'United States Of Kashmir' May Have Grave Implications For Pakistan
3 December 2005
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad
Karachi: THE irony of October 8th earthquake is that it has hurt Kashmiri people the most but has simultaneously raised the prospects of Kashmir settlement. While the biggest-ever NATO relief operation is underway in Azad Kashmir, a sizeable US Congressional delegation-led by Congressional co-chairs of the Pakistan Caucus Republican Dan Burton and Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee-is currently here, after visiting India. In this humanitarian-cum-real-politick movement on Kashmir, a succession of Pakistani and Indian diplomatic moves tend to either dim or raise hopes about the future of Kashmir dispute, including the Indian offer of considerable quake donations to Pakistan, the Pakistani rejection of the Indian helicopters help, the rather symbolic decision by the two countries to open five relief points on the Line of Control and the Pakistani proposal of 'demilitarisation' and 'self-rule' of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Mirwaiz Speaks Out It was in this backdrop that on November 16, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference floated the idea of a 'United States of Kashmir' at a conference in New Delhi, which he elaborated in a closed door session with the visiting US Congressional delegation in the Indian Capital last week. Mirwaiz's roadmap for the 'United States of Kashmir' envisages demilitarisation by both India and Pakistan, ceasefire by militants and consensus between all shades of Kashmir opinion for a negotiated settlement. Such first-ever peace overtures from APHC and Pakistani leadership, resting essentially on the premise of Indo-Pak demilitarisation as a starting point of eventual self rule for the Kashmiri people-fine-tuned to the South Asian visit of the US Congressional delegation and somehow based upon the similar conclusions reached by a US-based Kashmir Study Group some years ago- have naturally led to speculations that something 'sinister' may be under way over Kashmir. The New York-based Kashmir Study Group (KSG) was established in 1996. It is headed by an Indian American businessman Farooq Kathwari and consists of 25 members with political, diplomatic and academic backgrounds, who extensively interact with the parties to the Kashmir conflict. KSG Report In its 1997 report, titled Kashmir at Fifty: Charting the Path to Peace, the KSG had stated that 'progress towards the restoration of normal civil life involves, first and foremost, a commitment to the substantial 'demilitarization' of the civilian-inhabited areas of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in other words, to the imposition of significant curbs on and, if possible, termination of the whole array of insurgent and counter-insurgent 'military' activity. Without calling it the 'United States of Kashmir,' the KSG report had stated that '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.' Pakistan's own traditional perceptions of Kashmir are that it is essentially an unfinished chapter of the Partition of 1947, and that if Kashmiri people would most likely choose to be a part of Pakistan if they are given the political option of deciding their future freely under a UN- supervised plebiscite. Given that, it is but natural for the public opinion in the country to see a conspiracy behind clarion calls such as the 'United States of Kashmir' even if they are being issued by the most trusted leadership of a truly representative Kashmiri organisation such as the APHC amid the ongoing humanitarian relief effort in Azad Kashmir. Northern Areas' Status From purely Pakistan's standpoint, the exercise of the 'United States of Kashmir' option carries a grave danger, and that pertains to the future of Northern Areas which since 1973 have come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. India includes these regions in the 'State of Jammu and Kashmir, so do nationalist Kashmiri organisations such as the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). And, from Mirwaiz's remarks at the November 16 Delhi conference, it is clear that his 'United States of Kashmir' would be inclusive of the Northern Areas. Mirwaiz stated, 'We deprecate raising of quasi-legal or pseudo-legal questions during the preparatory phase about the final settlement.' Then, on Monday, in an interview with the London-based Asharq Al- Awsat, he said the 'United States of Kashmir' would include all religious communities in the disputed territory enjoy equal representation.' The inclusion of Northern Areas in a 'United States of Kashmir' could have two grave repercussions for Pakistan-first from the point of view of Pakistan's own territorial integrity and, secondly, with reference to Pakistan's longer-term strategic relations with China. In the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar, Northern Areas were initially excluded from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. However, later, the Hindu Dogra rulers of the princely state were allowed to administer them on behalf of the British for reasons of access. However, the people of Northern Areas did not accept