Earthquake Forces Musharraf To Suggest Kashmir Demilitarisation

Md. Sadiq
1 February 2006

The residents of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) were not the only people who suffered the wrath of the devastating earthquake on 8 October 2005, which levelled the capital city of Muzaffarabad. Apart from the civilians, the Pakistan army has reportedly suffered major losses in the earthquake. Given the fact that the army is considered an 'article of unquestionable faith' in Pakistan, the official reports have accordingly underplayed the losses suffered by the army. However, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf's post earthquake emphasis on demilitarising the Kashmir region reveals a completely different story. With its forward positions in PoK and the supply lines affected seriously by the earthquake, the Pakistan Army is clearly not in a position to counter any Indian military offensive across the Line of Control (LoC). Though such an offensive by the Indian army appears to be unlikely, the Pakistani president's emphasis on demilitarisation appears to have been clearly influenced by the losses suffered by his army.

Military Suffers Without A War

The October 2005 earthquake was the first time that the Pakistan army suffered major losses without fighting a war. Reports in Pakistani media have stated that the army lost about 3,000 of its soldiers in the earthquake. These estimates appear to be conservative as the 'army to civilian' ratio especially in the border areas are high. Though the actual figure may never be known, reports about destruction of the army's infrastructure in the region indicate that the losses may be higher. The Pakistan Army’s brigade headquarters and its allied installations in Bagh and the military infrastructure at several forward and rear positions in different parts of PoK were devastated by the earthquake. A number of military buildings housing offices, residential accommodation and other military facilities in the brigade headquarters were completely destroyed. The military camp in Harri Gahal and Arja, situated on the way to Bagh from Muzaffarabad, suffered massive destruction. The Pakistan army’s Nisar Camp, situated close to the Neelum river in Muzaffarabad and the civil and military hospital in the city were flattened by the earthquake. Another concern for Pakistan arising out of the earthquake was that the landslides could have shifted thousands of landmines planted on both sides of the LoC by the two armies. Though both armies have maps of the mines planted in the region, they would be rendered useless due to the landslides. The fact that Pakistan allowed US-led NATO forces to deploy for three months in the earthquake devastated region clearly indicated that the Pakistani army was not in a position to undertake relief operations on its own. A major portion of Pakistan's military assets are currently tied down in anti-terrorism and anti-insurgency operations along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the province of Balochistan respectively. This further constrained the army's ability to undertake relief operations.

Pakistan's unfounded fear of an Indian military offensive led its army to pay more attention to rebuild frontline positions than to rescue trapped civilians in PoK. According to The Telegraph newspaper (report quoted in the 16 October 2005 edition of Pakistani newspaper Daily Times), civilians in the PoK region were angry with the army for not giving priority to rescue and relief. The report quoted an insider as saying that although the Pakistan government knew that India would not undertake a military offensive in light of the human disaster, in the first few days the Pakistan army used every resource to restore its defence line because they did not want to leave it vulnerable. The losses suffered by the army and the unfounded fears generated by the earthquake have apparently influenced Musharraf to lay emphasis on the demilitarisation and self governance proposals.  Musharraf had earlier talked about another set of proposals for resolving the Kashmir issue. At that time, Musharraf had talked about dividing Jammu and Kashmir into seven regions, demilitarising these regions and then changing their status.

