Kashmir: Musharraf's Opening Gambit
30 October 2004
A. R. Siddiqi
Karachi: President Pervez Musharraf's three-point opening gambit for a final and peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue is as bold as it is debatable. The three points made include identification of 'available regions', demilitarizing them, and 'changing' their status precedent to resolving the dispute. The status of the regions on both sides of the 'divide' will be determined on the basis of 'local culture' and 'demographic composition'. Mention of religion, per se, has been discreetly avoided because of its emotive potential. Culture and demographic composition should serve the purpose without bringing religion and caste into the debate. Of the seven areas identified for analysis and demarcation to lay down the groundwork for a peaceful solution, two happen to be on the Pakistan side and five on India's. These are Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas on Pakistan's side; Jammu (Hindu majority); Dodha-Rajori (Muslim majority), Ladakh (Buddhist), Kargil-Drass (Shia), and the jewel of the crown, the Kashmir valley (80-90 per cent Muslim majority), on the Indian side. The demarcation suggested appears to be purely notional and debatable without prejudice to the realities on the ground. It does, however, provide, in General Musharraf's own words, 'food for thought'. It marks a departure from the rigidly stated position of both parties tenaciously blocking a resolution of the dispute. India would not agree to a plebiscite while Pakistan would refuse to accept the LoC as the permanent border. 'If you (we) insist on plebiscite, then we fight for 100 years more,' the president said. However, the status quo on the basis of the existing divide would be unacceptable to Pakistan. Striking as the president's formula is in form, it needs to be elaborated in content. Based on a gradualist, step-by-step approach, it makes no mention of a time frame. This may be just as well as since an issue as complex as Kashmir cannot be rushed through. Some indication of the time envisaged for a final settlement would nevertheless be necessary. Might one compute it on the basis of the next two to three years? Anything more than that would dissipate the present momentum of the multi-faceted bilateral peace process - ostensibly without third party intervention or mediation. The longer it is allowed to wait the greater would be the chances of its getting mixed up with other issues - terrorist threats, nuclear-missile tests and, above all, internal instability on either side Whereas the religious factor - 'communal' in India's terminology - has been replaced by demographic composition, its relevance remains practically the same, as it was behind the sub continental divide. One hopes India would avoid going too much into semantics in keeping with the prevailing spirit of give-and- take adopted by Pakistan. Even the Dixon plan reckoned without the religious (demographic) factor as the basis for the plebiscite process to resolve the dispute. Dixon proposed 'regional plebiscites' in place of a single plebiscite in view of the diverse demographic compositions of the state. In his report to the Security Council on 15 September 1950, Sir Owen Dixon suggested: 'A plan for taking the plebiscite by sections or areas and the allocation of each section or area according to the result of the vote therein or 'a plan by which it was conceded that some areas were certain to vote for accession to Pakistan and some for accession to India and by which, without taking a vote there in, they should be allotted accordingly, without taking a vote, and the plebiscite should be confined only to the uncertain area, which ... appeared to be the Valley of Kashmir and perhaps some adjacent country...' Dixon's description of the Kashmir valley as an 'uncertain area' was most significant. It could be understood only in terms of the status of the state as one 'legally' acceded to India in spite of its overwhelming Muslim majority. The question arises: if Jammu and Ladakh could be conceded to India on the basis of its Hindu and Buddhist majorities without a plebiscite, why not the valley on the very same basis? As for Dixon's reference to 'some adjacent country' to be grouped with the valley for purposes of a plebiscite, it could only be relevant to Azad Kashmir - by no means a country or a state in its own right. It's amazing that the Dixon plan, by far the most rational single document for a practical resolution of the dispute, has attracted little or no attention from our jurists and diplomats. At least not to the knowledge and belief of this writer. Gen Musharraf's formula, in essence, will appear to be an echo of the Dixon plan. Like it, it advocates the allocation of areas on the basis of demographic composition with or without a plebiscite. His break-up of the state into seven zones on the basis of culture and demographic composition is practically the same as Dixon's. The Musharraf formula is also a reaffirmation of 'bilateral relations' between the government of India and Pakistan as enshrined in the Shimla Accord of July 2, 1972. The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army.