Our Two Kashmirs12 June 2011
Mumbai: JAMMU & Kashmir is, indeed, split into two today; a tragic consequence, of a merciless fate which singled out this great and beautiful part of the subcontinent for brutal treatment. But Kashmiris, bar some who have profited politically and financially from the situation, are not reconciled to this partition. In their hearts and minds, there is only one Kashmir. To begin with, may I suggest that we drop the hideous nomenclatures - Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Indian-held Kashmir? Why not East Kashmir and West Kashmir? That is how the two split Germanies called each other even in the worst days of the Cold War. Change in the nomenclature will signal a new approach. The Kashmir dispute was all but settled less than six years ago. The Mumbai train blasts in 2006 and the judges' crisis in March 2007 put paid to plans to finalise the draft agreement and sign it. The Mumbai blasts on Nov 26, 2008 retarded the peace process considerably. The fact remains that an agreed draft agreement does exist, waiting to be unwrapped, dusted and engrossed on a decent piece of paper for signature by the heads of governments of Pakistan and India. Meanwhile, like the Japanese strugglers in the forests of Southeast Asia who did not know that the war had ended, some in both countries continue to repeat old recipes. The situation is grim and the lot of the hapless Kashmiris unbearable. They can ill afford to wait and watch as the current parleys between their two 'guardians' proceed at a snail's pace. If India and Pakistan have any real concern for Kashmiris, they ought to move jointly and separately to improve the situation on the ground so as to make life more bearable for the people. This is very much within the realm of the doable without the slightest dilution in each other's stand. A recent event, little noticed in the press, suggests a way out of the impasse. Greater Kashmir May 19, 2011 will, one hopes, be regarded as a historic date. For, on that day, for the first time since the partition, officials from both parts of Kashmir met at the Peace Bridge in Uri on the Line of Control (LoC) to discuss issues relating to trade across the LoC and the bus service. We owe to G.U. Kyani of the Srinagar daily for a full report which he filed from Islamabad that day. They agreed that “the bus service should be allowed to cross the bridge”. Right now the bus from each side stops near the bridge for the passengers to take the bus awaiting them on the other side, carrying the luggage with them on foot. rahdari The cross-LoC trade is by barter as in mediaeval times. Traders cannot consult each other's requirement on the phone; there are no banking facilities, none for acceptance of letters of credit; and no agreement on currency. The India-Pakistan accord on the bus service was signed on Feb 16, 2005. A fortnightly bus service began on April 7. Elaborate procedures for the requisite permit were prescribed ignoring the simple system since 1949. In October 2008, trade representatives from Azad Kashmir visited Srinagar and signed with the traders there an accord to set up a joint body, the Federation of Chamber of Industries and Commerce. Another MoU set out the details on trade. Trade across the LoC began on Oct 21, 2008 only to hit predictable road blocks the very next month. In the talks on May 19, Azad Kashmir was represented by the DG of the Trade and Travel Authority Brigadier Ismail and deputy commissioner Hattian Bala Abdul Hameed Mughal. The government of J&K was represented by the director, industries and commerce, Kachoo Asfandyar, deputy commissioner Baramulla, Bashir Ahmad Bhat and trade facilitation officer, Salamabad, Nazir Ahmed Baba. Both sides decided to send the recommendations to “higher authorities” for their approval. They are an integral part of the ceasefire arrangement as recorded in the notes by the military adviser to the UN Commission for India and Pakistan on the meeting of the commanders-in-chief of both countries on Jan 15, 1949. entirely Cross-LoC trade and travel are no favours they bestow on Kashmiris. They informed him of the points on which they agreed. “They divided their task into (i) a first part, within their competence, which could be immediately achieved.” In this category fell this accord: “Both commanders-in-chief agreed to restore the communications by road between Srinagar and Rawalpindi, and to rebuild the necessary bridges. In addition, telephonic liaisons between these two localities will be restored.” Whatever happened to this solemn accord reached just a fortnight after the ceasefire on New Year's Day 1949? The Hindu The president of Azad Kashmir Raja Zulqarnain Khan poured his heart out, to Shujaaat Bukhari of when they met at Muzaffarabad on June 1. “I am desperate to visit your part of Jammu and Kashmir.” Now 78, he was born in Jammu where his father was governor. He was educated in Srinagar and spent “memorable days” there. He strongly urged that the certificate of residence be treated as a “smart card” for free passage on both sides. “You cannot hold back people for long.” They have been held back for 63 years. Improvement of the situation on the ground will help in implementing the Kashmir accord when it is signed. Emulating the May 19 meeting, officials of both parts of Kashmir should meet at least once every month to discuss freely matters of mutual concern. The draft Kashmir accord provides for a “joint mechanism”. Why not begin immediately on talks at the officials' level on the topics listed for discussion in the Irish North-South Ministerial Council under the agreement of April 10, 1998 - waterways, agriculture, transport, environment, health, fisheries and the like. Additionally academics, journalists, artists, artisans and craftsmen should be actively helped to meet their counterparts across the LoC. It suffered no damage when journalists from Pakistan visited Srinagar a few years ago.