional developments, J&K is an integral part of India.' Dixit writes: 'It was a failure of India's foreign policy to have allowed Jammu and Kashmir to be acknowledged as a dispute. India should have insisted on Pakistan giving up its claims on Jammu and Kashmir or at least fully acknowledging Indian jurisdiction over those portions of Jammu and Kashmir which India controlled as an integral part of itself.' In his view, India lost a valuable opportunity for resolving the J&K problem at the time. He says: 'We did not take advantage of our military victory in 1971.' In contrast, Bhutto was able to fulfill 'three crucial objectives' from Pakistan's point of view through the Shimla Agreement. These were the release of Pakistani prisoners of war, the vacation of Pakistani territory by the Indian armed forces and, finally, 'he kept the Kashmir issue alive as a bilateral dispute'. The expected agreement over a bus service between the capital cities of the states of J&K under Indian and Pakistani control has been deferred. Both sides agreed in principle to the desirability of the proposal for the bus from Srinagar (in Indian- administered Kashmir) to Muzaffarabad (Pakistan-administered Kashmir) but could not agree on some technical details. India is adamant that it will not accept documents other than a passport for travel across, while Pakistan remains insistent that this is not acceptable as it would amount to the acceptance of the Line of Control [LoC] that separates the two territories as an international border. The dates for technical-level talks have not been fixed as yet. Neither side was able to say if these talks would be held before the foreign ministers meet in August for the first political- level review of the progress. People-to-people contacts India seems to have finally understood the value of people-to-people contacts as an essential tool for maintaining the atmosphere of bonhomie that is propelling the two countries towards peace. New Delhi proposed a slew of Kashmir-specific initiatives, including the radical cross- LoC transport links so as to build confidence between people living on both sides of the line. As the Pakistani interlocutors insisted that the 'wishes of the Kashmiri people' must be taken into account, the Indian side argued, the best way to do so would be to allow Kashmiris from both sides of the LoC to meet each other. Going beyond its dramatic proposal of running a cross-LoC bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad it also proposed a bus link from Suchetgarh to Sialkot. The Pakistani side requested that it 'be given more time' to study the proposals made by New Delhi. The next ticklish issue, the reduction of troops in the Valley, according to Pakistan spokesperson Masood Khan, was not discussed as 'we did not get that far'. Pakistan appeared happy that India was finally at the negotiating table on the issue of J&K. Khan replied to a question about the state being an integral part of India by asking 'why are India and Pakistan talking about Kashmir, why is it on their agenda'. He obviously wanted to indicate that New Delhi no longer considered J&K as an integral part of India. He said both sides had decided to discuss solutions to the J&K issue and, 'in our view, the Indian leadership's policy is positive and focused on a solution of the problem'. Indeed, India has not spoken of J&K as an integral part of the country for close to four years now. Even the previous coalition government led by the Hindu fundamentalist BJP did not make any reference to this. Some of the best CBMs are those concessions that remain unspoken, unmentioned in any document. Like India dropping its 'integral part' chant, Pakistan has tacitly approved the security fence being erected along the LoC in J&K. New Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee pointed out on Wednesday: 'Of course, if Pakistan is not creating hurdles in the erection of the fence like opening fire to deter work as it would do in the past, one can infer the fencing has the neighboring country's tacit approval. Indeed, the ceasefire itself is an indication of moving in a positive direction. The resumption of talks too is a signal that we are moving in the right direction. I would not like to draw any conclusions right now. But at the same time, I will say these are encouraging developments.' Grounds for optimism One of the main grounds for optimism in the tough negotiations ahead is that the Congress-led government will not face the kind of pressure it used to face from the Hindu supremacist BJP. Though the BJP has decided to go 'back to the basics', that is hardline Hindutva, following its defeat in the recent polls, as far as a negotiated final settlement of Kashmir is concerned, its ability to hamper negotiations will now be limited. BJP leader and former premier Vajpayee originally started the process by extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan from the soil of Kashmir, that, too, after trying his hand at the toughest possible 'pro-active' lines, from toying with 'hot-pursuit of cross-border terrorists' and tough action by security forces to keeping almost the entire army eye-balling Pakistani armed forces for almost a year. Vajpayee may have been sidelined from the party now, but until the last moment in the elections and throughout his rule, he was projected by the party as its tallest, unquestioned leader and a great statesman. Across the border, the Pakistan army and Muslim fundamentalists in Kashmir, too, seem to have learned a lesson from the 57-year-old confrontations, including the 15 years of militancy and a virtual proxy war waged by Pakistan. Musharraf has shown realism by virtually abandoning insistence on a solution based on UN resolutions of 1948 that India and most of the world considers obsolete. The chief patron of Pakistan's Muslim fundamentalists and head of the powerful six-party coalition of Muslim fundamentalist parties in Pakistan, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, also known as the 'Father of the Taliban' and supporter of Osama bin Laden, himself visited India in July last year and surprised many by his moderate language in a quest for peace and efforts to reach out not only to Vajpayee, who has cultivated a moderate image, but even to hardline Hindu fundamentalists, including the leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh who were ruling the country by proxy at that time. (See India sits up and listens, Jul 24, 2003.) It is in the climate of peace created by Musharraf's repeated calls for dialogue, Pakistani fundamentalists' moderation and realism in the face of a bigger threat, the US army that is stationed in the immediate neighborhood and operating sometimes within the country, Pakistan's foremost columnists and academicians, like Ayaz Amir and Pervez Hoodbhoy, are able to call for LoC-based solutions to the Kashmir dispute. This used to be anathema to Pakistan. This realism is in evidence in all sections of Pakistan. Amir is most articulate on this point. He says in the influential Dawn newspaper: 'The 1965 [war] was a strategic defeat, because setting out to liberate Kashmir, the Pakistan army found itself defending Lahore and Sialkot ... Far from focusing attention on the need for a Kashmir solution, it [Kargil war] put the spotlight on Pakistan's sponsorship of cross-border terrorism. After September 11, a combination of American and Indian pressure compelled General Musharraf to give assurances about rolling up jihad in Kashmir. 'The Line of Control is thus not a whimsical line on the map. It marks the farther-most limits of Pakistani military prowess. Beyond this line we couldn't go. There can be nothing more concrete than this. We waged war to bring India to the negotiating table, but the Dien Bien Phu [weak Vietnamese leaders] our generals hoped for, never happened. Instead, our wars exposed the limits of our capability and cast a wan light on many of our cherished illusions (mostly to do with our valor and Indian weakness).' Some solutions It is in this atmosphere of great goodwill that one of India's foremost jurists, A G Noorani, is able to suggest solutions that call for joint sovereignty of India and Pakistan on some areas presently under the exclusive control of either country, though they would not disturb the LoC and instead turn it into an international border. Veteran Kashmiri leader who brought the Kashmir Valley into the Indian fold, convincing his followers to join hands with secular India rather than Islamic Pakistan, Sheikh Abdullah suggested on February 20, 1948: 'The solution was that Kashmir should accede to both dominions.' India, he said, was progressive. On the other hand, Kashmir's trade passed through Pakistan and a hostile Pakistan would be a constant danger. The solution, therefore, was that Kashmir should have its autonomy jointly guaranteed by India and Pakistan and it would delegate its foreign policy and defense to them both jointly but could look after its own internal affairs.' Noorani finds that joint delegation 'a constitutional impossibility'. But, he suggests, Kashmiris can negotiate with both countries for maximum autonomy possible to each part of the state, including the right to conduct foreign trade. The issue of sovereignty resolved, the LoC becomes an international border with freedom of movement on both sides, guarantees to human rights, etc. He sights the South Asian precedent of the Anglo-Afghan Treaty, signed in Kabul on November 22, 1921, which reaffirmed the validity of the Durand Line. However, by a collateral letter given to Afghanistan at the same time, the British representative wrote: 'As the conditions of the tribes of the two governments are of interest to the government of Afghanistan, I inform you that the British government entertains feelings of good-will towards all the frontier tribes and has every intention of treating them generously, provided they abstain from outrages against the inhabitants of India.' Similarly, Sweden and Finland settled their dispute over the predominantly Swedish Aaland Islands under the auspices of the League of Nations on June 27, 1921. Finland promised 'to guarantee to the population of the Aaland Islands the preservation of their language, of their culture, and of their local Swedish traditions'. It undertook to enforce its Law of Autonomy of May 7, 1920. This is regarded as one of the important achievements of the now-defunct League of Nations under whose auspices the agreement was negotiated. Also, on September 5, 1946, Italy and Austria signed an agreement under which Italy undertook to grant its German-speaking Bolzano province adjoining Austria, and the neighboring bilingual townships of the Trento province 'autonomous legislative and executive regional power', besides rights. The details were settled in 1992, including provision for international adjudication if the autonomy was violated. Noorani feels that if these models are adopted, each country will gain enough to sell the accord to its people; yet, concede enough to make it acceptable to other countries as well as to the people of the state. Kashmiris will acquire double guarantees of autonomy - domestic and international. Pakistan can claim: 'We have secured azadi [independence] for Kashmir for which we are a guarantor.' India can claim: 'Kashmir's accession is no longer in dispute.' The peace dividends both will reap will be colossal. Most solutions to the Kashmir dispute have revolved around the Dixon Plan calling for partition of Kashmir as well as a plebiscite in those areas where the outcome was doubtful. Sir Owen Dixon, the UN representative who came to the sub-continent pursuant to the Security Council's 1950 resolution on the Kashmir dispute, had come very close to solving the issue once and for all. Then Pakistan prime minister Liaquat Khan and top Indian leaders like Nehru, Sardar Patel and Dr Rajendra Prasad had come round to accepting it. The proposal fell on the issue of how to go about organizing a plebiscite. But besides its unacceptability in India, a plebiscite will now amount to opening long, festering wounds. It should not be beyond the capacity of 21st century India and Pakistan to find new and creative solutions that would be acceptable to both their peoples, as well as the people of J&K on both sides of the LoC. The solutions will, however, emerge only through dialogue and free interaction. Let us hope the foreign ministers meeting in August will bring more good news for the beleaguered people of J&K. The final aim, of course, should be to lift the shadow of the gun which is not doing anybody any good.


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