Musharraf's options on Kashmir rejected
28 November 2004
Lahore: The options encapsulating the likely solutions to the Kashmir dispute, floated recently by President Pervez Musharraf, received as poor response from the Kashmiri and Pakistani leaders as they had drawn from India , when they came up for a microscopic examination at a seminar here on Sunday. While some speakers questioned the general's locus standi to present the ideas bypassing an elected parliament, others alleged that it was more of an attempt to get rid of the problem than a genuine move to get the Kashmiris their rights for which they had been offering all kinds of sacrifices for more than 15 years. No one was present to offer the government's point of view or defend the 'food-for-thought' which was 'served' by the general at an iftar party. The ruling party secretary-general was supposed to be there, but he was conspicuous by his absence. Despite criticism of what President Musharraf had outlined, nobody came up with a solid idea on how the UN resolutions on the Kashmir dispute could be implemented in the prevailing situation. The seminar was organized by the Pakistan Institute of National Affairs (PINA) with AJK President Sardar Muhammad Anwar Khan in the chair. Ironically, not all the panelists were afforded an opportunity to speak for what the organizers said shortage of time. Former foreign minister Sartaj Aziz, former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan, JKLF Chairman Amanullah Khan, APHC leaders Abdullah Malik and Ghulam Muhammad Safi, ruling party's Senator S.M. Zafar, PML-N MNA Khwaja Saad Rafiq and PPP Federal Council Secretary General Khalid Ahmed Kharal were among the speakers. AJK president Sardar Anwar Khan said several solutions other than the UN resolutions could be proposed to settle the Kashmir dispute but it should be a 'closed-door' exercise. Unless India gave up its rhetoric that Kashmir was its integral part, and an effective mechanism was evolved to implement any formula other than the world body resolutions, no headway could be expected. A serving major-general until he was asked to wear the mantle of the AJK president, Sardar Anwar said history bore the testimony that Pakistan and India could not settle their disputes unless some third party mediated. In the light of the past record, he said, the Kashmiris would not get their rights without the involvement of a mediator. 'But every passer by should not be asked to mediate', he said in an obvious reference to the government's requests even to smaller states that they should use their influence to pressure India to give the Kashmiris their rights. The AJK president said there was a sea change in the global environment after September the 11th as the US had reviewed its thinking about Muslims and the freedom movement in Kashmir. He said despite the fact that terrorism and freedom movements were two different things, the US had taken upon itself to tag even a genuine freedom movement as terrorism. Thus, expectation that America would resolve the Kashmir dispute according to the desires of the Kashmiri people was a bit of over-expectation, he explained. He admitted that the freedom struggle in occupied Kashmir had received a setback after the US policies framed after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. In his assessment an armed struggle would not yield any results in the prevailing situation, though circumstances could take a turn for the better in the times to come. The role of the OIC, he said, was also very limited. Islamic countries could pass resolutions in favour of the Kashmiri people but they were not willing to take any action against India for denying the oppressed people their rights or perpetrating atrocities on them. The AJK president was of the view that Gen Musharraf's views should be taken as a blue print and not a final solution to the dispute. And, he emphasized, Pakistan should be consistent in its stand so that other countries did not get an impression that it had deviated from its principled position. He thought that President Musharraf might have offered his options, encouraged by the fact that being an ally of the United States in its war on terror some window of opportunity would be opened for the solution to the Kashmir dispute. It was under this impression that Pakistan took some confidence-building measures with India. The AJK president said that in the light of options outlined by President Musharraf a debate was going on in India on the likely solutions to the Kashmir problem. Former foreign minister Sartaj Aziz said all opposition parties had opposed the options given by President Musharraf because they ignored the right to self-determination enshrined in the UN resolutions. He said once Pakistan weakened its stand for a plebiscite, India's argument that talks with the Kashmiri people was its internal problem would become weighty. He said in issues of foreign policy unilateral flexibility was seldom justified, unless there was a clear indication that it would be reciprocated. He regretted that India was completely inflexible in its attitude. Referring to the international reaction, he said most countries had welcomed the flexibility shown by Pakistan but so far they did not seem prepared to pressure India to soften its stand. Commenting on the substance of the proposals given by Gen Musharraf, the former foreign minister said if there was as certainment of the wishes of the people in seven different regions, the final formula should reflect them. In this context, he clarified, three options - UN umbrella, independence or joint control - should not uniformly extend to all the seven regions. 'We should, in any case, not entertain any proposals that would change the status of AJK or Northern Areas because such a change would downgrade Pakistan's strategic position viz-a-viz China'. In reply to a question by one of the participants about the nature of the Kashmir solution which was discussed during then prime minister Vajpayye's visit to Lahore in February 1999, Mr Sartaj Aziz said that several options were explored through back channel diplomacy before and after the said visit. The most interesting proposal was a district-wise referendum which, if accepted, would have brought AJK and Northern Areas with Pakistan. Similarly, Jammu, minus three Muslim majority tehsils - Poonch, Rajori and Doda - and Laddakh might have opted to accede to India. This would have narrowed down the problem to the present Kashmir Valley plus the three Muslim majority areas of Jammu. The former foreign minister said several options of autonomy had been suggested for the Valley, including one which visualized joint control on defence and foreign policy by Pakistan and India and the use of currency and postal stamps of both the countries. JKLF Chairman Amanullah Khan said the government had made a number of U-turns on Kashmir and the Jan 6 joint statement issued after Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting in Islamabad was an attempt by the two countries to deprive the Kashmiri people of the rights given by the United Nations. He said in the said statement, Kashmiris had not been recognized as a party to the dispute. Referring to the seven-region idea mooted by Gen Musharraf, he said it indicated that the general wanted to divide what was indivisible. He said Pakistan should continue to extend its support to the Kashmiri people who would not betray it even if they got independence. The JKLF leader said India understood only the language of force. 