June Issue 2003

By | News & Politics | Published 21 years ago

Astute sellers of genuine Kashmiri handicrafts stage an alluring show before hesitant customers. Pulling homespun lambswool shawls through tiny finger rings, they entice awestruck buyers to loosen their purse strings. But the softer-than-silk Shatoos and Pashmina shawls are a misleading manifestation of Kashmir’s hard realities. This divided land’s real legacy is one of violence, bred by the hard-policy positions of India and Pakistan.

The question on everybody’s mind is whether the latest peace offerings will meet the conflicting tastes of Kashmir’s stakeholders: Islamabad, Delhi, Kashmiri leaders and its people — including those settled abroad.

The Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan, has re-started the debate by suggesting that the Chenab solution is acceptable to Pakistan. Put simply, the solution seeks to divide Kashmir along the river Chenab, which flows down from Kashmir into Pakistan, separating the Muslim majority areas from the Hindu- and Buddhist dominated districts.

“Both India and Pakistan have been trying to change the status quo in Kashmir since Pakistan’s inception but to no avail. India has killed thousands of people, yet it has not managed to subdue the struggle of the Kashmiri people. Pakistan has fought wars with India but Kashmir is still bleeding. India will not agree to a plebiscite and Pakistan cannot let go of Kashmir because of historical, strategic, political and legal reasons. Meanwhile, Kashmiris are dying by the dozens every day. What is the way out? If the Chenab solution works, why not!” exclaims an emotional Hayat Khan.

Prime Minister Khan has made similar statements in the national press. Hard-line and pro-Independence Kashmiri groups, however, along with Pakistan’s religious parties have come down hard upon him for his pointed realistic stance.

“No solution that divides Kashmir is acceptable,” was the consensus at a multi-party seminar on Kashmir, organised by a local newspaper in Islamabad. The proposal was first heard of in 1962-’63, during talks between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then Minister for Industries and Natural Rescues and Works, and Sardar Swaran Singh, India’s Minister for Railways. The idea resurfaced after the Lahore Summit in February 1999, where the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and his visiting counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, agreed to use backdoor diplomacy to level the ground for fruitful and result-oriented negotiations on Kashmir.

“On the 27th of March I met R. K. Mishra in Delhi’s Imperial Hotel where I was staying under a different name, and without the knowledge of the Pakistani High Commission. On behalf of our respective prime ministers, we entered into frank discussions on what could be done to make headway on Kashmir”, reveals Niaz A. Naik, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, and former ambassador to India. In these meetings, [nine in all between March 7th and June 27] the basic parameters of the dialogue between the two countries were decided.

These according to Mr Naik, were as follows:

– Both sides will go beyond their stated policy positions.

– The interests of Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris [‘above all the Kashmiris’ is how Vajpayee modified this point later] will be at the heart of any solution to the Kashmir problem.

-The solution will be feasible and will be sincerely implemented.

“Later, during a meeting with both of us, Mr Vajpayee added another clause to the discussions, which stipulated that any solution to the Kashmir problem would be final and not partial,” continues Naik. It was during the course of Naik’s discussions, that he displayed the contours of the Chenab solution to Mr Mishra on a tourist guide map, which he had picked up from the same hotel. Mishra showed keen interest, but wanted to discuss the matter with Vajpayee first . “During our second meeting the Indian prime minister asked me to have blown-up maps of the area ready as ‘they may come handy,’” says Naik.

However, Naik’s version of the level of the Indian interest in the Chenab solution is shrouded in controversy.

“It is too good to be true,” says Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US. “If India agrees to concede so much on the negotiating table, including the whole of the Valley, it will be a fantastic victory for Islamabad. But why should India, presently in the grip of a Hindu fundamentalist party, which does not even accept the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, and whose government is under no real international pressure, agree to a deal that cuts through its traditional stance on occupied Kashmir?” she asks.

Niaz A Naik believes, however, that the effort would have brought peace to Kashmir by the end of year 2000 — the deadline the two prime ministers had set themselves for striking a deal on Kashmir. Naik admits that Mr Vajpayee’s apparent keenness was conditional. “Fearing an increase in violence, he wanted me to take a message to Nawaz Sharif to control the infiltration across the Line of Control, as summer was setting in.” Close aides of Sharif confirm that he did indeed get this message, which included the accusation that, half of the nearly 800 alleged infiltrators caught by the Indians did not belong to Kashmir and that many spoke only Arabic.

The more important, but less emphasised element of Mr Naik’s recapitulation, however, concerns the backing that he got from Pakistan’s military establishment. “When I told Mian Nawaz Sharif about my eventful meetings in Delhi, he asked me to go and see the Chief of Army Staff. I met General Pervez Musharraf and the ISI chief. Musharraf said that this proposal, along with another idea floated by the Kashmir Study Group [the Livingston Proposal] could pave the way for the Kashmir solution, ” says Naik.

“After the Bhutto-Swaran dialogue, the Lahore peace process was the most serious attempt at cracking the Kashmir problem. While all other attempts, including Agra, were about starting dialogue, Kashmir was central to the Lahore process,” says Senator Mushahid Hussain, who was then the minister of information in the Sharif government.

That, however, was the status in 1999. “It was a wooly idea then. Now it is completely impractical,” says a Foreign Office official. “Forget Chenab. Talk about other plans.”

Another idea central to the debate on Kashmir is the Livingston proposal, conceived on December 1, 1998 in a quiet farm house in Livingston, New York, owned by Farooq Kathwari, a Kashmiri by origin and the moving spirit behind the Kashmir Study Group.

