PDP Sees No Role For Pakistan

2 December 2009
The Indian Express
Seema Mustafa

New Delhi: People’s Democratic Party leader Muzaffer Baig has been spending considerable time in Delhi recently to gain support for his party’s autonomy proposal for Jammu and Kashmir. An articulate and sober politician, Baig has impressed many with his reasoned and substantive presentations and is now planning visits to several other cities in what is clearly an attempt to build a consensus. The PDP autonomy document is different from that of the National Conference in that the latter wants almost the entire Constitution of India rolled back, while the former has specified Articles that it does not want Jammu and Kashmir to be governed by in a bid to give the state more autonomy. But as Baig takes care to point out, the PDP is positive about retaining all those Articles in the Constitution necessary to protect secularism, democracy and the rule of law in the state. Interestingly, the PDP formula for autonomy does not envisage a role for Pakistan as it can be achieved entirely by discussions between New Delhi and Srinagar. Pakistan becomes relevant only in the proposal to increase trade and business relations between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan occupied Kashmir through a soft border. The scrapping of the relevant Articles as proposed by the PDP will give Jammu and Kashmir a Prime Minister, it will prevent the Centre from passing legislation over and above the laws of the state, it will prevent the Centre from dismissing elected state governments and it will also bring back Article 370 in its original form. Baig and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti have been campaigning for the acceptance of their report, and have met BJP and Congress leaders on this. There are several aspects in the proposal that could form the basis for discussions here, and perhaps even re-define autonomy for the state. Baig takes special care to speak of the rehabilitation of Kashmiri pandits, making it clear over and over again that this was necessary for any autonomy proposal to work for the state. The PDP has suggested provincial legislatures for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh separately to work directly towards answering the aspirations of the local people. If the various elements of autonomy are sold successfully to the people, the role of Pakistan becomes minimal.In fact, the only role for Pakistan apart from helping facilitate trade and commerce between the two Kashmirs will be to control terrorism so that any agreement between Srinagar and New Delhi bears fruit, and also allows the displaced Kashmiri pandits to return to their homes. This, of course, will be the crux of the problem, and Baig and Mehbooba Mufti are of the view that this would be achievable if India offers to help them deal with terrorism in the region, even as it negotiates peace within Jammu and Kashmir. But for this to succeed, the leadership in Pakistan along with the military and the ISI must first realise and admit that terrorism will wreck that country, and that it needs to be controlled urgently. This realisation has dawned on some, but not all sections in Pakistan, with the presence of the Americans and the ongoing war in Afghanistan making it increasingly difficult to convince the ordinary man that Pakistan’s route to progress lies in tackling and defeating terrorism. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram is handling the back channel negotiations with Jammu and Kashmir and was on record at one point asking, “What is the need for a third party?” in a reference to Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on the other hand, is of the view that first talks with Pakistan should yield results, and only after that can New Delhi and Srinagar even begin negotiations on autonomy. In this case Singh’s approach is questionable, and more akin to the US that has been nudging and pushing for a resolution of the Kashmir issue by India and Pakistan. The moderate Hurriyat faction is on board for a dialogue with New Delhi, with representative Abdul Ghani Bhat endorsing talks at a recent seminar in the national capital. He made it clear that he was favourably inclined towards the PDP autonomy proposal, and that it could be a basis for further discussions. Hurriyat chairperson Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, however, has added the factor of China to the complex situation maintaining that it could be involved in seeking a solution for Kashmir. Baig was clear publicly that there is no place for China in the discussions, maintaining that a new stakeholder that is “illegally” holding land belonging to Jammu and Kashmir should not be added at this stage. Of course, hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani has been resisting talks within India, and has been drawing crowds in the Valley for what many insist is a “principled stand.” The UPA government has let loose several negotiators within Jammu and Kashmir, with most of them reporting back to the home minister. The stage has been prepared and the separatists excluding Gilani and at the moment Shabir Shah who can be brought around, are willing to talk to the Centre. The spade work has been done but the government has still not taken a decision. The dialogue was to begin this month, but there are no signs that the government has developed the political will it will take to bring all sides finally to the negotiating table. The ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ continue to rankle the UPA, even though the negotiators and the Kashmiri separatists had agreed that as immediate first steps to gain confidence and trust the government would pull back some troops and release some political prisoners as soon as the dialogue began. A basic draft for the talks had also been worked out. Observers are now worried that further delay could bring an end to this opportunity as well, pointing out that if this happens it would be extremely difficult to re-start the process again at any point in time. More so, as the word out in Jammu and Kashmir is that the talks are about to begin and inordinate delay will again lead to disappointment and strengthen cynicism. A sense of drift again seems to be overtaking government, and from “the talks are just about to begin” the grapevine seems to be suggesting yet again that this is not so. As a wag put it, “now we are not waiting for word from just the United States, we want to see what the Mirwaiz brings back from China”. About the author: Seema Mustafa is a commentator on political affairs