'If you kick them, they will lick you; if they lick them, they will kick you'. Former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan said if the government genuinely wanted to find a new solution to the dispute with the concurrence of the people, it should take political parties into confidence. And political parties, he said, should offer their opinion rising above their personal expediencies. Mr Khan said in a situation of uncertainty and conflicts no major decisions could be taken. He pointed out that successive governments had stuck to Pakistan's consistent stand on Kashmir but it was also a fact that atrocities on the Kashmiri people had also gone up over the years. The Kashmir dispute was on the agenda of the United Nations, but Pakistan had to apply afresh every year to prevent it from being brushed aside. About the conduct of the world community, the former foreign secretary said it was unfortunate that no member of the world body, including Pakistan's friends, had pressed India to honour its commitment with the Kashmiri people. Islamic countries' role on the Kashmir issue was no more than what he called lip service. The US position had always been ambivalent and it would never go against India. Refusing to offer his opinion on any of the options given by President Musharraf, Mr Khan said such ideas had come under discussion at various levels in various periods. He said now the government should set a target and then work to get the Kashmiri people their rights. PML Senator S.M. Zafar said a change had taken place in the global environment but it was hard to predict whether it would lead to the independence of the Kashmiri people. He said it was a challenge to the leadership to exploit the situation to the benefit of the country. About the options spelled out by the president, the former law minister said such a gesture was always reciprocal. 'Option is for both or for none'. Mr Zafar, who had played an active role in highlighting the Kashmir issue at the international level from the platform of the Kashmir Committee set up under the leadership of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan during Ms Benazir Bhutto's second term in office, said an immediate solution could not be expected even if India expressed its willingness to discuss the proposals. He was of the view that options should be linked with a timeframe as delay in the solution of the dispute would only benefit India. 'A timeframe must be the essence of our strategy'. Regarding the withdrawal by India of some of its troops from occupied Kashmir, the ruling party legislator said it was a good step but Pakistan must maintain its pressure to get the armed struggle some 'relief'. He said at this juncture it was not advisable to discuss which of the options given by President Musharraf was workable or otherwise. Such an exercise should not even be started unless New Delhi was prepared to discuss them. A prominent lawyer, Mr Zafar said in case New Delhi did not react to the options or refused to set a time line, Pakistan would be free to call for a solution in the light of its consistent stand based on the UN resolutions. Kashmiri leader Abdullah Malik said President Musharraf's proposals were an attempt to get rid of the Kashmir problem rather than get the Kashmiris their rights. Kashmiris, he emphasised, wanted accession with Pakistan and this was amply manifested again when they observed complete strike during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's maiden visit to occupied Kashmir, rejecting the economic package announced by him. He said Pakistan had substantially changed its Kashmir policy after September the 11th, which did not send a good message to the people of occupied Kashmir.He said the AJK government should assume the role of APHC's representative. An intifada (uprising) should be organized to give a boost to the freedom movement. Also, he said, an international conference should be called to elicit support for the Kashmiri people. He suspected that the United States wanted to turn the LoC into international border. But, he said, Pakistan should not agree to any step which could demoralize the people of occupied Kashmir. PPP leader Khalid Kharal questioned President Musharraf's competence to spell out options on Kashmir. He said a dictator had no right to decide the destiny of the Kashmiri people. Architect of the Kargil adventure was in no position to hold talks with India, he said of Gen Musharraf. Mr Kharal proposed that former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif should be brought back for a role in the solution to the dispute. The PPP leader recalled that several years ago Ms Benazir Bhutto had given proposals for normalization of relations between Pakistan and India which reflected her foresight. Another Kashmiri leader Ghulam Muhammad Safi said solution to the Kashmir dispute should be peaceful, just, durable and according to the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. He said when Kashmiris were willing to continue their struggle for their rights, Pakistan should not give the impression of being tired. It should not send any wrong signal to the people of occupied Kashmir which could be misinterpreted as if it was no longer in a position to face India after losing what was once East Pakistan. He said Pakistan should continue to highlight the freedom movement at the international level. PML-N MNA Khwaja Saad Rafiq said the options should have been presented to parliament for debate. He also proposed that a National Kashmir Committee should be set up where Kashmiris, political and military leaders should have representation. Saad said a man at war with his own nation had little justification to talk of the rights of Kashmiri people. LHCBA President Ahmed Awais and Brig Zafar Iqbal (retired) and PINA Secretary General Altaf Hassan Qureshi also addressed.