March 2005 News

Drawing A Bead On Kashmir

7 March 2005
Asia Times Online
Sultan Shahin

New York: While a permanent solution is still a long way off, the Kashmir peace process is certainly taking deep roots. Nothing could illustrate this better than the soft and realistic attitude of well- known Kashmir hardliners during a two-day conference of politicians and scholars from the United States, India, Pakistan and both sides of Kashmir to discuss options for the solution of the Kashmir problem held under the shadow of the United Nations headquarters in New York last week. Dr Ghulam Nabi Mir, the new head of the World Kashmir Freedom Movement, which has offices in capitals around the world, clearly pointed out that militancy has failed and that it is time to move forward. Pakistan's representative at the UN participated in the conference, though his Indian counterpart did not. Even among the options for Kashmir discussed and thoroughly debated in the conference, realism and an awareness of the ground realities seemed to be the order of the day. A confrontational approach was strictly prohibited and neither the speakers nor the audience disappointed the organizers, the US-based International Educational Development and the Kashmiri American Council. A couple of people did talk about atrocities perpetrated by Indian security forces in emotional tones, but they were firmly told that while the organizers respected their sentiments, this was not a venue for talking about what happened in the past or even talking about the Kashmir problem from the perspective of the past. The tone of realism and a sincere desire to explore options for Kashmir was set by the chief organizer of the conference, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Kashmiri-American Council, who stressed the following repeatedly at the very outset: 'Since we are concerned at this time with setting a stage for settlement rather than the shape the settlement will take, we believe that it is both untimely and harmful to indulge in, or encourage, controversies about the most desirable solution. Any attempt to do so at this point amounts to playing into the hands of those who would prefer to maintain a status quo that is intolerable to the people of Kashmir and also a continuing threat to peace in South Asia. We deprecate raising of quasi-legal or pseudo-legal questions during the preparatory phase about the final settlement. It only serves to befog the issue and to convey the wrong impression that the dispute is too complex to be resolved and that India and Pakistan hold equally inflexible positions. Such an impression does great injury to the cause.' He noted with satisfaction that the two leaders, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, undertook in a September 2004 joint statement issued by India and Pakistan in New York to 'explore possible options for a peaceful negotiated settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir issue in a sincere spirit and purposeful manner'. He added: 'We hope that the two leaders realize that there can be no 'peaceful negotiated settlement' without the full and active participation of the Kashmiris living on both sides of the ceasefire- line as well as those belonging to the Kashmiri diaspora.' He welcomed the bus service across the Line of Control (LoC) that separates the Indian and Pakistani-administered parts of Kashmir the and other confidence building measures (CBMs) and congratulated the two governments for creating an atmosphere of goodwill in which dialogue can take place. But, for him, the bus service was not an end in itself; it was merely a means to an end, which is securing the legitimate rights of the Kashmiri people. He said: 'It is almost impossible to find a solution that will take care of all the sensitivities of both India and Pakistan. Both will have to give in order to secure the future of 14 million Kashmiris on both side of the border.' He also talked about Kashmiriyat - the spirit of inclusiveness for which Kashmir is famous - and mentioned the fact that the struggle for self-determination was started by Kashmiri pandits (Hindu Brahmins) of great stature like Ram Chandra Kak and Prem Nath Bazaz, who are considered the founding fathers of Kashmiri struggle. Some effort was made to defend militancy by the United Jihad Council headed by Pakistan-based Syed Salahuddin. Barrister Majid Trambo, who runs a Kashmir center in Brussels, said that according to international law the victims of occupation have a right to inflict injury on the occupiers. But violence on civilians by anyone is prohibited by international law and is condemnable, he added. Senator Mushahid Hussain, a former minister of information and now chairperson of the Pakistan Senate Defense and Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that talks with Salahuddin should be initiated if the peace process is to have any relevance. It is a measure of the realism of the Indian side as well that Dileep Padgaonkar, former editor and now consulting editor of India's largest circulated daily newspaper the Times of India, supported the idea and added, 'India had already started the process of talking to militants of Syed Salahuddin's group called the Hizbul Mujahideen several years ago, though unfortunately the process could not be taken to its logical end.' Dileep Padgaonkar regretted that Kashmiri leaders were not allowed to travel to the conference. But he pointed out that Mirwaiz and Ghani Bhat had indeed been allowed to go to Kathmandu for a conference. No forward movement is possible on Kashmir, he said, without the normalization of relations between India and Pakistan. Also, no forward movement is possible without Kashmiris' concern being addressed. Padgaonkar continued, 'Somebody talked here about ground realities. Yes, there is alienation from India in the Valley; but it is also a ground reality that this alienation does not automatically translate into a desire to accede to Pakistan. As Dr Fai also mentioned, he pointed out, there is alienation from Pakistan in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir as well. This is also a ground reality that should not be ignored. Musharraf