July 2004 News

What Is Our Kashmir Policy?

13 July 2004
The News International

Islamabad: A victim of terrorism and beset with crises of diverse kinds, Pakistan needs and wants peace. Peace within and normal relations with all neighbours especially India and Afghanistan. The conflict in Afghanistan and search for the al-Qaeda remnants, however, keeps our western border areas in a state of unrest with its fallout in other places. With India we have begun the much-awaited dialogue process. The January joint India-Pakistan statement at the time of the SAARC summit has opened the door for a dialogue on a composite agenda which includes the question of the future of Jammu and Kashmir. The people-to-people contacts - mostly initiated from the other side including exchange of delegations of politicians, businessmen, writers, journalists, students and artists along with the role played by cable television and a number of private channels in building up a climate of bonhomie and warm relationship - have softened the perceptions and feelings of Pakistanis. The crescendo of these moves was visible at the cricket matches squarely won by the Indians. The new Indian government has generally kept up the tempo of the changing mood and mostly there have been expressions of a conciliatory nature. There, however, have been some discordant notes. Examples are: Natwar Singh initially ignoring the January joint statement and going back to Simla Agreement and making oblique references to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan; bringing up the China-India border talks model for India-Pakistan differences on Kashmir and also coming up with bizarre proposals like the China- Pakistan-India common nuclear doctrine. Natwar, however, has been quick enough to clarify some of these points placing the blame on the press for distorting his statements. He also has been seen embracing his Pakistani counterpart in Beijing and Jakarta making gestures of goodwill. In addition have come accusations from the Indian army chief and a state minister about jihadi training camps in Azad Kashmir and increase in infiltration across the Line of Control. There also was the articulation from the new prime minister who while emphasising the need for peace between the countries and the continuation of talks inclusive of Kashmir added that there would be no change in the borders and no plebiscite in Kashmir. Mr Yashwant Sinha former BJP foreign minister contributed his bit, criticising the government for letting the Pakistani foreign secretary meet some of the Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi and for making a reference to the United Nations in the statement issued after June 28 meeting of the two foreign secretaries. Perhaps the most strident note so far has been struck by the Indian state minister for external relations. He has stated officially that Pakistan and China are presently in illegal and unwarranted occupation of thousands of kilometres of Kashmir territory belonging to India and reiterating the claim that Kashmir is an integral part of India. The most recent move to keep up the pressure on Pakistan is a statement emanating from the press trust of India splashed on the front pages of most of the Sunday Indian newspapers of which the opening paragraphs read: 'In a disturbing development, Pakistan's Punjab province bordering India has emerged as the biggest recruitment centre for 'jihadis' in the country and Sindh is being rapidly converted into another major source for fighters. More than 50 per cent of 'jihadis' in Pakistan come from Punjab province alone. Around 8000 of them have been killed so far fighting security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.' Thus India has (a) stuck to its stand that Kashmir belongs to it and is its 'Atoot Ang', (b) rejected holding of a plebiscite as required by the UN Security Council resolutions, (c) asserted that Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas belong to India, (d) asserted that the insurgency in Kashmir is terrorism organised by the Pakistani government and jihadis who are being supported by Pakistan, (e) resolved that these terrorists must be brutally suppressed for which half a million troops are stationed in the state, (f) ensured that the International Red Cross must not be a allowed to perform its chartered duties in the occupied state, (g) ensured that foreign correspondents and human rights groups as well as Amnesty International would not be permitted to enter Kashmir. And there has been, all this while, the building of the fence along the Line of Control made possible because of the unilateral ceasefire by the Pakistan army. According to Indian officials this fence, which will be electrified, would be completed by autumn this year. India wants to send a signal to the world that LoC has to be treated as an international border. In addition India holds in its hands the crucial option, howsoever unwarranted, of storing and diverting the waters of rivers flowing from Kashmir which indeed are the lifelines of Pakistan. The issue of Bagliar Dam is just one indicator of what India could do in the future. Pakistan of today is intrinsically an arid zone which depends for its greenery on the water flowing down these rivers. Apart from conceding most of the Indian demands for opening up trade and resumption of diplomatic and communication links, how has Pakistan played its cards? For more than two years it has been literally entreating and pleading for talks between the two countries. To appease the intransigent Indians (who finally agreed to open the dialogue to normalise relationship in their larger and strategic interests and to defer to American pleas), Pakistan has positively responded to Indian specific proposals including the start of a railway link between Sindh and Rajasthan and the opening of the Indian consulate in Karachi. It has committed itself to stop support for the freedom fighters from Azad Kashmir. It has agreed to a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. It has relaxed controls on import of goods from India. And it has been deliberately looking the other way while India has gone ahead to complete the building of the electronic fence across the Line of Control. Nobody knows what exactly Pakistan's Kashmir policy is. The matter has not been debated in the National Assembly. The back-channel meetings between Tariq Aziz and Mr Dixit are a hush-hush affair. All that we have done is indulge in rhetoric and off and on, react to Indian statements and initiatives, hoping that something good, will emerge from talks between the two foreign ministers in August. We are told is that it would take a long time to arrive at a settlement. This is another way of saying: let the Kashmir issue remain on the backburner. All this time hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers keep taking care of brave Kashmiris struggling for their right of self-determination. Why doesn't Pakistan highlight the brutal repression and killings of innocent men and women, the bulldozing of their homes and hearths, the rape of Kashmir women and the burning of their institutions? Tragically the other day the 115-year-old historic High School in Srinagar was raised to the ground. And how loud was the protest from Pakistan? If Pakistan is a party to the Kashmir dispute and works for the Kashmiri people's legitimate rights, why doesn't it raise its voice strongly and frequently enough internationally to stop the violation of human rights? Why does not Pakistan ask India to take CBMs in Kashmir like freeing thousands of political prisoners, scrapping inhuman laws like Pota in the occupied state and reducing the size of the troops there?


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