July Issue 2005
So Near and Yet So Far
“Gentlemen, my concern now is to secure the best deal for you (Kashmiris); you have to get united and show that you can be part of the tough decisions that lie ahead,” said President General Pervez Musharraf to a group of leaders from Indian-administered Kashmir on a two-week-long path-breaking, yet controversial, visit to Pakistan.
Most of them had heard similar words either from President Musharraf himself in unpublicised meetings outside Pakistan or through his interlocutors. But the more observant among this group, including the head of one faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, could not help but notice a serious omission from this good-natured statement. It made no reference to what Pakistan — assumed to be the main stakeholder in the Kashmir dispute — would get out of the ongoing peace process.
“Frankly, I was dreading the usual monologue from the General about the origins of the Kashmir dispute and how vital it is for Islamabad to have the whole of Kashmir to itself,” said one participant. “But the entire interaction focused on the various possibilities that are acceptable to India as well as the Kashmiris and, which contribute to the stability of relations between Delhi and Islamabad. Nobody talked about Kashmir joining Pakistan or India leaving the occupied territory. The Pakistani leader seems to have given up on the two eventualities permanently,” said the Kashmiri leader.
The observation is spot on. The new catch-line of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy is inked with a hard-nosed realism that Delhi cannot be forced to leave Kashmir so a solution to the problem has to begin to focus on what else is possible.
The most likely possibility in the Pakistani establishment’s assessment is a loose arrangement of different regions of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh and the Northern Areas that have near-identical self-governing representative systems, and are informally connected with each other through growing trade, commerce, people-to-people traffic, intermarriages and the flow of goodwill travelling from Jammu to Siachen. High-level policy making sources in Pakistan also say that this arrangement will be accompanied by a process of de-militarisation in the whole area, although defence-related matters would be handled by Delhi and Islamabad on their respective sides of the Line of Control (LoC). They also indicated that while the LoC would remain intact it would become “irrelevant in due course of time on account of the heavy movement of Kashmiris from both sides.” This seems to be “an eminently doable proposition” and presents a win-win formula for all concerned.
However, this assessment does not factor in the most problematic part of the Kashmir dispute: India’s military control of the territory and the unchanged position of all Indian governments that the constitutional provision declaring Jammu and Kashmir as part of the Indian Union cannot be altered. While General Musharraf continues to talk of “light at the end of the tunnel,” and his “good understanding with premier Manmohan Singh,” there is no let up in the violence against Kashmiri fighters.
Statistics indicate that the killing rate by security forces in the last three months was twice as high as in the previous quarter. “The Indian forces have become more blatant and public in pursuing and killing the fighters,” said a member of the visiting Kashmiri delegation. “In one instance, they forced the locals to put mines around the house of a fighter and then made them trigger the mine. Everybody saw the body parts of the fighter tossed up in the air as the debris flew around,” he said. Also, Delhi has shown no palpable intent of reducing troops in the occupied territory; jails and torture cells continue to house luckless inmates caught for challenging the occupation. “There is one difference though,” said another member of the delegation, “the Indians are buying back the militants by locating them and then offering them money for handing over their guns. The usual line that is given to them is that Pakistan has cut a deal with India over their heads and they can no longer rely on help from across the border. They are also told that their only option is either to die or surrender peacefully and qualify for Delhi’s patronage. Those who choose the first option are killed without mercy.”
Even more steadfast is Delhi’s stance on the existing boundaries of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian diplomats are resolute in their private statements on Kashmir: “It is part of India and this basic fact shall not change.” They say that no government can survive by opening the closed debate of whether Kashmir should stay or be allowed to opt out of the Indian Union. They draw their argument from the fundamental difference in the position of the two countries on the Jammu and Kashmir areas they control. While the conflict raged, Delhi gave a constitutional patina to its occupation and thus integrated the areas under its control. The Delhi agreement of 1952 stated that residents of Kashmir are Indian citizens, and extended the Indian Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to the occupied territory; the 1954 ratification of the accession to India by the constituent assembly, or the Kashmir accord of 1975, allowed, among other things, to make laws relating to the prevention of activities directed towards disclaiming, questioning or disrupting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India from the Union or causing insult to the Indian National flag, the Indian national anthem and the constitution.
