July 2005 News

Decision Time On Kashmir

9 July 2005
The Dawn
Tanvir Ahmad Khan

Karachi: Exemplifying the majority comment in the Indian media, the respected Indian commentator, Prem Shankar Jha, ascribed the 'breakthrough in the India-Pakistan Delhi summit to President Musharraf's willingness to replace a territory-centred approach to the resolution of the Kashmir problem with a people-centred approach that relies upon soft borders and an increasingly free social, political and economic interaction between the people of both parts of Kashmir'. A transition hailed in India as the end of Pakistan's 'irredentist claim' on the erstwhile state rooted in the religion-based division of the subcontinent. Earlier, A.G.Noorani, a more persuasive friend of the Kashmiri people than many Pakistani liberals, had argued that by consistently urging both sides to move beyond their respective 'stated positions', 'negate' extreme positions (plebiscite or the Line of Control as permanent division) and, above all, leave aside the UN resolutions, the Pakistani president had challenged the political and mental inertia of the leadership of both countries. This radical change in the Indian perception of the Pakistani leader has encouraged many Indian analysts to advise their government to re- open the question of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which once embodied the mirage of autonomy chased by Sheikh Abdullah. Revived autonomy within immutable territorial frontiers could, in this analysis, usher in a new era of friendship between the two neighbours. This optimism has generally overshadowed the diehard opinion that Pakistan cannot be trusted - a reservation that has still enough adherents in the Indian establishment to stand in the way of an early agreement on the redeployment of forces in the frozen wastes of the Boltoro-Siachen glaciers. In Pakistan, the purported abandoning of the country's traditional stand on Kashmir has caused considerable unease. A spate of articles and statements, including from former diplomats with considerable experience of dealing with the issue, has expressed apprehensions of a diverse nature, largely because of manifest asymmetry between Pakistan's unilateral concessions, which are basic and substantive, and mostly cosmetic flexibility from the Indian side. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's repeated assertion that a peaceful settlement with Pakistan precludes any redrawing of the map has led to fears of Pakistan accepting an inequitable solution. There have also been arguments that the benefits of a rapprochement between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours outweigh the price of maintaining an absolutist posture on Kashmir. Anchored in the larger effort to de- politicize and de-ideologize Pakistan's polity, the proponents of this view offer the promise of rapid economic development, alignment with the dominant forces of global power and defeat of religious extremism that threatens the country's social progress and darkens its international image. A cleverly crafted series of articles contributed by a World Bank veteran to Dawn builds a statistically- packed narrative of profit and loss attributable to Pakistani commitment to Kashmir, though this narrative gives short shrift to human aspirations for freedom and dignity. A similar calculus will make a mockery of the great anti-colonial movements of the 20th century including the heroic struggle of the Algerian and Palestinian people. The tabulation of Pakistan's disproportionate defence expenditure to project the implied assumption that by downgrading the cause of Kashmir the country would make a dramatic reduction in the defence outlay is rather naive and betrays a lack of familiarity with the real dynamics of the state of Pakistan. A former diplomat who served as foreign minister in President Musharraf's pre-election military government has struck a more balanced note. Rightly fearful that the search for a just and equitable solution of the Kashmir problem would be jeopardized by avoidable controversies, he has made an urgent plea for building a new consensus taking into account the factors that have led to a re- thinking of Pakistan's approach to the issue. Sadly though, he describes the dissenting voices as 'shrill' and feels that a 'sober analysis of the new policy' was 'lost in the confusion and cacophony of (these shrill) voices'. The process of building a consensus needs greater tolerance of the din and noise of democracy and the right to express different opinions. An authoritarian political culture and the compulsions of self-censorship noticeable among analysts, academics, journalists and media people discourage an explicit identification of the factors that inhibit national consensus even on such crucial issues as Kashmir. Most of these factors can be attenuated or modified to the advantage of the decision-makers if they are dealt with upfront. By far the biggest obstacle to a consensus on Kashmir is the larger political conflict in Pakistani society. The combative approach of President Musharraf to politics and personalities is countered by his opponents by denying altogether the legitimacy of his power, his honesty of purpose and intention and the validity of even those decisions which have served Pakistan well. The existing polarization frustrates efforts to place issues of national security and survival outside the arena of political confrontation. Another source of current unease about the Kashmir policy is the perception that President Musharraf is a man in a hurry and that Kashmir may become a victim of precipitate action liable to unacceptable consequences. Baseless as this apprehension may be, it is fortified by the all too frequent claims of his