the suzerainty of Dogras, who exercised meaningless control over the region through a British Political Agent based in Gilgit or through local princes of the vassal states such as Hunza and Nagar. NA People's Aspirations In 1935, the British got these territories on lease for a 60-year period from the Dogras. The lease was cancelled, as the British decided to partition the Subcontinent. Afterwards, the Dogras tried to re-assert their political control over the Northern Areas, but its people fought valiantly, liberating the region and then willingly acceding to Pakistan a few months after independence. Now divided into five districts-Gilgit, Skardu, Diamer, Ganche and Ghezer-the Northern Areas come under the jurisdiction of the federal government of Pakistan. Neither territorially nor ethnically or culturally, the people of Northern Areas have any similarity with the Kashmiri people. The authorities in Azad Jammu and Kashmir have many times tried to extend their administrative control over the region, by securing some legal verdicts from the Azad Jammu and Kashmir High Court, but these attempts have been resisted successfully by the people of the Northern Areas through appeals in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The country's 1973 Constitution places under its jurisdiction 'such states or territories as are or may be included in Pakistan, whether by accession or otherwise.' However, despite growing demand by Northern Areas people for greater local and central representation, Islamabad has not yet given full political rights to them-even though the level of their local representation during the successive civilian and military rules in Pakistan has indeed increased. Sino-Pak Agreement The implications of the 'United States of Kashmir' option on Sino-Pak strategic ties hail from the nature of the 1963 Sino-Pakistan border agreement on the demarcation of the Northern Areas, which covered a stretch of China's southern frontier extending over 300 kilometres from the tri-junction of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China's Xinjiang province eastward to the Karakoram pass. Under terms of the agreement, the Government of Pakistan relinquished claims to over 4,000 square kilometres of territory, no part of which was under its actual control, in return for China's cession to Pakistan of over 1,300 square kilometres of territory actually administered by China. The agreement's preamble described the territory lying south of the agreed boundary as 'the contiguous areas the defence of which is under the actual control of Pakistan,' not as Pakistani territory. The agreement's Article 6 links the question of permanent demarcation of the boundary with the Kashmir settlement. It states: 'The two Parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned with reopen negotiations with the Government of the People's Republic of China on the boundary, as described in Article II of the present Agreement, so as to sign a formal boundary treaty to replace the present Agreement, provided that, in the event of that sovereign authority being Pakistan, the provisions of the present Agreement and of the aforesaid protocol shall be maintained in the formal boundary treaty to be signed between the People's Republic of China and Pakistan.' India's Stand India has always claimed outright all the territories ruled by the last Hindu Maharaja of the state of Jammu and Kashmir by virtue of his controversial accession to India upon the lapse of British paramountcy over the Indian princely states in 1947. These territories, according to the Indian claim, included not only the state of Jammu and Kashmir proper, but also all the trans-Indus territories (including Ladakh, Baltistan, Gilgit and, in some formulations, even Chitral district in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province). In spite of the fact that China successfully wrested the Aksai Chin region of Ladakh from India in the short war of 1962 and, furthermore, that Pakistan has been in continuous control of the Northern Areas and Azad Jammu and Kashmir ever since independence, all of these territories are still depicted on Indian maps as belonging to India. In retrospect, therefore, the exercise of the 'United States of Kashmir' option, even if the idea is floated by the APHC leadership, could have a couple of grave domestic political and regional geopolitical repercussions for Pakistan. Implications for Pakistan The first implication emanates from the fact that the people of Northern Areas do not consider themselves as part of the Jammu and Kashmir State. For that, there are both legalistic and moral arguments, as mentioned above. Related to the first implication is the fact that these areas have been included in the Pakistani federation, notwithstanding their politically ambiguous status. The second implication is clear from the 1963 Sino-Pak agreement. More importantly, the Karakoram Highway cutting across the Northern Areas provides a strategic road link between China and Pakistan. Therefore, the establish-ment of a 'United States of Kashmir' inclusive of Northern Areas could once and for all separate Pakistan geographically from its time-tested strategic partner China.