Kashmiris must be part of peace talks
26 September 2004
The Daily Times
WASHINGTON: The two-day Kashmir International Conference and those who spoke during the several sessions it held, were unanimous in their view that Kashmiris must be associated at the highest level with the India-Pakistan peace process, otherwise it would fail.Saturday was devoted to an all-day roundtable discussion of various aspects of the Kashmir issue. It was marked by lively exchanges and it also provided ample evidence of the widespread desire in India and Pakistan to bury the Kashmir hatchet, make peace and find a solution to the dispute that was in line with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people and in their best interest.Kashmir Committee chairman Hamid Nasir Chattha said the desire to find a solution notwithstanding, the question was how to go about it and it was a 'complex question.' He called the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh meeting in New York 'very much like previous meetings, except that the words were better.' He declared that Pakistan could not move away from the Security Council resolutions on Kashmir as they formed its locus standi on the issue. However, once 'you get around the table, you can start negotiating,' he added, while stressing that the Kashmiris are a party and will have to be associated. He said Pakistan was not in a position to decide who should represent the Kashmiris when the time came because it was a decision for the Kashmiris to make. He also declared that it was the struggle of the Kashmiris that was keeping the issue alive.Gohar Ayub Khan, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, said India could not hold on to its old recalcitrant position on Kashmir as the world had changed. The two countries, he added, should overcome their past disagreements and move forward towards a settlement acceptable to all parties, namely India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry said while the Kashmiris welcomed the ongoing India-Pakistan dialogue and were happy at the outcome of the Musharraf-Manmohan talks, they must be made part of the process and the negotiating process. Farooq Siddiq of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) stressed that India and Pakistan in their keenness to improve their economic relations and step up trade should not ignore the interests and aspirations of the people of Kashmir. Kashmir was not a legal but a political question and it was about people, not territory. PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim said the time had come when the people of India and Pakistan should live as friends, not foes. It had, therefore, become essential to resolve the Kashmir dispute in association with the people of Kashmir. Ved Bhasin, chief editor of Kashmir Times, Jammu, spoke about the human rights situation in Indian-held Kashmir and the 'draconian' measures taken by the security forces to suppress the people. He called Kashmir an Indian 'army camp.' He proposed the restoration of peaceful conditions in Kashmir without which no dialogue could take place. He also called for an 'internal ceasefire' and asked India to declare one unilaterally. He was confident that groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen would join in. He said India should withdraw its security forces from cities and towns and Pakistan should ensure that infiltration comes to a complete end. He also called for the reopening of the traditional routes from Pakistan into Kashmir, including the Sialkot-Jammu one.Ms Nasim Zehra, currently a fellow at Harvard University's Asia Centre, in her presentation said unlike other conflict zones where no signs of any breakthrough were evident, in South Asia, a tentative beginning to genuinely explore possibilities of a peaceful and just settlement of the Kashmir dispute is being witnessed. The United States, India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris recognise, for example, that force as a dispute settler is not possible. The Kashmiris are determined that the occupation should end, but they believe in the primacy of a protracted struggle to achieve this end. The cost of an unsettled Kashmir dispute has been high and destructive for both India and Pakistan. Today, nuclear power, conventional war, the guerrilla struggle or state terrorism do not provide hope to either the Kashmiris, to Pakistan or to India for settling the Kashmir dispute according to their respective wishes. Yet all three recognise that without a resolution of Kashmir, there can be no genuine or durable peace in South Asia. Ms Zehra said the ramifications of an unresolved Kashmir dispute are global. She said it must be remembered that individuals such as the two former prime ministers and the present Pakistani leader have played a role in what appears today to be a phase of détente between Pakistan and India. Its centrepiece is willingness to engage by both countries to resolve Kashmir, For Pakistan, keeping the wishes of the Kashmiris is the key determinant. Three individuals, Nawaz Sharif in 1988, Vajpayee since his days as the foreign minister of India, and Musharraf of the post-Kargil phase have caused the beginnings of détente. All indications are that Musharraf and Manmohan Singh will take it forward. As the two countries explore possible viable solutions, it needs to be appreciated that the centrality of Kashmiri rights is basic to the pursuit of any just solution. For Pakistan the Indian bottom line of the Line of Control becoming the permanent border is no solution as it is no longer sufficient. Pakistan needs to take a good look at what the possible solutions are acceptable to the Kashmiris while not killing the spirit of the UN resolutions which grant the right of self-determination to the Kashmiris.Prof Robert Wirsing, the noted Kashmir scholar, told the Roundtable that demonisation of each other by India and Pakistan must stop. Neither the Indians nor the Pakistanis were violent people. He also called for adherence to ascertainable facts while pointing out that the figure of 700,000 to 800,000 that supposedly represented the number of Indian troops in Kashmir was exaggerated. He said the figure given to him by the GHQ of the Pakistan army during his visit to Pakistan was much lower. It turned out that the higher figure was one put out by the Hurriyat, according to one of its officials who moderated the discussion. Raja Muzaffar of JKLF said the people of Kashmir, the central party to the dispute, are most concerned with and supportive of the peace process. However, a successful peace process must include the direct and effective participation of the people of Kashmir. He was of the view that in order to promote a sustained and fruitful peace process, an intergovernmental framework needs to be established an institutionalised form. There should be an intergovernmental council chaired by the two Prime Ministers. It should include the leaders of opposition from the two countries and former prime ministers such as Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. However they should have only invitee status. Eminent citizens should be associated with the peace process and militant groups approached and made part of the process. Those designated by the council should be free to travel to both sides of the divided state so that they could bring people together and involve everyone in the search for peace.