Implications Of APHC Leaders' Visit
24 June 2005
Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty
Karachi: THE two-week long visit of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) Delegation to Azad Kashmir and Pakistan is undoubtedly a landmark in the historical evolution of this core dispute between India and Pakistan. For the first time, representatives of the organization representing some 23 movements and groups of Kashmiris in India-held Kashmir were able to come across the Line of Control at Chakothi, travelling by the bus service initiated a few weeks ago. Though the Indian government sought initially to limit their visit to Azad Jammu and Kashmir, but by permitting meetings with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad, their visit to major cities of Pakistan, and interaction with Pakistanis in all walks of life could not but be a hugely useful learning experience for both sides. Has the visit contributed to the dialogue process, by underlining the importance of associating the people of Kashmir with it? How will this role be ensured, when India has been engaged in the farce of elections to a state assembly, within the framework of the Indian constitution? So far, India has concentrated on CBMs, and shown readiness to move forward on issues other than Kashmir, though real progress has been slow. President Musharraf values highly his personal equation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, the latter has displayed, especially during his visit to Siachen, an uncompromising approach, while playing to the gallery by voicing his wish to turn it into a 'mountain of peace.' Leaders of the APHC left us with some sobering thoughts on Kashmir. They also learnt much from their contacts, perhaps the most reassuring being that all sections of Pakistan's population, ranging from government leaders to opposition parties, and from the business and industrial elite to the man in the street were united in backing the struggle of the Kashmiris for self-determination. They also came face to face with the reality that whereas Pakistani leadership and public opinion were ready to show flexibility to facilitate a solution that was acceptable to the Kashmiris, it was India that was insisting on a solution that did not involve any map changes. Indeed, India had not matched its keenness to promote detente by any reduction in the level of repression inside occupied Kashmir. The APHC remains supportive of the dialogue process, and welcomes the various CBMs initiated, including the bus service across the Line of Control, which they utilized. However, its leaders insisted that the excessive concentration of armed forces inside Kashmir to root out the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris through brutal repression, by equating it with terrorism, did not reflect genuine sincerity on the part of India. The country which claimed to be the world's largest democracy was practising double standards in Kashmir, where it had been holding sham elections to establish puppet governments. The APHC is convinced that if the dialogue process is to remain on track, India must eliminate repression, and massive human rights violations inside Kashmir. Another aspect of the Kashmir dispute that has received emphasis from this visit is the centrality of the role of the people of Kashmir. So far, negotiations following each period of conflict and confrontation have been conducted at the state to state level between India and Pakistan. The hapless people of the state were not allowed to participate in the parleys that produced agreements like the Tashkent Declaration of 1966, following the war of 1965, and the Shimla Agreement of 1972 that followed the 1971 war. The indigenous movement that broke out in Kashmir in 1989 brought to an end a period of relative calm inside the occupied territory. With India showing little sign of heeding the popular opposition to Indian occupation, the 'year of democracy', 1989, which saw the breakdown of the Berlin Wall, witnessed the rank and file of the people of Kashmir rise up against India's forcible occupation of the state. India not only relied on ruthless repression, it also sought to characterize the resort to militancy as 'terrorism', which was inspired and supported from outside, allegedly by Pakistan. Following the end of the cold war in 1989, many analysts in the West had recognized the rise of fundamentalist Islam as the successor threat to communism. Instead of taking note of the failure to address the crises in Palestine and Kashmir caused by the denial of rights safeguarded in UN resolution going back nearly 40 years, repressive regimes in Israel and India justified resort to 'state terrorism' by categorizing freedom fighters as terrorists. The APHC has been recognized as the umbrella organization that comprises over 20 groups in Jammu and Kashmir who launched the freedom struggle. Its goal is freedom from Indian occupation, which they claim is illegal, and based on brute force. One of the founders, religious head Mirwaiz Farooq was killed but his young son, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has carried on the struggle, joined by many eminent Kashmiris who have undergone arrest, incarceration and harsh treatment while in custody. Inside Indian- held Kashmir, the APHC is the authentic voice of the people of Kashmir. The visit of their leaders has served to underline the role of the people of Kashmir in resolving this dispute, though the language of the UN resolutions suggests that they have to choose between Pakistan and India through an impartial plebiscite to be held under UN auspices. Pakistan's position on the Kashmir dispute basically rests on the UN resolutions. Recalling that it was India that took the dispute to the UN at the start of 1948, and accepted the resolutions of August 13, 1948, and January 5, 1949, the ideal resolution of the dispute would be by implementing those resolutions. However, basing itself on the accession of the Maharaja to India on October 27, 1947 (which it rejected on Junagarh), India treats the state as an integral part of its territory. The most it has been prepared to do since 1963, when detailed negotiations were held following the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, is to accept the de facto division of the state along the cease-fire line (renamed Line of Control in 1972, under the Shimla Agreement). The visit of the APHC delegation has served mainly to highlight the role of the people of Kashmir, whose wishes need to be taken into account to achieve a just and durable solution of the dispute. The resumption of the dialogue process since January 2004 has been accompanied by statements by both sides that they intend to take up all the issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, that are included in the agenda. The goal is to facilitate the establishment of friendly and good- neighbourly relations, that are essential if the priority objectives of poverty alleviation, and modernization are to be achieved in a region containing two thirds of the poorest people on earth. The second stage of the dialogue process is due to be completed by September when foreign secretaries, and later, the foreign ministers, would carry out a review of the process. It is expected that President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would meet in September in New York, when both proceed there for the UN General Assembly. During the recent visit of Foreign Minister Kasuri to Washington, President Bush had sounded a note of satisfaction over the progress achieved by Pakistan and India in their dialogue, and contrasted it with the halting progress in the comparable process in Palestine. The US has no doubt used its considerable leverage behind the scenes to encourage forward movement in South Asia, but its role has been that of a facilitator which is basically supportive of the status quo in Kashmir. With Pakistan insisting, and the APHC sharing the stand that a solution based on legitimizing the LoC would not be acceptable, the prospects of any significant breakthrough on Kashmir do not look bright. India has not even extended the scope of CBMs to cutting down on human rights violations in held Kashmir, nor has it carried out any meaningful reduction in the number of armed men it has in the state. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh adopted a stance, while visiting the Siachen glacier that insisted upon India's forward movement in 1983 being recorded on the map, before demilitarization could be agreed on. Though he did talk about turning Siachen into a 'mountain of peace', the basic Indian stance of treating the state as an integral part of India stood highlighted. The CBMs since January 2004 have greatly improved the atmosphere of relations between the two countries. However, while wanting the 'peace process' to continue, India has adhered to its own priorities, and flexibility on major issues has been shown mostly by Pakistan. The next three months, during which the current round of the composite dialogue will be concluded, will further clarify whether any real progress is being achieved on issues that matter. Hopefully the leaders, when they meet in New York in September, will have to give a fillip to real peace-making.