political associates that a solution of the Kashmir issue is just round the corner. By investing 2007 with a quasi-theological significance, all the president's men create the unwarranted fear that the Kashmir file may be prematurely closed on terms decidedly disadvantageous to Pakistan. Building a national consensus on foreign and security policy will remain problematic as long as the perennial tension in civil-military relations continues to be the main matrix of Pakistani politics. But there are encouraging signs that a grand compromise with India need not be too divisive. There is already a tacit consensus that problems created by the messy partition of 1947 and perpetuated by confrontational postures and doctrines are simply not amenable to resolution by military force. In India too, the doctrine of limited war, propounded by some strategic thinkers, has withered away after the military stand-off of 2002. The likely benefits of a cooperative relationship are also beginning to be perceived, though rather dimly. The real challenge now is that the projected edifice of peace and friendship is not constructed on the debris of the aspirations of the people of Kashmir. Misgivings in this regard can be considerably allayed if it is clearly acknowledged that the two countries have not yet arrived at a point where a solution acceptable to the three parties - India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir - has emerged. It is simply not decision time for the final settlement in Kashmir. Recognition of this reality has made many analysts suggest that Pakistan should wait for better times - a course of action which is neither feasible nor desirable. A better option is a proactive engagement with the Kashmir issue on the clear understanding that its solution will entail exploration of at least two distinct stages without prejudice to the historical positions of the two countries. India and Pakistan reaffirm time and again that they have made the strategic choice to sustain the present peace process through the ongoing composite dialogue. They can sanctify this commitment by entering into a solemn non-aggression pact and by negotiating strategic restraint measures. Progress in this direction would facilitate disengagement and substantial demilitarization in Jammu and Kashmir, a key concept in President Musharraf's thinking. It would also set the stage for the conceptualization of autonomy for the interim period spanning an agreed number of years. Given the ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity of Jammu and Kashmir, the substance of autonomy may vary from region to region and will have to be articulated through representative assemblies created through free elections on both sides of the Line of Control. During this interim period, Pakistan can showcase autonomy and democracy in Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas and thus demonstrate the viability of the project of a freely associated sovereign sub-state. In the Indian-administered regions the interim period should take the Kashmiris well beyond the heavily eroded Article 370 so that the elected assembly or assemblies acquire the political capability of self-governance and interaction across a softer Line of Control. India and Pakistan may establish a joint commission to facilitate and oversee this interaction in specified areas such as intra-Kashmir travel, trade and cultural exchanges. The parties concerned should use the interim period dynamically to conceptualize Kashmiri sovereignty and its linkages with either India or Pakistan or both of them. This will be a creative quest for the reconciliation of Pakistan's principled position that the final status of Kashmir will be determined by an exercise of the right of self-determination with the Indian stand that there cannot be a redrawing of the map. There are more ways than one to exercise the right of self-determination and maps can always be redrawn if the final settlement protects the core interests of all the parties. The ultimate test of the project will be the valley and parts of Jammu that have witnessed a violent struggle against an almost mythical accession to India that was never put to the vote promised in the UN resolutions. Only an ingenious construct of the sovereignty of this heartland of the old state will permit a final settlement. It is a difficult but not an impossible undertaking, particularly if the interim period leads to a fundamental transformation of India-Pakistan relations. As far as one can see today, the only hope of reviving the 1947 state as a new United States of Jammu and Kashmir lies in India and Pakistan agreeing to giving its people the choice of acceding to either state or becoming an altogether independent state with special treaties with the two subcontinental powers. Since this is an unlikely proposition, the final solution would probably comprise complex inter-relationships involving two or more quasi-independent Kashmiri states located under overarching, parallel and clearly defined super- sovereignties of India and Pakistan. It may well be that the Valley settles for an overlap of institutions that spell out the respective sovereignty of the two South Asian neighbours of Jammu and Kashmir. It will never be easy to negotiate the final status of Jammu and Kashmir, but the sincerity and resolve with which India and Pakistan can realize the intermediate stage with its emphasis on demilitarization, self-governance and political autonomy will provide the basis for a final solution. Failure to rise to this historic opportunity will put this ultimate solution beyond the grasp of the two countries for many more decades. The writer is a former foreign secretary.


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