Kashmir At The Heart Of The Problem
14 February 2004
Asia Times Online
Syed Saleem Shahzad
Karachi: The leaders and top diplomats of India and Pakistan begin formal talks in Islamabad on Monday to follow up on declared intentions to build peaceful relations made on the sidelines of a South Asian summit in January by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf. In previous such meetings - the most recent was the failed Agra summit in India in August 2001 - there was no serious discussion of the Kashmir dispute. This time should be different, as Musharraf has said: 'We have reached an agreement that Kashmir has to be addressed, that there will be a dialogue on all issues including Kashmir, and that Pakistan is a party to the dispute.' Musharraf has for some time publicly promised to put an end to Islamabad's policy of allowing militants from crossing over the Line of Control (LoC) into the Indian side of divided Kashmir as a means of hastening a settlement to the 50-year- old dispute over the territory. Septuagenarian Vajpayee for his part considers that a peace breakthrough with Pakistan will be his major achievement during his six years in office, and it figures high in the election campaign of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. India is scheduled to go to the polls in April. Traditionally, India's position has essentially been that the LoC that separates Indian and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir should be the final border, and what happens on the Indian side is Delhi's business alone. Pakistan has for long argued that India must conform to United Nations demands for a plebiscite, by which Pakistan hoped that the predominantly Muslim population of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) province would vote to join Pakistan. Musharraf has said that he is now prepared to drop Pakistan's insistence on a referendum and meet India 'halfway somewhere'. But while Musharraf might be willing to talk peace, he faces difficulties from within his own constituency. The hardline Pakistan position could be personified by Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan, a major Islamist political party. Qazi, a former geography teacher and now a successful business tycoon from a Pashtun family of North West Frontier Province, maintains that the present developments in the relations between India and Pakistan are aimed at damaging Pakistan's interests in Kashmir. So the dilemma for the Pakistani leaders is how to formulate policies under pressure from the US - which is actively involved in the peace process - while at the same time pacifying internal interests. For instance, the US has put most pressure on Pakistan, which has as a result significantly curbed cross-border militancy, while India has been able to go ahead and build, for example, a massive security fence on the LoC. 'The US's main target in this phase is to create confusion in the minds of Kashmiris,' said former Pakistani director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), retired Lieutenant-General Hameed Gul, who was one of the architects of the militant struggle in Kashmir and under whose guidance as chief of the ISI the present uprising in Indian Kashmir started in 1989. Speaking from Rawalpindi to this correspondent by telephone, Gul elaborated that last year in December, while speaking at a seminar in New Delhi, former US secretary of state Madeline Albright advocated a referendum for Kashmiris to determine their own future. At the same time, the US has floated different formulas and theories from time to time. 'This is all to confuse Kashmiris as they [US] are selling several options, which all suggest a sort of an independent status for Kashmir, whether it stand as a divided entity or in a unified form,' Gul said. 'The whole US initiative in this region is in line with its global designs. The South Asian region is still the weakest chain of US influence where it still has to establish its writ,' said Gul. Gul believes that should Kashmir receive independent status - either as a unified entity or in the shape of divided autonomous states - it would fall under a United Nations mandate for some time, and the US would finally bring in North Atlantic Organization Treaty (NATO) troops under its command. 'This is the ultimate outcome of the present US-sponsored moves,' said Gul. (This has in fact already happened in Afghanistan, where NATO troops are assisting US-led forces. ) Gul sees Musharraf's foreign policy as a 'complete failure'. 'The feelings of Musharraf's failed policies, especially on Kashmir, in the army are the same among the civilian population. However, fortunately our army is a disciplined force, and Pakistan is not the banana republic that one can expect when a there is a serious division within the armed forces,' Gul says. The latest dialogue between India and Pakistan will take place without Kashmiris, who have their own indigenous pro-Pakistan or pro-India separatist movements. In private conversations, Kashmiri leaders often express their concern over such peace talks. They invariably recall the Shimla agreement of 1971 in which a 'ceasefire line' that was to guarantee Kashmiris their right to self-determination turned into the LoC, a vague position which the international community now takes as a virtual border between the sections of Kashmir administered by Pakistan and India. 'To us, bilateral talks on the Kashmir issue mean the status quo,' said Professor Nazir Shawl by telephone to Asia Times Online. Shawl is a Kashmiri intellectual and member of the executive council of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC - Gillani group). 'But in principle, this is the first phase of talk and we are convinced that when the dialogue reaches a level when some meaningful talks start, Kashmiris will be inducted. I have been the part of track II diplomacy efforts in which Kashmiris are very much a part of the process, and we think that at the right time we will be given a role.' Shawl stresses that the Kashmiri struggle is a home- grown and indigenous one and it will continue until it achieves its end. 'External conditions do affect the movement, but the genuine struggles survives, whether its intensity is low or high,' says Shawl. Also speaking to this correspondent, Saleem Hashmi, a spokesperson of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a frontline Kashmiri rebel group, maintained that though his group does not oppose talks, he believes that India is trying to grab advantages that are unacceptable. 'One bid is the installation of fences on the Line of Control, which is tantamount to modifying the present status of the dividing line into a virtual border.' Similarly, he maintained that India's courting of Moulvi Abbas Ansari's faction of the APHC, which only represents four parties in the multiparty APHC, shows the real Indian face. He says that the Kashmir struggle is a national one and it would be wrong to see it in any other color. And in January India played a controversial card for the first by time bringing Kashmiri pandits (indigenous people) formally into the dialogue on Kashmir. Delhi did this by giving representation to the pandits, even though they are strongly against the division of Kashmir and represent only a minority in the region. Pakistani analysts see this as symptomatic that India does not want to follow US lines in the present dialogue and wants to weaken Pakistan's hand with such red herrings. In Pakistan there is some dismay at the way in which events are proceeding. Veteran politicians like Sardar Abdul Qayyum are 'astonished' that the LoC is being fenced by the Indians, and not a single bullet has been fired from the Pakistan side in response. Sections of the Pakistan army are not too amused either. Musharraf's blue-eyed Lieutenant-General Shahid Aziz, Corps Commander Lahore, who is tipped to be the next chief of army staff once Musharraf finally drops this position, criticized Pakistan's 'softer' stand on Kashmir, which forced Musharraf to give a gentleman's promise that if India continues with its designs by not responding to Pakistan's initiatives, Pakistan will support the Kashmiri struggle with 'full heart and soul' from May when the snow starts melting. Nothing, clearly, is simple on the Indian sub-continent, where centuries-old dynamics still hold sway. New road maps or blueprints cannot simply be bulldozed through. Understand this, and some progress might be made over the coming months.