August 2004 News

The Kashmir Conundrum

3 August 2004
The News International

Islamabad: My last column on Kashmir was titled 'What is our Kashmir Policy?' Therein, I made the obvious point that India agreed to open a dialogue with Pakistan on a 'composite' agenda including Kashmir, after it had extracted commitments from Pakistan to agree to side- step UN resolutions, stopping active support to the Kashmiris' struggle for their right of self determination (read no more infiltration across LoC) and effective cease-fire on the Line of Control. Vajpayee in January could then come to Pakistan and agree to address the Kashmir issue. With the return of the Congress to power in India, New Delhi has been transmitting mixed messages. Manmohan Singh in his very first press conference eloquently stressed the need for peaceful relations with Pakistan but soon thereafter asserted that there would be no change in the borders between the two countries and no holding of plebiscite in IHK. Natwar Singh's performance has been more noticeable for his nuanced articulations. One day he would be almost euphoric on the need for normalisation of relations and the resolution of all issues and disputes, and the following day would be waving an accusatory finger at Islamabad for continuing with cross border terrorism. First, he would speak only of the Simla Agreement framework and after registering a reaction from across the border, also include the Lahore accord and the Islamabad joint statement. He would call Kasuri on the telephone and tell him to ignore a statement regarding cross border terrorism, attributed to him and later brief Armitage to accuse Pakistan of continuing to operate terrorist training camps. He wouldn't let go the photo opportunity of being seen warmly embracing his Pakistani counterpart in meetings in China and Indonesia but would not hesitate to postpone the scheduled official meeting with him to a later date. During the Saarc ministerial meeting at Islamabad, he was friendly and cooperative. He also met General Musharraf and spent quite some time exchanging views with him. On return to New Delhi, however, his tone underwent an alteration. He was unhappy and in fact 'disappointed' with Pakistan, suggesting that the coming talks on Kashmir should be meaningful and 'result oriented'. He particularly disapproved of the idea of a 'reasonable time-frame'. What does this attitude signify? When Mr Natwar Singh says that dialogue on Kashmir is not a 100 metre sprint, does he mean that even after 57 years, with the cold blooded killings of tens of thousands of Kashmiris and after two sharp and short wars, the matter lacks urgency and is to be likened to a marathon race? Is New Delhi really serious about the talks at all? It is important, nay, crucial, for Pakistan at this point of time to come to a determination of what its policy on Kashmir is to be and if it does have one, how to go about achieving the objectives. Ambiguity does have its uses. But does it mean, to go on accepting India's demands for opening up trade and communication links and speed up the cultural relations in the name of confidence building measures in the hope that a friendly relationship will one day help settle the Kashmir issue, as well. If this is how we have to proceed, then we should prepare ourselves for more of state terrorism in Kashmir and a lot more of brutal repression there with India hoping that with Pakistan's supporting hands tightly tied, it could crush the freedom struggle by sheer force or lure the battered and fatigued Kashmiris to accept an autonomy of sorts, with international blessings. Let us not kid ourselves with the lollypop of the promise of slow moving, on-again, off-again talks about talks on Kashmir. If it be correct that India, having failed to crush the alienated Kashmiris so far, for its larger ends and purposes, finds itself persuaded to normalise relations with Pakistan - primarily to play the role of a dominant regional power with global ambitions, considering its size and growing economic and military strength, then we have to play our cards a little more intelligently. If we have a good case on a particular point, we have to make the best of it. Take the fence on the LoC. If we consider it unwarranted and illegal as the Foreign Office spokesman said the other day, why don't we raise our voice and internationalise the issue effectively. Are we to live with the impression that we have tacitly accepted it and, as hinted by an Indian minister, we are in fact a party to it? Why are we so complacent and even lethargic in the matter? Why don't we strive to activate the UN mandated and appointed Military Observers Mission charged with the task of monitoring activities on the Line of Control? Its continuing existence is a plus factor for us. Why don't we capitalise on it for our benefit and put the Indians in the dock for non-cooperation and defiance of the United Nations in this respect? It is time to jolt ourselves into a pro- activist mode in so far our case on Kashmir is concerned. Why are we so negligent of the great opportunity to maximize the use of the recent report of the European Commission on Kashmir which clearly brings out the validity of the fact that there are three parties to the Kashmir dispute - India, Pakistan and Kashmir and expedite follow up of its recommendations, for further action. If we honestly and sincerely consider ourselves to be a legitimate (and of course an internationally recognised) party to the Kashmir dispute, what are we doing presently to ensure that the other party does not continue to brutally unleash a reign of terror in the disputed territory and that the voice of the Kashmiris is heard and heeded all over the world without any break. All that we have earned is condemnation for alleged cross-border terrorism. Why don't we come clean on this point and tell the world the truth and how complex and difficult the matter is and what our limitations are. Our record on Kashmir is either of reckless initiatives, undertaken without thinking through the consequences of what we do or merely reacting to moves on the part of India (with an increasingly India-tilted international community) with the result that even before the talks begin we have conceded the flexibility of 'setting aside' the UN resolutions, stopping support to the Kashmiris, letting Indians complete the fence on the LoC and letting the other party go on flagrantly harassing and terrorising the brave Kashmiris, whose only crime is to work for the fulfilment of the solemn promises on the part of Lord Mountbatten, Pandit Nehru and the United Nations Security Council for an opportunity to determine their own future (under international auspices). The veteran Indian columnist Mr Kuldip Nayar who in his columns concedes that there is a 'dispute' over Kashmir between India and Pakistan - and that Kashmiris are overwhelmingly 'alienated' with India, as also that the Kashmir movement essentially has been 'indigenous in character' is now (in his latest column on Kashmir) telling us that 'New Delhi has already downgraded the talks (on Kashmir) with Pakistan and that talks between Natwar and Kasuri in Islamabad 'have made the confusion more confounded.......both are saying different things..' The learned Indian columnist, at the end, thus comes out with his understanding of the real Indian intentions: have more of 'people-to-people contact' - 'easy visas', more 'free trade' and 'both countries should become a single economic unit (with Bangladesh added)'. And once that happens: 'Kashmir will be automatically solved'. Thank you, Kuldeep for candidly and clearly speaking the Indian mind. Will some one from Pakistan too, spell out our policy and how it could be achieved?!


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