December 2005 News

An Out-of-box Kashmir Solution

30 December 2005
The News International
M Ismail Khan

Islamabad: Autonomy and demilitarisation - take it or leave it. This is as simple and straight as any Pakistani government may ever afford to offer on Kashmir. Let us hope that Indian leaders will have the vision and guts to grab the opportunity. If they don't, it is India who will have to regret in the years to come - just as they are today regretting their decision to climb up the Siachen glacier without knowing how to get down from there. The cost of hanging on to the status quo over Kashmir is too high for South Asia in general and India in particular. Delhi's 'take it easy' reaction to this 'mother of all proposals' by President Musharraf is unfortunate, to say the least. It is correct that the idea has been shared at a time when Pakistan-controlled Kashmir is in disarray following the earthquake of October 8. It is also right that the level of political autonomy currently available to Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas is far from satisfactory, but Indian Foreign Office should have risen above the 'Cold War' mindset, and should have wholeheartedly welcomed the suggestion, just as they did for the five intra-Kashmir crossing points. The October 8 earthquake is a divine opportunity for the two countries to workout an honourable exit from this historical predicament. Pakistan has demonstrated courage to move beyond the Security Council resolutions and plebiscite; India must not chew its oft-repeated rhetoric of 'making borders irrelevant.' One really doesn't understand India's insistence for 'behind the scene negotiations, and or action on written proposals only' tactic. Guess, that is how India's democracy operates these days, from Natwar Singh's alleged behind the scene activities in Iraq's food for oil programme and other underhand ministerial activities routinely exposed by, it seems that this overly secretive attitude by Indian establishment is something Islamabad will have to bear within the days to come. On the other hand, Pakistan has been consistent, vocal and transparent in its moves on the Kashmir issue, which is the right course to tackle a deeply politicised and publicised dispute such as Kashmir. Just as both countries have been encouraging increased people to people contacts, it is imperative that public in India, Pakistan and various parts of Jammu and Kashmir are fully informed of the emerging thinking at the highest level. Said that, let me warn you that I am not a so-called Kashmir expert, I am not a Kashmiri either, I and around a million poor folks in the Northern Areas are mere collateral damage of the Kashmir dispute. My interest in the debate primarily stems from a desire to right the wrong inflicted on my own innocent people in particular, and millions of Kashmiris and poor South Asians in general. At home in the Northern Areas, we are at a loss to understand on what basis our most fundamental human and political rights have been denied for the last 57 years. I am not a politician either; it is sheer coincidence that as a civil society member I got an opportunity to take part in the people to people exchanges on Kashmir in the year 2005. I had the opportunity to sit with the Hurriyat leaders in Srinagar, listen to the nationalist Kashmiri leaders' dreams of a United States of Kashmir in Jammu and Muzaffarabad, and hear the apologists running governments on both sides. I also met many Kashmiri mujahideen waging liberation struggle, Kashmiri pundits living in exile, and people like Dr. Kiran Singh, son of Maharaja Hari Singh, and Sardar Qayyum Khan, mujahid-e-awal-turned-statesmen. Due to this interaction, I can comfortably profess that 'if India and Pakistan do not move decidedly towards a settlement of Kashmir dispute in 2006, the two countries will find themselves grappling with the same set of problems, at least till 2066. One can say that if it was so easy an issue to resolve, it would have happened long ago. But I would insist that at this point in history we look forward rather than look backward on Kashmir. I would rather draw your attention to an ominous development in Jammu and Kashmir, which seems to have gone almost unnoticed on both sides of the divide. Ladakh as you might be aware is one large chunk of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. Here an election for the autonomous body, Ladakh Hill Development Council, was held in October 2005, in which the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) -a nationalist party that has been struggling to get Ladakh declared as a Union Territory (UT), reporting to Delhi, won 25 out of 26 seats, while the mainstream Congress Party managed only one seat. It was a cleansweep by those who would like to see Ladakh developing as an independent province within India and separated from Jammu & Kashmir. Please remember that out of 84,471 sq miles of the princely state disintegrated in 1947, Gilgit-Baltistan (Northern Areas) and Ladakh cover 63, 554 sq miles. From the election result it is clear that Ladakh, particularly the Buddhist dominated Leh district, does not want to remain part of the Jammu & Kashmir. On the other hand, there is no way that Pakistan could think of negotiating the strategically critical Gilgit-Baltistan or the Northern Areas, which houses a highway to Beijing and has important natural resources. Jammu, 12,378 sq miles, is predominantly Hindu and would be least interested in becoming an integral part of Muslim dominated United States of Kashmir. What is left are 8, 539 sq miles of Kashmir Valley and its surrounding hilly areas, which include the 5,134 sq miles of Azad Kashmir. Thus, there is very little scope for revival of Maharaja Hari Singh type unitary authority in the State. Therefore, for all practical purposes, solution to the dispute depends on a formula which could offer a sense of vindication to competing parties in Kashmiri speaking Kashmir Valley controlled by India and non- Kashmiri speaking Azad Kashmir in Pakistan. Given, the ground situation in Ladakh, Jammu and Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan), the two governments and Kashmiris need to focus on finding common grounds on Azad Kashmir and Kashmir Valley. If India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders can seize the extraordinary facesaving opportunity provided by the earthquake, following steps may lead to a win-win solution for all competing parties in the Kashmir dispute: 1. Continue with increased people to people interaction, opening of more crossing points along the LOC to facilitate local interaction and revival of social, economic and cultural contacts. 2. Immediate release of political prisoners, and a general amnesty for dissidents. 3. Complete ceasefire, and inclusion of freedom fighters-militant leaders, who have actually fought for a cause, in the negotiation process and on the dialogue table. 4. Timetable for a phased withdrawal of troops from the main population centres on both sides, establishment of a locally raised security set-up and eventual withdrawal of regular and paramilitary force from Kashmir Valley and Azad Kashmir. 5. Create necessary administrative mechanisms to regulate intra-Kashmir trade, travel and communication etc. 6. India to carry out necessary amendments in the constitution to curve out Jammu and Ladakh as new provinces. Necessary boundary adjustments should be made regarding Poonch and Rajouri in J&K, and Kargil and Baltistan in India and Pakistan. 7. India to allow a fully empowered and Independent Kashmir Province headquartered at Srinagar, Pakistan to also make Azad Kashmir an Independent Kashmir Province 8. Free and fair election on both parts of Independent Kashmir Provinces under international monitors and supervision of the two countries. 9. Establishment of a Joint Council or Assembly comprised of elected members from both parts of Kashmir Provinces, which could meet regularly and deliberate on a concurrent list of subjects. 10. Northern Areas to become a separate province of Pakistan, and to be granted adequate representation in the both houses of Pakistan's parliament. 11. Soft borders within Jammu, Ladakh, Kashmir and the Northern Areas, and also with the bordering provinces of India and Pakistan to enable cross-border trade and interaction of the people. 12. A time line, based on mutual agreement of the Kashmiris for eventual unification of the two Kashmir Provinces as one Independent Province under a special arrangement and relationship with both Pakistan and India. The writer is a development consultant and analyst from the Northern Areas


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