November 2004 News

Resuming The Dialogue

20 November 2004
The Dawn
Maqbool A. Bhatty

Karachi: As the time approaches for the second round of the composite dialogue between Pakistan and India, the latter appears to be hardening its position on Kashmir, which is regarded as the core issue between the two countries. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been remarkably conciliatory in his demeanour and language, issued a tough statement, calling for an end to trans LoC terrorism in Kashmir from the Pakistan controlled part of the state. Another accusation was made about Pakistan obstructing the role of the All Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC) in the quest for a solution of this dispute. There is good reason to suspect that since the issue of Kashmir will be taken up substantively for the first time in the coming round, India wants to prepare a scenario of its own choice. A cease fire has been enforced along the LoC since November last year, which has enabled India to put up a fence close to it. India continues to have over 700,000 armed men in the state who have not ceased to use indiscriminate violence and repression against the Kashmiri people. The latter have not abandoned their indigenous struggle against India's forcible occupation. Following the re- election of President Bush, who remains preoccupied with the war on terrorism, India is anxious to remind the world that it is facing a terrorist movement in Kashmir. So far as Pakistan is concerned, the government has been showing flexibility ahead of the second round, with President Pervez Musharraf speaking openly about Pakistan's readiness to look at a wide range of options to find a formula acceptable to India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. Though he was careful in pointing out that he was not formally proposing any options, but only throwing up ideas to stimulate discussion in the country, it is obvious that he was signalling a readiness to move from Pakistan's traditional position. Such flexibility can be helpful only if the other party is also prepared to move from its known position. The atmosphere of relations has not been so positive for a long time, and it took special efforts last year to bring India back to the negotiating table, through a secret channel that was used without much publicity. That channel, involving national security advisers on both sides, is still functioning, and may facilitate the timely holding of the second round, despite discouraging signals emanating from the Indian government so soon after the cordial Musharraf-Manmohan Singh meeting in New York. The intransigent Indian stance has been registered, and will have the effect of delaying meaningful progress on the most sensitive item on the agreed agenda for the composite dialogue. US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is about to quit his job, has again been in the region, for his periodic consultations in South Asia. The primary subject of interest for the US remains the war against terrorism, in which both Pakistan and India are its allies. Washington has an interest in the bilateral dialogue between the two nuclear-armed countries, because it would not like to see their traditional hostility towards each other revived. However, the sole superpower is no longer concerned with the principles involved that are reflected in the UN resolutions on Kashmir. It would prefer that the two work out a solution fairly close to the status quo, hoping that it would also be acceptable to the people of Kashmir. Whatever changes are to be made must be done on the basis of an agreed compromise, and Washington is unlikely to put pressure on New Delhi, with which it has a strategic relationship. India is aware of this and has therefore stiffened its stance on Kashmir. The signals from New Delhi concerning the renewed dialogue obviously seek to set the parameters of the discussion on the core issue of Kashmir. The accusation of instigating intrusion by militants has been repeated, and even the blame for lack of progress on India's dialogue with the APHC has been put on Pakistan. The factual situation is that Pakistan is implementing its assurances on not encouraging cross-LoC activity, and if India, with over 700,000 armed men, and a newly completed fence cannot prevent some Kashmiri freedom fighters from crossing into held Kashmir, there is no justification for blaming Pakistan. So far as the role of the APHC is concerned, Pakistan had signified its readiness to receive a delegation from the Hurriyet Conference, but the Indian government has not issued passports to enable such a delegation to travel. However, the Indian stance is not totally negative. The announcement by New Delhi that India will withdraw some elements of its armed forces from occupied Kashmir - and has done so in certain parts - on account of an improvement in the security situation, does constitute a positive gesture, which has been welcomed by the Pakistan government. The attitude of the public in Pakistan in general, and Azad Kashmir in particular, is to stick with our principled position, since the realities on the ground have not changed. The Muslim population of Kashmir remains alienated from Indian occupation, and is not prepared to accept a solution based on might, after the sacrifices it has made. Peace and tranquillity will not come from a solution that does not find acceptance among the people of the disputed state. President Musharraf has shown realism by conceding that neither India nor Pakistan can expect a solution that accords with its known stand. Though India claims that even to agree to a solution based on the LoC constitutes a concession, since it claims the whole state on the basis of the accession by the Maharaja in 1947, its stand is contradictory, since it refused to accept accession to Pakistan by the Nawab of Junagarh in 1947, on the ground that it did not accord with the wishes of the people. There was a commitment both by the governor-general and Prime Minister Nehru himself to ascertain the wishes of the people of Kashmir, before the accession became final. Nehru had stated a week after the accession, 'We have declared that the fate of Kashmir will be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir, but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.' Some lessons have to be drawn from the 55-year-old history of Kashmir. The LoC cannot be a solution, because it only constitutes the line where the fighting stopped as a result of a cease fire enforced by the UN, which continues to have a presence along that line. India enforced some changes following the 1971 conflict between the two countries, and secured a change in its name to Line of Control in the Shimla Agreement, in an effort to end UN involvement. However, Pakistan safeguarded its position about relevance of the UN resolutions in the same agreement, in which an amendment was made into Article IV, that stated that the 'Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir will be respected by both sides, without prejudice to the recognized stand of either side.' A critical point has been reached in the dialogue. The visit by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to India towards the end of November is going to be in the context of Saarc, though it may serve to strengthen the spirit of cordiality. The subject of Kashmir will be formally taken up in the foreign secretary and foreign minister level talks in December. While the proposals made public by President Musharraf will open prospects for looking at new options, informed observers are already voicing their concerns in the debate started by those options. Many of these concerns centre on the status of the Northern Areas, which were not under the jurisdiction of the Maharaja in 1947. The fact that they adjoin the Chinese province of Xinjiang has given our relationship with China a strategic dimension. Should the status of the Northern Areas change in negotiations that permit independence or joint jurisdiction, the possibility of foreign bases, or of detachment from Pakistan would both degrade Pakistan's strategic relations with China. Similarly, if condominium in the Valley were linked to a similar status in the Northern Areas, it is open to question which side would have gained the advantage. The consideration of various options, presented mainly for public debate, need to be tabled as the basis of negotiations with India with great care, lest we emerge being worse off. Maintaining our special relationship with China should remain a basic consideration. The major international player in the negotiations will be the US, where President Bush is the dominant figure. The US has been treating India as a strategic partner, and Pakistan's importance is said to be 'tactical', so that if the crunch comes, the US may be inclined to favour India's interests. One would hope that President Musharraf's personal standing with President Bush would secure a more sympathetic and even-handed approach by the sole superpower. Though some analysts favour the setting of a timetable to expedite the pace of progress, we need to ponder whether the acceleration of the process will help us when vital national interests are involved. 'Making haste slowly' could well be the strategy that might suit both the participants in the dialogue, though for different reasons. We also need to bring on board the authentic representatives of the people of Kashmir, who are a main party in the dialogue process so far as Kashmir is concerned.

 

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