December 2005 News

Self-government And Kashmir

27 December 2005
The Daily Times

Islamabad: India has finally disclosed that it has received Pakistan's proposals for self-governance in Kashmir. In an interview to an Indian TV channel, National Security Adviser MK Narayanan has said that the two sides are holding back-channel discussions on the issue. He also said that diplomats on both sides would refine and hone the current proposals before they could become a part of the composite dialogue process for a more formal discussion and a possible decision. 'We have a back channel. We have experienced diplomats as part of it and if they (Pakistan) come forward and give specifics about self- governance, then we can probably look at it,' Mr Narayanan was quoted by the channel as saying. However, Mr Narayanan ruled out any imminent move to de-militarise the Kashmir region, saying that violence and infiltration remained a major concern in Jammu and Kashmir. What should we make of this? First, it is commendable that India is studying the Pakistani proposal(s). When the Pakistani prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, spoke on the sidelines of the SAARC conference in Dhaka about self-governance in J&K, India's response was cold. At the conference and later, India'a prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, said that India had held regular elections in J&K and the state enjoyed self-government. This point was also made by other Indian officials, suggesting that the idea of 'self-governance' was a non-starter. Therefore we are happy to note that India is looking at the proposal and back channel efforts are afoot to refine it and make it a part of the dialogue process. On the downside, however, the issue of de-militarisation remains. Self-government cannot flourish under the bayonets. India insists that infiltration continues; indeed, that its scale may have gone up. This is an area where Pakistan needs to ensure that India's concerns are adequately addressed. The policy of infusing people into J&K has no dividends any longer. Given the new dynamics, it is in Pakistan's interest to ensure that no infiltration takes place. Islamabad must deprive India of this pretext for continued heavy presence of troops. There is another dimension to this issue. Self-government is equally important for Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas. It is a forgone conclusion that India would use this argument in any talks on self-government. While AJK is not burning as Indian-administered J&K did, some technical merits of the Indian argument cannot be ignored in any discussion of meaningful self-government. AJK's affairs are conducted primarily by the Federal Ministry for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas to whose wishes the AJK legislature and executive have to bow. The case of the Northern Areas is even worse. The AJK Supreme Court has ruled that the Northern Areas are part of Kashmir. The Supreme Court of Pakistan in its 1999 verdict observed that the Northern Areas had been kept in limbo and must be fully integrated into Pakistan. By this verdict, while the SC sought to ameliorate the plight of the Northern Areas, it also implicitly rubbished the AJK SC ruling. These issues will definitely come up for discussion when the two sides begin to refine the self-government proposals. A good step on the Pakistani side would be to follow through on its policy of involving the Kashmiris on both sides. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of the APHC, has been shuttling between India and Pakistan and has some proposals that dovetail with the Pakistani insistence on self-government. However, clearly, any such formula would need to be applied equally to AJK and the Northern Areas and not just the part that has been groaning under Indian jackboots. Pakistan therefore needs to brace itself for making changes in the way it deals with its own side of Kashmir. To this end, pre-emption would be a good policy. Islamabad knows what the Mirwaiz has up his sleeve. If the moderate APHC and Islamabad are in step with each other, the Mirwaiz could help Pakistan make the changes that could strengthen Islamabad's hands in any negotiations on the self- government issue. Since the proposal has come from Pakistan, it would be fair to expect that Islamabad has done its homework and would be able to draw advantage out of it.


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