Where Should The Line Be Drawn?
28 November 2004
New Delhi: The Indian side has made clear that a redrawing of the boundaries will not be acceptable. Amit Baruah reports. IT WAS always going to be Kashmir. As the November 23-24 visit of the Pakistan Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, to New Delhi demonstrated, Kashmir remains a looming obstacle in the path of lasting peace with Pakistan. During his recent visit to Srinagar, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, pricked the balloon floated by the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, about identifying regions in Kashmir, demilitarising them, and changing their status. Dr. Singh said clearly there would be no redrawing of boundaries. According to the Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, the same message was driven home to Mr. Aziz during his Hyderabad House talks with Dr. Singh. On his part, the visiting Prime Minister told his Indian counterpart that Pakistan would not accept the Line of Control as a solution to the 57-year-old dispute between the two countries. No grand solutions Where does all this leave India and Pakistan as the second round of the composite dialogue is about to commence? First, it is evident that no grand solutions to Kashmir involving any status change are on the cards. Secondly, a more realistic assessment of what is possible can now be explored. The Indian position that there can be no redrawing of boundaries is in line with the stand taken by the international community during and after the Kargil conflict in 1999 - that Pakistan should respect the sanctity of the LoC. Softened stand Significantly, as India has restated that within the no-second- division-of-the-country framework, solutions can be explored it has also signalled that softening of the LoC is something it is comfortable with. The Congress, which has upheld the status quo on Kashmir for 50 years, in its current coalition avatar, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), is willing to develop cross-LoC transport and people-to-people links. Confidence-building As a senior government functionary told this correspondent some time ago, confidence-building measures are being seen as part and parcel of a long-term solution to the Kashmir issue, and not as an attempt at deflecting attention. The Government is of the view that all kinds of measures to 'unite' divided Kashmiris, develop tourism links, and start the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus are in the realm of the doable. The bus service, first proposed by the BJP-led Government in October 2003, has been bogged down by questions such as the kind of travel documents that should be used and what category of people can be permitted to use it. Travel documents The kind of travel documents to be used has a larger bearing on the entire Kashmir issue. If the two countries agree to the use of passports and visas (highly unlikely due to Pakistani objections), then how different would the LoC checkpoint be from Wagah? Not much. Some time down the line, the Indian Government could legitimately claim that with Pakistan's acceptance of the system, the LoC was no different from the rest of the International Border between the two nations. Equally, it has implications for India's own claims on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). New Delhi would invalidate its own claims on PoK by permitting the use of such documents. One suspects, however, that India can live with such an arrangement. Also, Pakistan remains adamant that only Kashmiris should be allowed to use the bus service, something that has caused concern in the Indian establishment. A public word on the issue is still to come from New Delhi. All this has required greater urgency since officials of the two countries will meet on December 7-8 in New Delhi to discuss all aspects of commencing the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. Continuing process One thing is, however, clear: Pakistan may retain its 'strong' views on the primacy of Kashmir in the composite dialogue, but it is unwilling to derail the talks with India simply because 'progress to its liking' has not been made on the issue. A major departure since the nascent composite dialogue was snapped by Pakistan on Kashmir in September 1997, accusing India of resiling on Kashmir. Of course, it remains to be seen whether India and Pakistan can actually move ahead, remove mutual suspicion and give real meaning to the dialogue process. For many, the first anniversary of a comprehensive ceasefire on the LoC and the international border between the two countries, amounts to solid, concrete progress across what was once just a 'firing line.'