Open Borders Hold Key To Kashmir Peace
2 January 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Hakim Mohammad Yasin
Jammu: The year 2003 has been a year of reconciliation and understanding on Kashmir issue let us look forward to 2004 as a year of pragmatic and practical steps for consolidating people's yearning for peace. In past few years India and Pakistan were never close to a friendly relation as they are today. This of course is considered as a turning point in the peace and reconciliation process in the South Asia and a good omen ahead of SAARC summit beginning in the first week of the New Year -2004 in Islamabad. It is a historic step for which the civil society of India and Pakistan and particularly the people of Jammu and Kashmir should support the leadership to seize upon. Four years after the Lahore visit of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the experts in both countries, having remained close to the policy decision making of that time, are now saying that India and Pakistan were close to a solution to Kashmir issue in 1999. But alas! Kargil happened and ruined the prospects of an early peace in South Asia. It was perhaps a formula or solution arrived at between the political leadership of both countries, which did not go well with the military leadership in Pakistan. Therefore, Vajpayee's exceptional goodwill mission was backstabbed at Kargil and unfortunately hundreds of body bags of the young and promising soldiers returned homes in both countries. In the post Kargil period of four years both the countries quite clearly have traveled miles apart in opposite direction. Let's not have a formula in hand and move forward on a process, which is associated with the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control. Even though it failed to break the ice, the historic Agra summit was a turning point for the reason that the leadership of India and Pakistan vowed to carry forward the threads they had left at Agra but then attack on the Kaluchak garrison vitiated the atmosphere. Few months later the December 13, attack on the heart of Indian democracy brought India and Pakistan close to a full fledged war with the highest military build up on borders -the first of its kind after the 1971 war. Lakhs of people uprooted from the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir during operation Parakram are yet to get the proper rehabilitation. Many are still being injured, maimed and killed by accidentally straying into the minefields along the International Border and the Line of Control -even though now there is a ceasefire along the dividing line after the Eid. While the acts of terror, killing of people and the separatist slogan is still on in parts of Jammu and Kashmir, despite best possible efforts of peace and human rights protection by the coalition government headed by the visionary leader in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, this time there is hope among all sections of state may they be the mainstream or the separatists. The hope of return of peace and restoration of friendly ties with the people on both sides of borders. We the leaders in India and Pakistan and particularly in Jammu and Kashmir shall be stepping into a minefield and entering into dangerous era by allowing this hope to die down into despair and disappointment. Currently we have only one section of people annoyed in Jammu and Kashmir. Rising hopes and expectations to zenith and then ending into chaos will certainly annoy more and more people. That was the process of reconciliation and discontent treatment shall become more complicated. People of Jammu and Kashmir are known for their resilience, patience and sobriety even amidst provocation. But then there is a limiting factor for every thing. They stand for peace, which they have time and again been assured of. But at present they are looking forward for the practical steps really making way for the promised peace. In a democratic society like ours, the leadership is supposed to reflect the public sentiment in its actions, words and deeds. The ball is now in the court of the leadership as the people of Jammu and Kashmir made their sentiments and the dominant opinion quite clearly known to the world nearly 14 months back. Though the September-October 2002 assembly elections as hailed by the international community and even the worst ever critics were no alternate to a referendum but these were one of the best possible polls ever happened to Jammu and Kashmir. Clearly, it was a vote for peace and not for a particular ideology, thought or a particular party. People braved bullets and opted ballot for one and the only purpose -the restoration of normalcy. It was a vote for peace and peace alone that it gave rise to a dispensation under the leadership of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed that has foremost commitment to the peace, justice and protection of human rights under the internationally hailed philosophy of the 'healing touch'. During its 14 months in office, the coalition government has made all best possible efforts to create an atmosphere in which people can breathe freely. The sporadic acts of terror notwithstanding, there is definite sense of security across the state. The domestic and foreign tourists returning to their favourite destinations in Jammu and Kashmir after gap of a decade is an indicator of secure atmosphere. Violations of human rights have come down significantly. The coalition government is working nearly round the clock on the process of building confidence, facilitating a dialogue and ensuring a system of administration sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people. But things do not end here. The process needs to be taken forward. There does not seem to be a formula or a solution readily available and readily acceptable to the parties having a stake in the Kashmir issue. Let's not discuss the formula and leave it halfway as it happened umpteen times in the past. Let's look forward and work out a process of reconciliation and making people to people contacts. Let there be a tripartite dialogue between Government of India and the leadership of the All Party Hurriyat Conference and other separatist organizations and the representatives of the indigenous militant organizations like Hizbul Mujahideen who vow to lay down the arms and give way to the peace. Simultaneously, let there be a dialogue between the leadership of India and Pakistan, as the external dimension of the conflict in Kashmir has to be addressed to make the atmosphere conducive for internal reconciliation. But at the same time let's not isolate the people of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control from a dialogue process. A dialogue for understanding by making people-to-people contacts along both sides of Jammu and Kashmir could certainly become a guiding principle for the resolution of the issue and lasting peace to return and stay and region. Recently when there was a talk for the opening of the Uri-Muzaffarbad road the mood in entire Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control was upbeat. It still continues. Even though this promise is yet to see the day of the light but the opening should not be limited to the Uri and Muzaffarabad sectors alone. Let there be a route between Suchetgarh-Rawalpindi and Nowshera-Mirpur as well. Let people move across freely, have stake in each other's joy and agonies, exchange their trade and culture. This would certainly threaten and ultimately weaken the role of the fundamentalists and hawks on both sides. As opening of borders without and doubt holds key to solution, given a chance, people of Jammu and Kashmir will certainly become bridge between India and Pakistan and a driving force for the South Asian peace and economic cooperation. (The Author is Peoples Democratic Forum leader and Minister for Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation in Jammu and Kashmir government).