Rough Tactics Playing Politics With Kashmir Bus Ride
28 July 2004
Kolkata: Islamabad is vociferous in demanding Kashmiri participation in the peace process between India and Pakistan. Why, then, is it interested in stalling the opening of a bus route between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad, to connect the halves of Kashmir? It was first mooted by Nazir Ahmed, a PoK-born British citizen, active in pro- Pakistani causes; its rejection makes Islamabad hugely unpopular among Kashmiri groups. The process has been stymied from within - Pakistan refuses Jammu & Kashmir cadre officials as part of India's team conducting the talks. This does not make sense, as though the route is to be administered on India's side of the LoC by the same officials. Islamabad has objected to passengers carrying passports and visas, fearing this amounts, according to them, to accepting LoC as the border. To meet the objection Delhi is agreeable to allow Kashmiris to travel with residence permits issued by their state governments. A significant concession, as the PoK government is known to back Kashmiri militants, and could issue papers to troublemakers to cross. To insist that Islamabad won't even allow J&K officials is being mealy-mouthed, and suggests Islamabad would love to scuttle the negotiations on the bus route and blame it on India. How should Delhi respond to this obstreperousness? It ought to realise that it has hit upon one of Islamabad's weak spots. Should commerce between both sides flower, Kashmiris and Pakistanis will realize that Jammu and Kashmir is not as badly governed as Islamabad would have it; indeed it compares favourably with PoK in many respects. Pakistani media have the capacity to be independent, and Delhi ought to freely allow Pakistani press and TV personnel to come into Jammu and Kashmir and see for themselves. When Islamabad says it wants Kashmiris to participate in the peace process it means on its own terms. As a corollary, it should insist on opening the bus route and not allow Islamabad to scuttle this on any pretext. It ought to, therefore, ignore Islamabad's attempts to needle it and, if necessary, appoint non-J&K officials to negotiate on the issue.