The plan embodies the following recommendations:

– A portion of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir should be reconstituted as a sovereign entity (but one without an international personality) enjoying free access to and from both India and Pakistan.

– The portion of the State to be so reconstituted, shall be determined through an internationally supervised ascertainment of the wishes of the Kashmiri people on either side of the Line of Control.

– This ascertainment would follow an agreement among India, Pakistan, and representatives of the Kashmiri people, to move forward with this proposal. India, Pakistan, and appropriate international bodies would guarantee the sovereignty of the new entity.

– The new entity would have its own secular, democratic constitution, as well as its own citizenship, flag, and a legislature, which would legislate on all matters other than defence and foreign affairs.

– India and Pakistan would be responsible for the defence of the Kashmiri entity, which would itself maintain police and gendarme forces for internal law and order purposes. India and Pakistan would be expected to work out financial arrangements for the Kashmiri entity, which could include a currency of its own.

– While the present Line of Control would remain in place until such time as both India and Pakistan decided to alter it in their mutual interest, both India and Pakistan would demilitarise the area included in the Kashmir entity, except to the extent necessary to maintain logistic support for forces outside the State that could not otherwise be effectively supplied.

– Neither India nor Pakistan should place troops on the other side of the Line of Control without the permission of the other state.

“This proposal secures the basic interests of all the parties involved in the Kashmir conflict,” says General (Retd.) K. M. Arif, who represented Pakistani interests in the Livingston meeting along with Niaz A. Naik. “Delhi, Islamabad and the State Department have closely examined this idea. When Farooq Kathwari came to Pakistan and met with General Pervez Musharraf, he found his response favourable to the scheme,” he says.

Based on his talks with Admiral K.K. Nayyar, General (Retd.) Arif believes that the Indians were also positively inclined towards the game plan. “The Indian mindset is that Kashmir should not go to Pakistan, nor should it be independent. This idea meets that bottom line without compromising Pakistan’s stand,” says General Arif.

But no one knows which of the many solutions [ 53 in number according to a Foreign Office assessment] will be taken seriously. “I have never sat in on any meeting where there was debate on alternatives,” says Senator Mushahid Hussain, who was also a member of Pakistan’s Kashmir Committee, formed in January 2002, to come up with new strategies on Kashmir in tune with the changed circumstances. The Committee, which dissolved a year later, tried to promote dialogue among the Kashmiris in order to bring them to the forefront, but met with little success. “We had assembled many Kashmiri leaders together outside Pakistan, to see whether they could provide an alternative plan of action on Kashmir. But not much came out of it,” says Hussain. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the discussions were very bitter — almost violent — as pro-Pakistan elements, including some non-Kashmiri members present at the meeting, clashed with those with pro-independence leanings.

On the whole, Kashmiris believed that, left to their own devices, they could sort out the problem. “We, the Kashmiris, from both sides of the Line of Control and from the diaspora, can work out a solution if we are allowed to talk to each other and meet each other. But who is interested letting this happen?” asks Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan, Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

But a unipolar world is not going to wait for India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris to shed their prejudices and prepare for peace, piecemeal. The visit of the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, to South Asia in the second week of May has fuelled speculation, that now weary of non-productive and insincere attempts at peace-making in the region, Washington may unfurl its own road-map on Kashmir. US diplomats, however deny these allegations, as do Foreign Office sources.

High-ranking officials, who have sat in on meetings with US officials, maintain that Washington is more interested in the immediate: in the short run it wants violence to end, inflitration to peter out, Indians to desist from rattling the nuclear saber of war and Pakistan to control the Jihadi Groups. These sources say that Washington no longer distinguishes between the good Jihadis and the bad Jihadis. “US officials are showing their growing frustration with the continuing activities of members of banned groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which they claim, have direct links with Al-Qaeda,” says a senior diplomatic source.

Senior Western diplomatic sources reveal that Washington is closely watching the performance of the government on this score. “Based on recent exchanges with the Americans, it is fair to say that issues such as the Line of Control and the activities of jihadi groups which the government has officially banned, constitutes the major element of discussion with the US. “It can impact our relations with Washington substantively,” says a member of the federal cabinet.

In the medium to long-term, the US wants Kashmir’s autonomy to be restored and a political process to start, which will integrate some leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference into the mainstream, and result in a softening in the Line of Control. The US is also interested in ascertaining the wishes of the Kashmiris about an arrangement along these lines. But this does not necessarily imply a plebiscite.

The US is also keen to promote trade and commercial activity between the two sides. If and when an opportunity unfolds, it will facilitate dialogue and communication towards these ends. “For different reasons, the Indian and the US bottom lines on the solution to Kashmir match,” says a former Pakistani diplomat. “It is the Line of Control. But I am not sure about Pakistan’s bottom line. For years, there has not been a sincere policy review, just fire-fighting and knee-jerk reactions.”

This is dangerous, if true. It means that events can overtake policymaking, and reduce policy options to automatic compliance with unfavourable circumstances. Something like that has already happened in Afghanistan. Worse, in the absence of an open and frank debate on Kashmir, decision-making will remain hostage to raw public emotion, which secrecy and delusional military theories have fostered.

As General (Retd.) Arif puts it, it is better to prepare the public for a rational view on these issues, than to sneak in a solution which is by no means ideal — just practical.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV hosting a prime time current affairs program.