told me in Lahore recently that converting LoC into an IB [international border] is not possible. Manmohan Singh has said that any solution that tinkers with territoriality will not be acceptable. These rigid positions have to be addressed.' Referring to the massive costs of facing militancy, Padgaonkar said, 'India cannot, it has been said, continue bleeding in Kashmir forever. But that is not correct. The cost of fighting militancy has been taken into account in our economic management systems. But India, of course, does not want Kashmir bleeding. India cannot claim to be a vibrant democracy if Kashmir continues to be what it is. However, it is good that ceasefire is holding. The bus service has been widely welcomed. Get going the dialogue at various levels. Kashmiris among themselves; India-Pak; India-Kashmiris, Pak-Kashmiris, back channels, etc.' He suggested a whole slew of measures that can be taken to end alienation: Any solution has to be least unacceptable to both governments. Minimum understanding on promoting democracy, human rights, regional and ethnic sensitivities, fighting gender discrimination, ecology protection, etc. Rehabilitation of Hindu pandits and Muslims who had to flee violence. Institutionalized dialogue between elected bodies on both sides of the LoC. As Dr Fai said, uphold the finest elements of Kashmiriyat between whatever borders required. Uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue process. Pakistan's representative in the UN, ambassador Munir Akram, made the following points: 'The political atmosphere is better today than it has been for a very long time. There is a lot of popular support for solution and dialogue after the confrontation of 2002. There is recognition in New Delhi that there is no military solution. There is also recognition that neither of the two countries can achieve their full economic potential without peace and solution. The two now have to manage their relationship in a nuclear environment. Nuclear war is unthinkable. There is need to oppose terrorism and extremism on both sides. Process of normalization has, however, been so far a Pakistan-driven phenomenon. Pakistan took all the initiatives; ceasefire, etc. Islamabad worked hard to evolve a work program. Progress in dialogue on Kashmir has not been very successful so far; CBMs, of course, nuclear CBMs also, but on the central issues, on Kashmir in particular Indian position remains unchanged. India basically desires a status quo resolution.' 'Could it be,' Akram wondered, 'that India wishes, as Mushahid Hussain said, merely to buy time? But this would be the most dangerous term on which to pursue the relationship. A management of India-Pak relationship without solving the Kashmir issue will be a difficult proposition. We are large countries living cheek-by-jowl. There are several plans to solve the issue. Yusuf Buch plan, Dixon Plan, Kathwari Plan, etc. We need to keep on showing that there is progress, otherwise the whole process will collapse. This process can help stop Kashmiris being called terrorists. Pakistan believes that Kashmiris are the principal party. Any solution that doesn't involve them cannot succeed. There is a role for external powers - essential for US and Europe to be able to continue to encourage the two countries to carry on the peace process. So far the international community has been intimidated by India and others to stop acting on UN resolutions.' On the rebuttal, Padgaonkar mentioned apprehensions in India that Pakistan was trying to gain on the negotiating table what it failed to obtain on the battlefield. But of course, this never happens, he reminded the Pakistani interlocutors. The conference also included Kashmiri pandit speakers and called for the honorable return of the displaced Hindus and Muslims. In an apparent manifestation of a Kashmiri desire to include all sections of society in the dialogue process, US-based Kashmiri pandit leader Vijay Sazawal was made a full participant in the entire process, including being made a member of the drafting committee for the conference's New York Declaration. Other members of this committee were Mushahid Hussain, Dilip Padgaonkar and Dr G N Fai. The sea change in the hardline Kashmiri and Pakistani leaderships' attitude becomes apparent from the fact that stock phrases like 'Kashmiris' right to self- determination', and the demand for a 'plebiscite being held according to the UN Resolutions of 1948', etc were not included in the final declaration and were not even discussed much during the conference. Some participants, particularly Dr Akram Dar, an Ohio- based physician and member of the Kashmiri-American Council's Executive Board, warned that without basing their struggle on UN resolutions and calling for self-determination through plebiscite their struggle would stand nowhere. Some speakers, particularly from Pakistan, attributed the initiation of the current peace dialogue to the nuclearization of the region in 1998 that led to renewed international pressure on India and Pakistan to resolve the underlying Kashmir dispute. Mushahid Hussain, for instance, said the 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan had created a 'balance of terror' that has resulted in strengthening the movement for peace in the sub-continent. Hussain said the 'stakes are higher in Kashmir than in other conflicts like Northern Ireland because of the nuclear factor on both sides ... It is this that has forced the two countries to come to the negotiating table. [The] nuclear factor has given Pakistan the self-confidence to deal with India. This balance of terror strengthens peace. Two recent reports emanating from the US, released on December 3, 2004, by a UN secretary general- appointed committee and the other on December 16, 2004, by the National Intelligence Council of the Central Intelligence Agency, have linked Kashmir problem to Palestine. They say that unless issues like Kashmir and Palestine are resolved, world peace is impossible.' One regret expressed by all sides was the inability of India-based separatist Kashmir leaders to participate in such conferences. In its declaration too the conference regretted