The same accord also buried the title of Sardar-e-Riyasat and prime minister for the occupied territory — symbols of Kashmir’s special status under article 370, showing the farthest limits of maximum autonomy. The electoral process inside the occupied territory has been used as a political path to legitimise and strengthen the constitutional cover of its occupation.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has kept the areas under its control independent by not integrating them in its federal structure. Azad (Independent) Kashmir has its own flag, courts, assembly, president and prime minister. While the Kashmir Council, headed by the prime minister of Pakistan, remains the controlling link between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, the constitution of Pakistan does not extend to the Azad territory. The Northern Areas are in an even more “independent” position. Constitutionally they are not part of the country and their residents, while carrying Pakistani passports and national identity cards, are not citizens of Pakistan.
Islamabad’s policy towards Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas was in support of its claim that all of Jammu and Kashmir was disputed. Its hope was that when a plebiscite would be held to settle this dispute, these “Azad” territories would become a magnet for the Indian-administered areas to join Pakistan. Even in the best circumstances, this looked like a fairly tall order. However, some members of the Kashmiri delegation believed otherwise. They maintain that in the early ’90s Delhi seriously thought the time had come for it to be prepared for the eventuality of Kashmir’s secession from the Union and that they had prepared elaborate military and political plans to deal with this scenario. But now there are no takers for redrawing the boundaries, especially if this means an addition to Pakistan of over 86,000 square miles of overwhelmingly Muslim territory with global strategic significance. So while Islamabad continues to say that Kashmir is disputed territory, the hope of a plebiscite does not figure in its count of realistic options for a final settlement.
“The world has changed and we have to find ways to stitch up this festering wound. Kashmiris cannot continue to die and we cannot chase options that are not going to come to fruition even in the next 50 years,” says a political source privy to the thinking inside President Musharraf’s inner decision-making circle.
Others believe that Pakistan is not the only one looking at other options; India too is seriously engaged in this effort. “We have reason to believe that Indian decision-makers are ready as never before to settle this issue. They are showing flexibility and so are we and if we stay on the path, before 2007, you will have the contours of a final solution to this long-festering problem,” says a high-ranking Pakistani diplomat who is involved in both the formal and informal channels being used to crack the Kashmir dispute.
In evidence of this optimism, Pakistani officials cite India’s open acknowledgement that: Kashmir is a dispute between the two countries that needs to be resolved; Pakistan is central to the dispute; and Kashmiri leaders from the occupied territory, who are not part of the electoral process within the disputed state have to be accomodated.
Official sources also say that Delhi, in the initial phase of applying the final solution to the problem, would reinstate the original special status envisaged by article 370 of the Constitution and promote maximum autonomy to the region.
High-ranking sources say that in order to bring divergent positions to a consensus point, an omnibus process has been underway for almost two years. Says a Pakistani foreign office source, “There is not one, but nine strands of the Kashmir dialogue process: first is between India and Pakistan at the official level; the second is at the track-two level; the third (and the most productive one) is backdoor diplomacy conducted by point-men from both sides; the fourth is among the Kashmiris from the occupied territories; the fifth is among the Kashmiris in Azad Kashmir; the sixth is between the Kashmiris from both sides of the LoC; the seventh is between Pakistan and the Kashmiris; the eighth is between India and the Kashmiris; and the ninth is between India and Pakistan (separately) with the US and the UK. We have not left any dimension of the issue out of the loop of negotiations. The final result will have to be acceptable to all of these players.”
This looks really neat on paper. On the ground, however, the nine-hole dialogue course is bumpy as it is messy. Take, for instance, the different strands of talks involving the Kashmiris. Deep fissures run through the ranks of leaders from the Indian side of the LoC. Syed Ali Geellani, leader of his own faction of the APHC, took a hard line against the delegation’s visit to Pakistan. He not only opted out, but has since been accusing both Pakistan and the Kashmiri leaders of compromising Kashmiri rights. Even the visiting delegation was visibly divided. Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) branched off on his own plan of action during the visit and made it clear in every meeting of significance, that while he came with the group, he was not part of it. This aggravated the rest of his travel-mates, whose leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, saw this as a cheap attempt on Yasin’s part to claim a larger-than-life leadership position.