The Demilitarisation and Self Governance Proposals

In an interview to an Indian television channel (CNN-IBN) on 14 January, General Pervez Musharraf disclosed that he had communicated his ideas on demilitarisation and self governance in Kashmir to the Indian leadership long ago. He also said that the apparent Indian reluctance to respond to his ideas forced him to make these proposals public. Musharraf also rejected statements made by Indian officials that his ideas were not being discussed through back channels. Musharraf disclosed in that interview, that he had directly discussed with the Indian leadership his ideas of 'joint management' and demilitarisation of the three Kashmiri cities of Baramullah, Kupwara and Srinagar. Musharraf said, "I have given these proposals to the Indian leaders. I have done this through the back channels. All of them, in detail. Some even written. But there is no response … no counter-proposal. That disappoints me. And I think we reached a stage where we have to come out in the open. And, therefore, I am doing this. Let it be in the open. Let the people of India and let the people of Pakistan debate it. Because I think the leadership doesn’t want to debate it in the open.” However, analysts say that the three cities mentioned by Musharraf for demilitarisation are the militancy-infested regions. It is in these areas that counter militancy operations by the Indian forces have produced results by cutting down on the infiltration and supply lines from across the border. Moreover, with the Pakistani army positions in PoK suffering destruction, the army is reportedly in a position to provide support to the militant outfits whether in terms of training camps, arms or assistance in infiltrating into Indian Kashmir. The LoC ceasefire, holding since November 2003, and international focus on the region in the post earthquake period have reduced the Pakistani army's ability to undertake support operations for militant outfits like before.

Less than two weeks after the earthquake, Musharraf had offered to open the LoC in order to facilitate Kashmiris from both sides to know the welfare of their relatives. On 22 October 2005, India and Pakistan agreed to open at least three sectors along the LoC for relief operations. The sectors included Kaman near Aman Setu in Uri, Tithwal in Tangdhar and Chakan Da Bagh in Poonch. From 7 November onwards, India and Pakistan opened five crossing points along the LoC after officials from both countries reached an agreement in Islamabad. The agreed crossing points included Nauseri-Tithwal; Chakoti-Uri; Hajipur-Uri; Rawalakot-Poonch and Tattapani-Mendhar. Speaking to Arab News on 30 October 2005, Musharraf observed that the earthquake had provided an opportunity for both sides to move forward on the Kashmir issue. He also said “I am for demilitarization. If they agree to that, we will too. We are very flexible. We are absolutely open to moving forward to the ultimate solution. You can’t clap with one hand; you can only clap with two.”

Military balance underlines Musharraf's proposals
Observers say that Musharraf's statement clearly indicated an urgency to address the military imbalance created in the Kashmir region due to the earthquake. Reports indicated that during relief operations, Indian army personnel had crossed the LoC to help the Pakistani soldiers who were trapped due to the earthquake. Though Pakistan later denied these reports, Indian officials confirmed them saying that it was easy to access several areas in PoK from Indian Kashmir while the destruction in PoK had made reaching Pakistani positions along the LoC difficult. Though it is difficult to establish the authenticity of these reports, analysts say that Pakistan should have set aside its strategic interests to facilitate relief to the Kashmiris in PoK. However, subsequent statements by Pakistan indicated that Islamabad had rejected the idea of Indian troops undertaking relief operations in PoK. The apprehension at the highest levels in Pakistan was clearly that the losses suffered by the army would be exposed. Given the international focus in the post earthquake period, observers say that Pakistani fears of an Indian military offensive were completely unfounded. Many more people could have been saved if the Pakistan government had allowed Indian troops to undertake relief operations.

Speaking on the issue of self governance, Musharraf said that the Northern Areas under Pakistani control could also be considered in the final settlement of the dispute. Musharraf also said that he would consider introducing the same self governance in PoK that he had conveyed for the Indian Kashmir. Though Musharraf did not elaborate on his ideas, he said the details of what self-governance constitutes would have to be worked out by India, Pakistan and Kashmiris. However, he said that such an arrangement would be somewhere between autonomy and independence. Chairman of the moderate faction of All Parties Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who met General Musharraf in January 2006,  echoed the latter's views and ruled out independence as an option. The Mirwaiz said that his party supported the idea of demilitarisation and self governance as steps towards resolving the Kashmir issue in accordance with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. However, the hardliners including Syed Ali Shah Geelani and outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen have criticised Musharraf's ideas as a sell-out to India. Pakistan's political parties, including the six-party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal religious alliance, have accused Musharraf of showing flexibility without any concessions from India. While it is clear that Musharraf has roped in the moderate Hurriyat to follow his ideas, he faces a difficult task to make the hardliners fall in line.