Kashmiri Leaders' Visit In Retrospect
22 June 2005
The Daily Times
Islamabad: India claims that Kashmir is a bilateral matter... It refuses to recognise Kashmiris as a party... The Pakistani position in the matter appears to converge with India's. This explains the insertion of the expression 'to the satisfaction of both sides 'in the Islamabad Declaration The nine-member delegation of Kashmiri leaders is back in the Indian-occupied Kashmir after an historic trip to Pakistan during which it interacted with the Pakistani leadership and a cross-section of the Pakistani society. On reaching Srinagar, former Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Omar Farooq called it very successful. He observed that there was 'complete solidarity … in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Occupied Kashmir and … a similar unanimity of approach in the Pakistani leadership'. He expressed hope that the Indian government would let all three parties to the dispute participate in the peace dialogue. What was the purpose of this visit? What are the chances of the dialogue process involving the Kashmiri leadership moving forward? President Pervez Musharraf has taken a lot of flak from the opposition parties since he took a U-turn on Kashmir and made gratuitous concessions to India in pursuance of his new policy. He invited the Kashmiri leaders - most of whom share his new thinking - to silence his detractors. The APHC leaders did not disappoint him. They gave a blanket endorsement to his new policy. The reality check on Kashmir, brought about by statements of the visiting delegation, has not only taken wind out of opposition's sails but perhaps also made the Pakistani public somewhat less idealistic in its thinking on Kashmir. However, the visit cannot be called an unqualified success for the reason that veteran Kashmiri leader Ali Shah Geelani, regarded by many as the authentic voice of Kashmiris, refused to jump onto the Kashmiri leaders' bandwagon to Pakistan. He also denounced Musharraf's new policy as a betrayal of the Kashmir cause. Rather than an out-of-the- box solution, he continues to argue for a settlement based on the UN resolutions on Kashmir. Musharraf says the Kashmiri leaders who do not 'cooperate' will be left behind. It is not clear however whether or not this assessment is well founded because. There is after all a large body of opinion both in Kashmir and Pakistan that still believes in the plebiscite. It has the potential to spoil Musharraf's party. As far the Kashmiri leaders, beyond the 'consultation' with the Pakistani leaders, they were motivated by the desire to be acknowledged as a party to the Kashmir dispute. They expressed the desire the moment they crossed the Line of Control and constantly harped on this theme during their stay in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. Speaking on behalf of the group, Mirwaiz emphasised the need for taking Kashmiris into confidence by engaging them as equal partners in the dialogue process. More specifically, since India was not agreeable to tripartite talks, he favoured triangular talks between Kashmiris and Pakistan, Kashmiris and India and Pakistan and India. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it accepts Kashmiris as a party to the dispute. Musharraf and other Pakistani leaders have categorically stated that no Kashmir solution would be durable without involving Kashmiris in the dialogue process. However, the degree of involvement that Pakistan favours is somewhat ambiguous. Earlier, Pakistan had advocated a seat at the negotiating table for the Hurriyat leaders. However, during the Kashmiri leaders' visit, President Musharraf stopped short of reiterating this demand. Instead, he stated that Kashmiris' wishes and aspirations should be taken into consideration in the search for a solution of the Kashmir imbroglio. India claims that Kashmir is a bilateral matter between the two countries. It refuses to recognise Kashmiris as a party because it affects its claim on Kashmir being an integral part of the Union. It expresses readiness to talk to them but within the framework of the Indian Constitution. The Indian government is not likely to agree to involve them in tripartite talks because that would signify that India has lost half the battle on Kashmir. The Pakistani position in the matter appears to converge with India's. This explains the insertion of the expression 'to the satisfaction of both sides 'in the Islamabad Declaration. Thus the two countries envisage consultations with Kashmiris, but deny them a seat at the negotiating table. Both Musharraf and Mirwaiz have interpreted the Kashmiri leaders' visit in terms of India's acceptance of Kashmiris as a party to the dispute and Kashmir as a disputed territory. The interpretation appears to have a de facto validity. This is the reason the former Indian prime minister, Vajpayee, recently denounced Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for permitting Kashmiri leaders to visit Pakistan. However, formally, India denies this interpretation. In our opinion, Pakistan government's claiming the diplomatic victory from the visit was utterly counterproductive. India reacted to it for domestic reasons. Incidentally, this is not the first time the Pakistan government has made such a statement in order to gain political mileage. In the past too such bragging has always resulted in India immediately denying it the victory it was seeking. One thing emerging from the Kashmiri leaders' visit was their identity of views with Musharraf on the UN resolutions. For all practical purposes both have jettisoned them in favour of an out-of-the-box solution. However, the motivating factors in the two cases are different. Kashmiris repudiate them because they exclude the independence option. Some of them have argued that the resolutions negate their right to self- determination. Pakistan, on the other hand, appears to have jettisoned them as historical deadwood, which, in its opinion, was a stumbling block in the way of conflict resolution. In any case, pronouncements by the Kashmiri leaders are the last nail in the coffin of Pakistan's traditional position on these resolutions. Another thing emerging from the visit is the fact that some Kashmiri leaders equate Pakistan with India. At one point during the visit, Mirwaiz accused both Indian and Pakistani agencies of dividing the APHC. During the seminar on Kashmir organised by daily Dawn, former foreign minister Agha Shahi asked the Kashmiri leaders not to equate Pakistan with India. Notwithstanding his advice, the statement by Mirwaiz signifies that Kashmiris appear to charter a destiny other than that envisaged for them by Pakistan. Finally, the pro- activeness with which Musharraf has handled the Kashmir issue before and during the Kashmiri leaders' visit has made him look candid and keen for resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Vajpayee hinted at this in the letter that he wrote to Manmohan Singh in the wake of the Kashmiri leaders' visit when he suggested that India had allowed Pakistan to wrest the initiative on Kashmir. The Indian government will be under considerable pressure by the international community in the weeks and months to come to match the sincerity shown by Musharraf. Whether or not India does that is anybody's guess.