that Kashmiri leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mohammad Yasin Malik and Shabbir Ahmad Shah could not participate in the conference, ostensibly because the necessary travel documents were not made available to them on time. The conference urged the government of India to grant visas to all the members of the India- Pakistan-Kashmir steering committee to visit New Delhi so that the global discourse on Kashmir proceeds forward as scheduled. Asia Times Online was able to catch up with one top Kashmiri leader, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, former chairman of the federation of separatist parties, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in Washington. He was scheduled to address the New York conference but had not been able to do so as his flight was delayed in Tehran on account of an earthquake in Iran. The APHC is now split between hardliners like Geelani of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the rest who are considered moderate and realistic. He sounded quite optimistic and welcomed the recent confidence building measures announced by India and Pakistan, including a bus service linking both parts of the divided state of Jammu and Kashmir. He added that the bus link would put a greater focus on the Kashmiri struggle for justice rather than taking the focus away from it, as some Kashmiris and Pakistanis feared. Asked by Asia Times Online if he shared the apprehensions expressed by some Kashmiris that Pakistan was preparing to sell out Kashmiri interests in lieu of some trade concessions from India under US pressure, Mirwaiz said in his view there is a distinct change in Pakistan, but it is for the good of Kashmiris. He then made the following revelation, 'When I met President Musharraf in Amsterdam recently, he told me that Pakistan's focus has changed from acquiring the Kashmiri land and seeking its accession with Pakistan to doing something that would benefit the people of Kashmir, respecting their own wishes.' Apparently Musharraf seems aware that some Kashmiris' alienation from India does not automatically translate into a love for Pakistan, as Padgaonkar put it in his address to the conference. Asia Times Online raised another contentious point with the Mirwaiz. Former prime minister and president of the portion of Pakistan-administered Kashmir that is known as Azad (independent, free) Kashmir, Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, told AToL a couple of months ago in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, that in order to further the peace process, Kashmiris should be looking for an 'interim' and not a 'permanent' solution. The word permanent raised a number of questions of principle and issues of sovereignty and history got involved, complicating the issue beyond redemption. Asked to comment on this suggestion, Mirwaiz said: 'I have no problem with that, except that a solution cannot be 'interim'. It should therefore be called an interim arrangement.' Obviously he had differences only with the semantics, not with the spirit of the realistic and creative suggestion made by Sardar. This can only be a good augury for the Kashmir peace process that the top leaders of both sides of the divided Kashmir state agree on such vital and fundamental issues. Interestingly, ambassador Dennis Kux of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and author of several books on South Asia also made a similar recommendation: 'Don't touch the solution issue now. People will start arguing around principles.' He was for taking a long-term view. He said, 'Fifty-eight years ago we began the journey. Hopefully it takes less than that to solve it. Examples of Palestine, Cyprus, Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland can be cited. Seventeen years have already passed since the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland. But things are still taking shape.' He praised Farooq Kathwari's Kashmir Study Group for having made some concrete suggestions. There may be no way of finding a solution in 24 hours, as Professor Nazir Shawl, the executive director of Kashmir Center in London, claimed possible if there were political will on the part of India and Pakistan. However, there may be emerging a way in which a solution, even if interim, can be found perhaps within 24 months. Permanent solutions involve far too many complicated questions involving principles that cannot be resolved in a hurry. Neither India, nor Pakistan nor China, would be prepared to let go of the Kashmiri land they administer as a result of different historical processes. In view of the nuclear factor, a war to solve the issue has already been declared, even in this New York Conference, as unthinkable and not a realistic option. It is heartening to see, therefore, that Kashmiri people and their friends appear to be prepared to work with the governments of India and Pakistan to make the present borders largely irrelevant rather than trying to create new borders, which would inevitably create newer tensions as well, even if it were possible to create them in the present context. This correspondent has had an opportunity to talk to the common people of Kashmir on both sides of the LoC. They are sick of politicians of all hues and color. They consider all politicians, including 'freedom fighters', as corrupt and self-serving, as some of them have acquired huge properties during the last years of militancy and have not desisted even from engaging in conspicuous consumption. What they really need, as many Kashmiris in both India and Pakistan- administered Kashmir told AToL, is peace and security, education and development, no matter provided by whom and under what name. It would therefore be only in the fitness of things and consistent with the wishes of the people of Kashmir in whose name all politics is being played that the political activists don't try to change borders Kashmiris have lived with for over half a century; just try to make them irrelevant, not only in Jammu and Kashmir but, if possible, in the entire South Asia. Sultan Shahin is a New Delhi- based writer.

 

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