Beyond Hackneyed Positions
17 October 2004
Karachi: It was good to hear General Pervez Musharraf say in New York on September 23 that we should all discard 'hackneyed positions' and make a fresh start in looking for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. He went to New York partly to see Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister. They had a good meeting in that each convinced the other of his trustworthiness and seriousness of purpose in their common search for peace and amity between their two countries. The meeting lasted an hour which was devoted (after exchange of pleasantries and Musharraf's presentation of gifts to Manmohan Singh were done) to getting acquainted. Let us now see if we can identify positions on Kashmir that have become hackneyed. The general himself pointed to a couple of them: the Indian assertion that the revolt in Kashmir, which we call a freedom movement, has been launched and sustained by militants trained in Pakistan; our claim that the Indian military forces are perpetrating horrible atrocities upon the people of Kashmir. These are not good examples. Hackneyed or not, they cannot be discarded. Manmohan Singh is reported to have made it clear to Musharraf that talks between the two countries will not go forward if the infiltration of 'jihadis' across the LoC continues. General Musharraf has been telling the world that his government will no longer invoke the UN resolutions of 1948-49 that called for a plebiscite in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Our oft-repeated demand for a plebiscite, he says, has become outdated, unavailing, and dysfunctional. It has been discarded. Good, but what about India's equally oft-repeated assertion that the state is its integral part, and that the happenings there are none of Pakistan's business? This position has not been discarded but it may have undergone some change. Considering that India is willing to settle on the basis of the status quo on the ground (LoC), it is clear that it does not claim the entire state as its integral part. Its willingness to discuss the future status of the part it occupies shows that its assertion under reference is further softened. It implies the admission that the developments in that part of the state are Pakistan's business also. The substantive nature of the dispute has also changed. The issue of the legality or appropriateness of the Maharaja's accession to India has long since been abandoned. In pragmatic terms, India's justification for its occupation of the larger part of the state derives from its victory in its first war with Pakistan (October 1947 - January 1949). The ceasefire line, called the line of control (LoC) following the war in 1971, has effectively remained a line of partition in the state. As noted above, India does not claim the areas under Pakistani control. Pakistan does not expect to get Jammu (largely Hindu) or Ladakh (Buddhist). It follows that the dispute in its present version relates to the valley of Kashmir, which is overwhelmingly Muslim. In thinking about ways of resolving the dispute, certain recently formulated caveats should be kept in mind. First, Indian spokesmen insist, and General Musharraf now agrees, that the dispute is political, not religious. Second, the option of a statewide plebiscite has been given up. Third, as General Musharraf would have it, no solution can be viable unless it is acceptable to Pakistan, India, and the Kashmiris. The proposition that the issue is political, not religious, would appear to mean that Pakistan wants Kashmir not because it is largely Muslim but because it is a valuable piece of real estate and, more important, because it is the source of much of the country's water (the Jhelum river). India wants to keep the part of the state it occupies for essentially the same reason plus the fact that it seized it in war. The Kashmiris who struggle against Indian occupation are dedicated to their own separate identity, and they do not wish to be Indians. Those who are content with being Indian resent Pakistan's intervention because the resulting conflict has ruined their lives. At their meeting in New York, Manmohan Singh is said to have invited Musharraf to come up with new proposals for resolving their dispute. What can these be? Actually, the possible elements of a resolution are known and the job really is to find the mix that can be made acceptable to all three parties (India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris). Of late, the idea has been circulating that the state of Jammu and Kashmir might become independent. High sounding though it may be, it is very tricky. In the Indian part of the state Jammu and Ladakh have no interest in independence. That leaves only the valley. There is no lively interest in this option in Azad Kashmir, but it may develop if Pakistan supports it with reference to the valley. In my thinking, it would be sheer folly for Pakistan to let go of a territory that has been its part for all practical purposes for more than 55 years and whose people are Kashmiris only in some remote sense: most of them, being Punjabi-speaking, do not even understand the Kashmiri language. One may ask what other options are available if those of a statewide plebiscite and independence are set aside. It may be useful to recall the proposal that Sir Owen Dixon, a judge of the Australian High Court, who visited the subcontinent as a UN representative in the summer of 1950, submitted to the Security Council in September of the same year. This proposal is said to have come closer to a resolution acceptable to the parties concerned than any other offered either before or since his visit. The Dixon plan consisted essentially of territorial adjustments along the ceasefire line. It would allow Pakistan to keep Azad Kashmir and India to keep Ladakh. India would cede portions of Jammu to Pakistan, and the valley would decide its future through a plebiscite. Pakistan accepted it after some hesitation; India is said to have accepted it in principle, but its acceptance was vitiated by Nehru's rejection of the proposed arrangements for holding the plebiscite. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, prime minister of Kashmir at the time, thought well of the plan. He would, however, place the valley and its adjoining areas (district of Doda and the 'niyabat' of Arnas) under UN trusteeship for a period of five to 10 years to allow 'tempers' to cool and arrangements to be made for the plebiscite. In April and May of 1964, Sheikh Abdullah, with the concurrence of Prime Minister Nehru, came to Pakistan bearing proposals for settling the dispute. These were (1) an Indo- Pakistan 'condominium' over Kashmir with the two governments having joint responsibility for the state's defence and foreign affairs; (2) each side giving its portion of the state maximum autonomy and recognizing the LoC as the border between them; (3) a confederation of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. These options could not be explored because of Nehru's death in May 1964. The idea of accepting the LoC as an international border, after India has ceded some additional territory to Pakistan, has surfaced periodically. It was discussed in the several rounds of talks between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (our foreign minister at the time) and Sardar Swaran Singh between December 1962 and May 1963. At that time, India offered Pakistan some strips of territory to the west and north of the valley but would concede no part of the valley itself. Prime Minister Kosygin of the ccommended the same idea to Ayub Khan during the Indo-Pakistan peace conference at Tashkent in January 1966, but the latter could not accept it at that time. Nor could Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his peace negotiations with Mrs Indira Gandhi at Shimla in the summer of 1972. General Musharraf said in New York that his mind was closed to the idea of a settlement through territorial adjustments along the LoC. However, according to some Indian sources, a proposal to this effect is actually on the table in the ongoing talks between the two governments. In one version that I have seen, India may be willing to cede a few hundred square kilometres. Which way, then, shall we go? Let us first identify the problematic options: (1) the idea of a plebiscite has been discarded by both sides; (2) India will not give the valley away to Pakistan; (3) a 'condominium' would be very tedious to work insofar as the state's foreign relations are concerned; (4) confederation between India, Pakistan, and the state of Jammu and Kashmir may not be a bad idea, but it is one whose time has not yet come. What is left? If, as General Musharraf has stipulated, the proposed settlement must be one that is acceptable to each of the three parties, the field of options is virtually bare. Nevertheless, UN trusteeship of the valley for a period of time, as a measure preparatory to the holding of a plebiscite, is an eminently sensible idea. It is likely that the Kashmiris themselves will welcome it and it will probably be well received in Pakistan. India's initial response will not be favourable, but that prospect should not keep Pakistan from proposing it. If this proposal does not go forward, Pakistan would do well to agree to consider territorial adjustments along the LoC and try to get India to cede as much as possible. It should also press India to allow its portion of the state internal autonomy in all matters other than defence, foreign affairs, and a couple of other subjects. I suggest that if these conditions are met, it would be in our interest to accept a modified LoC as the border between our two countries. I agree that this is not the most desirable outcome, but it is probably the best of the options actually available.