Kashmir: India's Basic Position
31 July 2004
Karachi: Nations, like individuals, look ugly when they break rules. This was the nth time that Pakistan raised Kashmir at the Saarc foreign ministers' conference in Islamabad. The rule is that no bilateral issue will be raised at such meetings. The violation not only exasperated India but also other members of the Saarc. Pakistan's obvious purpose was to focus attention on Kashmir, something which it has been trying for quite some time. In reality it wants India to accept Kashmir as a disputed territory. I have not been able to make out Islamabad's obsession. This is the status which New Delhi cannot accept for many reasons. It primarily means an amendment to the Indian constitution which lists Jammu and Kashmir as part of the Union. Any alteration in the state's status needs a constitutional bill that requires for approval by a two-thirds majority in each of the two houses of parliament. How is it possible for any government in India to take such a course? Without using the word 'dispute', India has, indeed, conceded the point. When it discusses Kashmir it comes to that, although not in so many words. After all, New Delhi does not hold talks with Islamabad on Tamil Nadu, West Bengal or even Pakistan's neighbouring states of Punjab, Gujarat or Rajasthan. Why only Jammu and Kashmir? This should have satisfied Pakistan. When the Shimla Agreement between Mrs Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then prime ministers, singled out 'Jammu and Kashmir' for 'a final settlement,' New Delhi said in no uncertain terms that the status of the state was still to be determined. More recently, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and President General Pervez Musharraf underlined the same point in their joint statement. They specifically mentioned Kashmir as a topic for talks. Had Kashmir not been a matter pending settlement, the question of discussing it again and again would not have arisen. My impression is that Pakistan has no policy on Kashmir. It kicks up dust all the time to confuse the issue. Except the contention that the state should become part of Pakistan because of its Muslim majority, what claim does it have over Kashmir? On the one hand, it says that the independent status of the state is not acceptable. On the other, it knows fully well that the demand of the preponderant majority of Kashmiris is for 'azadi' (independence). Even Pakistan's most loyal exponent, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, says if it is the 'azadi' the Kashmiris want and they would have it. The only policy of Pakistan seems to be to get Kashmir. From day one after partition, it has been trying to occupy Kashmir forcibly. First, it was the adventure by regular and irregular forces of Pakistan. Then it was the Bhutto's war of infiltration and finally it was the exercise by General Musharraf at Kargil. All failed because Pakistan was not militarily superior to India. Ultimately, it was former prime minister Nawaz Sharif who admitted at Male before the then prime minister Inder Gujral that Pakistan was not in a position to take Kashmir forcibly from India. It goes to Sharif's credit that he said India was not in a position to give Kashmir to Pakistan on a platter. India too has no policy on Kashmir. It tries to keep Farooq Abdullah and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on its side and, at the same time, begins a dialogue with the Hurriyat leaders who hate the two. New Delhi has already downgraded the talks with Pakistan, taking it away from the prime minister's office led by Atal Behari Vajpayee to the ministry of external affairs headed by K. Natwar Singh, who says he does not have to 'consult' anybody. The talks between him and Pakistan's Foreign Minister Kasuri in Islamabad have made the confusion more confounded. Both are saying different things while maintaining that they are making progress. New Delhi has, however, travelled far from its original position over the years. There was a time when it would refuse even to talk on Kashmir. Manzur Qadir, the then Pakistan foreign minister, told me how General Ayub Khan, then Pakistan's martial law administrator, was furious when Jawaharlal Nehru refused to entertain any discussion on Kashmir during his visit to Pakistan to sign the Indus Water Treaty, more than 40 years ago. Ayub's version as recorded by Qadir is: 'Nehru was insulting. I tried to talk to him on Kashmir thrice, each time with the observation that since both countries had solved a big problem like the Indus Waters, they should tackle Kashmir to settle things once and for all. Every time, Nehru either started looking at the ceiling or outside the window. Once I felt that he had gone to sleep. He simply did not want to talk on the subject. He was an accepted leader of India and people in Pakistan listened to me; we should not have lost that opportunity.' Opportunities have, indeed, arisen even after the Nehru-Ayub meeting. The biggest was at Shimla in 1972 when Bhutto reportedly agreed to accept the Line of Control as the international border. But he dare not even broach the subject after return from Shimla because Pakistan had not yet got over the humiliation of losing the Bangladesh war. Still it is stuck in the minds of Pakistan's rulers that the valley should be part of Pakistan because it has Muslims in a majority. The facts as they are, this is not going to be possible. No amount of Pakistan-sponsored infiltration has changed the situation. All that it has done is to communalize the Kashmir movement which was once indigenous in content and national in character. Islamabad fails to realize that Kashmir is not a religious issue. One way out is people-to-people contact, not only through easy visas but also through free trade. Both countries should become a single economic unit (with Bangladesh added) so that the ties of trade and commerce develop into the ties of inter- dependence and friendship. Once the people of the two countries come to have an equation of that level, Kashmir will be automatically solved.