December 2005 News

The 'autonomy' Option On Kashmir

1 December 2005
The Daily Times

Islamabad: Pakistan and India are supposed to be talking about demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir (both sides) without going public on the details. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has also added 'self-rule' to demilitarisation, and reports from India say a visiting US Congressmen's delegation is talking about the 'autonomy package' as laid out in the Kashmir Study Group report of 2000. There is speculation that the United States might be behind the latest move on Kashmir in the wake of the call made by most countries in the West that Pakistan and India should patch up for good after the big earthquake in Kashmir. In the background is the joint Indo-Pak grouse that their minimal conditions for a final solution have not been met: Pakistan is still not curbing terrorism, says India; and India is still not responding to concessions made by Pakistan in the peace process since 2003, says Pakistan. Pakistan's complaint is that India hasn't given an inch on the 'agreed' basket on Kashmir within the peace process whereas Pakistan has been allowing the CBMs that India keeps putting forward as atmosphere-facilitators and builders of mutual trust. On the Pakistani side there is an overt insistence on quid pro quo, which is simply a throwback to the old days when bilateral talks were weighed carefully in the scales of give and take. On the other side, India has not moved on Kashmir at all and has dragged its feet on the secondary disputes. Critics do not give much importance to India agreeing to open five points on the LoC because of the inordinate delay involved. But this ignores the fact that in terms of 'signalling', this concession indirectly supports Pakistan's rejection of the LoC as a permanent divider. The demobilisation overture is more Kashmiri-specific than India and Pakistan would have liked in the past. It means the armies will have to get out of territories on both sides of Jammu and Kashmir. But, in the context of Indian-held Kashmir, it is aimed at reducing violence there in the short term. (The armies can always go back.) As for 'self-rule' or autonomy for Kashmir, we have been there before. In 1996, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had sought to hold New Delhi to the promise by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao of 'autonomy short of independence'. He got committees to spell out the nature of the autonomy he wanted for J&K but got nowhere. In 2000, Farooq Abdullah met his namesake Farooq Kathwari, head of the New York-based Kashmir Study Group, to discuss the Study Group's report. The report contained five proposals for the creation of 'one or two' new states which would together constitute a 'sovereign entity but one without international personality'. Five years ago the critics in India did not take too kindly to the Study Group report. The report said: 'The new entity would have its own secular, democratic constitution as well as its own citizenship, flag and legislature, which would legislate on all matters other than defence and foreign affairs... India and Pakistan would be responsible for the defence of the Kashmir entity, which would itself maintain police and gendarme forces for internal law and order purposes. India and Pakistan would be expected to work out financial arrangements for the Kashmir entity, which include a currency of its own'. The Indian critics thought that the US was trying to impose its own formula on India through the Kashmir Study Group. They saw the 'redrawing' of internal boundaries of the 'two entities' as another version of the Chenab Formula that an ex-foreign secretary of Pakistan, Niaz A Naik was discussing with New Delhi when the BJP was in power. In 2000, Ali Gilani was predictably the only Kashmiri leader from the APHC to approve of the 'autonomy' formula. Today, however, the APHC is more 'liberated' in its views, and what began with Farooq Abdullah may conceivably be owned by most of them. Already, Farooq Abdullah's son Omar Abdullah has met with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (the third Farooq in the game) to compare notes. The meeting is seen in India and Pakistan as a significant removal of a grand split among the Muslims of Indian- held Kashmir. Will India and Pakistan swallow this? We have seen India buckling under US pressure on Iran as never before. We already know President Pervez Musharraf as perceiving Pakistan's self- interest in 'out-of-the-box' proposals emanating in the West. But on both sides bureaucratic resistance is strong, and in Pakistan politics is horribly polarised on the issue. People who want peace in South Asia however should welcome the new moves no matter where they come from.


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