December 2005 News

Self-governance And Demilitarisation Of Kashmir

6 December 2005
The News International
Imtiaz Alam

Islamabad: New Delhi is perturbed over what it calls continuing cross-border terrorism. The New Delhi bomb blasts, in particular, have created a bad taste and left many in India confused about Islamabad's real intentions. By twisting our arm, they retort, you will get nothing. Given this dejection, no one is ready to go beyond asking some cursory questions about President Pervez Musharraf's proposal on self- governance for Kashmir and the region's demilitarisation, even though many admit that this latest proposal has remarkably narrowed the gap between the two positions. An element of curiosity is, however, discernable behind the expressionless faces: What does this 'self- governance' mean and how can demilitarisation take place while militants continue to play havoc with peace and security?Like 'azadi', experts in New Delhi are at a loss to understand the meaning of 'self-governance'. It's already there, more than any in state in India they insist, adding that the same is non-existent in Pakistan- administered AJK and the Northern Areas. The more intelligent will tell you, yes, we have committed mistakes and should have adhered to the original Nehru-Abdullah pact on autonomy for Kashmir. And those with a greater sense of history will ask from you, as if you have a brief from the great general himself, where does it start and where does it end. But, unlike Pakistan where you get the impression from newspapers and the daily statements of top leaders that the Kashmir dispute is about to be resolved, New Delhi is keeping unquietly mum. The concern being expressed regarding cross-border terrorism is immense and widespread, especially after the Delhi bombing. Of course, New Delhi can't think of demilitarising a disputed territory, especially when it is under siege by the militancy. However, to silence the gun, it is imperative that the militant outfits are convinced about the benefits of Kashmiris participating in the negotiation process and bringing into the mainstream those who are willing to bid farewell to arms. Engagement of one faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in the negotiations is no doubt a step forward, but not enough to break the stalemate. A ceasefire from all sides must follow general amnesty for the native militants. On the other hand, both Pakistan and India must together take measures to stop violence, be it by militant outfits or security forces. The burden is on Pakistan to fulfil its commitment to not let territory under its control be used for cross-border terrorism. For militants to take a back seat, it is necessary that the political leadership of various regions of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir is brought forward and engaged in the dialogue process. Unfortunately, the men with guns had rendered the political leadership ineffective. Now is the time for politicians from across all spectrums of opinion to capture centre-stage. The opportunity provided by the earthquake has almost been lost. Yet the opening of five points along the Line of Control (LoC) can be put to maximum use for enhanced people-to-people contact. For that to happen Islamabad must show its readiness to do more to stop cross-border infiltration. With more confidence-building measures focusing on Jammu and Kashmir, a situation can be created to further soften the LoC, allowing Kashmiris to interact among themselves and weigh the different options that serve their aspirations without offending New Delhi and Islamabad. Such a situation will provide a unique opportunity to India and Pakistan to take the process of reconciliation forward. Such a process, uninterrupted by violence, can eventually produce a solution that is acceptable to all three parties to the conflict. Showing flexibility, the Indian leadership has expressed a commitment to explore possible options on Kashmir, except the 'redrawing of borders' and a 'second partition'. Since turning the LoC into a permanent international border is not acceptable to Pakistan or to the Kashmiris, a middle course can be found through an innovative approach. There are various successful examples that can be studied to find a solution to the Kashmir dispute that is satisfactory for both India and Pakistan and, above all, the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Indeed, what Pakistan should appreciate is that India can neither afford nor tolerate a division of J&K on religious lines. Given the new emphasis on the will of the Kashmiri people in Pakistan's new moderate position, a solution that permanently divides the people of the former princely state will not be acceptable to most people in all the distinct regions of J&K. Therefore, efforts to find a solution should be focused on such solutions and plans that have successfully tackled such conflicts elsewhere. And there is more than one example of such options. But for that to happen, India will have to be ready to rethink its position. It may be quite difficult for a status quo power, but essential for peace and friendly coexistence in the subcontinent. There are half a dozen models that can be examined and creatively adopted to the needs of J&K. If the solution to the Territory of Trieste, over which Yugoslavia and Italy shared sovereign rights, may appear to be a 'communal division' to Indians, they can consider Andorra, a principality claimed by Spain and France, as a model. If New Delhi does not accept that, since it may ultimately give J&K an almost independent status, it could consider the solution found to the South Tryol dispute between Italy and Austria. Now South Tryol enjoys a high degree of autonomy that India can concede (since it claims that the sky is the limit in terms of autonomy) to its part of semi-sovereign J&K that should, in turn, be allowed to freely interact with the Pakistani side of Kashmir, including the formation of joint federating councils and other administrative institutions. Other solutions can be blended with existing models such as Aaland Island, a territory disputed by Sweden and Finland, and the Sami Parliamentary Assembly, a joint platform of regional parliaments of the Sami people spread across the northern regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The Basque leader Jose Ibarretxe's proposal for 'shared sovereignty and free association' can also be suitably adopted without formally compromising Indian and Pakistani territorial claims over J&K. The Good Friday Agreement to resolve Northern Island's status can be yet another model for a solution to the dispute over Kashmir. The real issue is that India and Pakistan must think out of the box and adopt an innovative approach to tackle the Kashmir problem. If that happens, not only will a grand mass of the people of India and Pakistan benefit, but also the hapless Kashmiris. But, most importantly, let the process continue, be patient and let the Kashmiris create a new ground reality across a softened LoC. The window that the Muzaffarabad- Srinagar bus service opened and was further broadened with the opening of five more points should be expanded to all other routes allowing the people of adjoining districts and regions to mix freely. They should also be allowed to set up trade and consultative bodies for the development of their areas. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan should engage in more confidence-building measures to improve the security and human rights situation in J&K. There are no quick-fix solutions. Nor can any solution agreed to by all parties be implemented in the short term. An amicable solution can be found through a protracted process during which all sides continue to overcome their trust deficits. The composite dialogue process should tackle other Indo-Pak issues and also find a solution to the Kashmir dispute. If India and Pakistan rise above their decades-old bellicosity, they can not only handle their most thorny issues but also set a good example of bilateral partnership in numerous other spheres. If the time for the solution of the Kashmir issue has still not arrived, at least the time for having an open-hearted debate has come. The proposal for self-governance and demilitarisation is crucial. It means much more than what the Kashmiris have got and less than what can jeopardise the sovereignty of the two nations not willing to leave Kashmiris on their own. Pakistan has made a beginning, so should India.


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