And this is not even half the trouble. India’s pet leadership in Kashmir represented in the incumbent PDP government of Mufti Saeed, and the opposition National Conference, is also looking for their role in the dialogue, and sooner or later Pakistan will have to drop its standard deprecatory attitude towards them. In fact, several members of the visiting delegation admitted that a quid pro quo of them being tacitly accepted by Delhi as players in the Kashmir dialogue process was similar to Pakistan’s concession to pro-Delhi leaders who are members of the state assembly. Sources close to President Musharraf suggest that Pakistan has already made initial contacts with some of these leaders.
Things are not silky on Pakistan’s side either. While the Kashmiri leadership here is less divided than its counterparts on the other side, jostling for central roles has already begun. Representatives of the two factions of the APHC (Geellani and Ansari), JKLF and others are competing for space and Pakistan’s attention. As are Azad Kashmiri politicians, including the sitting president, the prime minister, the opposition Peoples Party and Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, head of the ruling party. Another group from among the government claims special links with the US and US-based think-tanks. Its members claim to understand the complexity of Kashmir’s new reality better than the others and therefore think that they ought to be at the head table in all negotiations. Leaders from the Northern Areas are angry for being left out of the whole dialogue process. They do not want Kashmiri politicians to intercede on their behalf with either India or Pakistan for their rights. They want to have their separate spokesman but remain bitterly divided between those who want a separate homeland and those who wish to join Pakistan.
But the hardest nut to crack is the band of Kashmiri militants. And they, too, fall in two categories. The first, across the LoC, are those in the battlefield who are programmed to fight to the very end. Although very organised and motivated, at present they have no one representing them and their interests in the ongoing negotiations. While Delhi has publicly shown total aversion to the idea of engaging with what it calls “terrorists,” insiders believe that attempts to reach out to groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizb Islami’s hardliners have not yielded the desired results.
Diplomatic sources have told Newsline that Delhi has repeatedly asked Islamabad to play its role to end the armed insurgency inside the occupied territory, but after its change of tack on Kashmir, the interlocutors of General Musharraf have seen their influence with the militants dwindle. Moreover, the only political leader who could wield some influence with the militants, happens to be Syed Geellani, who on account of his hardline posture, is currently out of favour with the Pakistani establishment.
The second category of militants involves the youth on Pakistan’s side of the LoC, who once fought the jihad in Kashmir under the aegis of Pakistan’s establishment but at present face an uncertain future. Says a former fighter, “We fought for a cause and lost lives. But now while we continue to hear the pep-talk that Kashmir would soon be liberated, we see nothing of the sort on the ground. We see our motherland being practically divided. We see the possibility of our tormentors and killers and Kashmiris, like Mufti Saeed, being embraced by Pakistan. Tell us how should we feel? Betrayed, right? Stabbed in the back, right?” The fighter, who had come to witness the departure of the delegation of Kashmiri leaders back to the other side of the LoC said that there are more than 2,000 disgruntled young men in and around Muzaffarabad, whose thoughts are similar to his. There is no one representing them in the dialogue process.
The real sting in the tale of the present Kashmir peace process, however, is more intangible. Despite close and personal interaction at the highest level, Islamabad still seemed to misread Delhi’s motives for getting involved in the dialogue. “You think you know what lies in Delhi’s palaces of power, you don’t. There is no trust for Pakistan, and not a single soul is poring over documents, other than the Indian constitution, for a settlement of the Kashmir issue. If that is acceptable to Pakistan, then that is fine with India. If it is not, then that is your problem not India’s. That is the attitude that prevails in Delhi,” said a Kashmiri leader in an off-the-record interview with Newsline.
For the time being at least, it looks as if Pakistan does not have any problem with this attitude.
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV hosting a prime time current affairs program.