Welcome First Steps
18 November 2004
Karachi: Kashmir has been described as one of the most heavily militarized regions of the world. There is hope now that the level of militarization may gradually come down in anticipation of efforts by Pakistan and India to reach a political accommodation over Kashmir and other disputes that have pitted them against one another. India has announced that it intends to scale down its armed presence in the areas of Kashmir held by it, and while an initial reduction of 40,000 troops has been mentioned, no official figure is available. The first 1,000 soldiers left Anantnag yesterday to coincide with Dr Manmohan Singh's first visit to Jammu and Kashmir as premier, and he has indicated that further withdrawals may take place. He said in Srinagar: 'We are working with Pakistan to put an end to senseless violence.' Pakistan has already, in the proposals recently thrown open for discussion by President Pervez Musharraf, proposed demilitarization as part of a process to reduce tensions. These are all welcome developments, even if some of them seen as mere token gestures. New Delhi is believed to have anything from 700,000 to a million troops in the occupied territory, and the withdrawals being mentioned make up only a small proportion of the total strength of Indian forces. They have been criticized for their oppressive tactics and for widespread human rights abuses. Their conduct has indeed played a major role in precipitating the militant mood among Kashmiris that will pose a major problem when discussions get down to the nuts and bolts of a solution. The creeping military occupation of Jammu and Kashmir is one of the many missteps, political and administrative, that have marked the policy of successive Indian governments towards the territory and led to the now almost total alienation of the people from New Delhi. The number of Indian soldiers is seen as far outstripping the need to counter what is described as cross-border infiltration. But, however small, the first withdrawals should be seen in a constructive spirit, and the positive tone of our foreign office is entirely appropriate. This spirit of conciliatory moves and responses has to be preserved and promoted at all costs. There will be ups and downs in the Indo- Pakistan engagement. Leaders will say one thing at one time, another at another. We have seen quite a lot of evidence of this in recent days. But the political compulsions on either side should be recognized and respected. A psychological divide has been crossed, in that there is general recognition in both India and Pakistan that we have to move away from encrusted positions, and the options outlined by Gen Musharraf in his speech last month should be seen as part of this recognition. The Kashmiri point of view unfortunately still remains unheard. Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq met the president in Amsterdam, but the Kashmiri leadership's contacts with the Indian government remain uncertain. There appears to be some reluctance in New Delhi to permit Hurriyat leaders to travel to Pakistan to meet their counterparts here. Hurriyat itself remains divided. It is absolutely vital that representative Kashmiris should be involved in the process now underway; in fact, some may argue that the best way out of the continuing stalemate would be to put the onus on the Kashmiris to come up with their own proposals, and to proceed from that towards an honourable settlement. While a public debate is welcome as long as it does not deteriorate in needless point scoring, there can be no substitute for serious, painstaking, behind- the-scene diplomacy.