India sets up committee on Kashmir demilitarisation
30 March 2007
New Delhi: A listless summit of South Asian nations next week may be enlivened by an India-Pakistan dialogue that could go anywhere except that New Delhi ensured on Friday that Islamabad's fear of slow progress over Kashmir was at least partly addressed. The Indian prime minister's office has announced the setting up of a committee that could presage demilitarisation of the disputed region. And although the move has its roots in Srinagar's local politics, it would serve the purpose well as a key talking point when Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz meets India's Manmohan Singh for bilateral talks on Wednesday. Significantly, the announcement on the setting up of the review committee came from the Indian prime minister's office, not the foreign ministry. One wing of the ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir wants the process to begin right away, but the other, headed by the Congress party, opposes any early move to withdraw troops from sensitive areas. The Indian foreign secretary implied that this could be a topic for discussion when he said recently that all issues under the India-Pakistan dialogue would be covered when the two prime ministers meet on the margins of the 14th Saarc summit. The statement announcing the demilitarisation committee appeared sufficiently ambiguous and it clearly indicated that a major move was neither inherent nor imminent. All it said was this 'After reviewing the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, the Government of India, in consultation with the Government of J&K, has decided to set up a mechanism to examine some of the problematic aspects of the current situation. 'The proposed mechanism would comprise an expert panel to be headed by the defence secretary. The panel would include representatives from the Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs, the Armed Forces and the J&K Government. The panel would be an expert and professional body intended to carry out an in-depth assessment of the situation. It would determine whether there is need to relocate and reconfigure security forces. While making its determination, the panel should ensure that cardinal aspects of security are not compromised in any manner.' Further, a review committee is also to be set up to undertake a review of the application of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to different areas of J&K. This would conform to legal requirements for a periodic review of the application of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. A high power committee would be headed by the defence minister which would comprise representatives of the federal government and J&K government. It is empowered to take decisions on the recommendations made by the expert panel and the review committee. Buildings and orchards in the state occupied by Indian forces would be returned to their owners or compensation paid to the wronged civilians. What might interest Mr Aziz more, however, is the implied assertion that the government would shore up a 'humane approach' among the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir. 'The existing guidelines regarding the functioning of the security forces would be reiterated and publicity given to these guidelines,' the Indian prime minister's office said. India's efforts to make terrorism a major talking point at the Tuesday-Wednesday Saarc summit have been buttressed by Sri Lanka's willingness to make it an issue at the forum. Bilaterally, however, the India-Pakistan dialogue may avoid getting bogged down in the double-edged issue. There were privately expressed views on Friday that should the issue be raised Pakistan would seek to question India closely on the probe concerning the Delhi-Attari train fire which killed citizens of both countries. Other than this, falgging transit trade, poor regional commerce, galloping energy needs, a car rally and fusion music concert have been mentioned at important briefings on the subject. This will also be one of the rare summits where no woman leader will represent any of the countries, including Afghanistan, its new entrant.