Engaging Kashmiris In Finding A Solution
7 June 2005
The News International
Islamabad: A delegation of well known Kashmiri leaders representing the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC-Ansari), Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the J&K Democratic Freedom Party is in Pakistan to interact with their counterparts on this side of the Line of Control (LoC) and meet those who matter. This indicates yet another breakthrough in the peace process, by engaging Kashmiris in a dialogue to explore various options acceptable to the diverse people of former Jammu and Kashmir state and both India and Pakistan. Although there is now a broader understanding over engaging the representatives of the people of Kashmir in finding a solution, differences still exist over who represents Kashmiris and other no less important communities, and how they have to be engaged. For the first time, Kashmiri leaders have been allowed to cross over the LoC and initiate a dialogue with fellow Kashmiris and consult Pakistani leadership. This most significant step has followed the start of the bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar that allows the reunion of divided Kashmiri families after five long decades. Although sceptics had rejected the bus service and opening of the LoC to Kashmiris on both sides, it was hoped that it would pave the way towards softening the arbitrary line that divides the Kashmiris, and open the way for an intra-Kashmiri dialogue, along with somehow involving the Kashmiris in the negotiation process. It is a welcome development that the process of engaging the Kashmiris has been initiated. However, the leadership not only in the Kashmir Valley, but also across various regions and communities remains divided. Even the APHC remains divided with Ali Geelani's faction taking a harder line, although not reflecting the mainstream view across J&K, while the Jamaat-i-Islami there don't agree with him. Unfortunately, the APHC, the political front of the Kashmiri movement, was overtaken by the militant outfits that rejected the political struggle for an armed struggle. An excessive involvement of 'guest-freedom fighters' further eroded the indigenous character of the resistance while undermining the role of political leadership in Kashmir. The void thus created was filled by others as the APHC was sidelined. Yet the APHC continued to keep the flag flying and represent the aspirations of the Kashmiri Muslims living in the Valley. It got divided when a majority of APHC accepted Vajpayee government's invitation for talks, with Geelani accusing them of betrayal. Following that division, the APHC (Ansari) took a cautious attitude towards negotiations and insisted upon allowing them to go to Pakistan before accepting new talks offers by the Manmohan Singh government. While Singh continued to offer an olive branch to the Geelani-led faction, -replaced Ansari and showed readiness to drop Bilal Ghani Lone from the executive for the sake of uniting the two factions, the Geelani group went ahead with hardening of its stance towards the whole reconciliation process. Geelani continues to accuse the Musharraf government of showing flexibility, opposes the current composite dialogue process and takes an isolationist position. The gulf between the two factions has widened, despite efforts towards reconciliation and Pakistan's persuasions. Although a reliable proxy of Islamabad prior to the post 9-11 policy changes, Mr Geelani takes a rejectionist position while appealing to those militant elements that have in fact played out their role but are not ready to accept new geo- political realities that have forced Pakistan to change its strategy and tactics. Regardless of their differences, the time has come to promote intra-J&K dialogue among various communities and engage the representatives of various standpoints, including the Geelani faction, the National Conference, the People's Democratic Party, the Panther Party and other outfits in various regions of the formerly princely state. This is the time when both India and Pakistan, instead of preferring their favourites, should engage all those who in some way represent different sections and communities across divided J&K. It is a good omen for the peace process that, like the bus service on which India and Pakistan showed remarkable flexibility on the nature of travel documents, the leaderships of the two countries have again kept aside their stated positions while allowing the Kashmiri nationalists to get into a sort of three-way engagement in the negotiation process. To silence the gun, it is imperative that the militant outfits are convinced about the participation of the Kashmiris in the negotiation process and are brought into the mainstream after granting amnesty to those willing to bid a farewell to arms. On the other hand, both Pakistan and India must together take measures to stop violence - by militants or security forces. For militants to take a back seat, it is necessary that the political leadership of various regions of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir is brought forward and engaged in the dialogue process. Unfortunately, the men with guns had rendered the political leadership ineffective. Now is the time for the political leadership across all divides to capture the centre-stage. With more confidence building measures focusing on Jammu and Kashmir, a situation will be created to further soften the LoC, allowing Kashmiris to interact among themselves and weigh the different options that serve their aspirations without offending New Delhi and Islamabad. Such a situation will provide a unique opportunity to India and Pakistan to take the process of reconciliation forward. Such a process, uninterrupted by violence, can eventually produce a solution acceptable to all three parties to the conflict. Since neither Pakistan nor the Kashmiris will accept the LoC being turned into a permanent international border, and India rejects redrawing the borders, a middle course could be found through an innovative approach. President Pervez Musharraf has already shown his readiness to go for the middle course of making border dividing Kashmiris irrelevant by softening it, demilitarizing all the regions of Kashmir, and engaging the Kashmiris of various regions to find a lasting solution that is also acceptable to the Kashmiris, besides India and Pakistan. Various successful examples and proposals can be studied to find a solution to the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan should appreciate that India cannot afford nor tolerate a division of J&K on religious lines. Given the new emphasis on the will of the Kashmiri people in Pakistan's new moderate position, a solution that permanently divides the people of the former princely state will not be acceptable to most people in all the distinct regions of J&K. Therefore, efforts to find a solution should be focused on such solutions and plans applied elsewhere that have successfully tackled such conflicts, of which there are several examples. At least half a dozen models can be examined and creatively adopted to the situation of J&K. If the solution to the Territory of Trieste, over which Yugoslavia and Italy shared sovereign rights, appears to be a 'communal division' to Indians, they can consider Andorra, a principality claimed by Spain and France, as a model. If New Delhi does not accept that, since it may ultimately give the J&K an almost independent status, it could consider the solution found to the South Tryol dispute between Italy and Austria. South Tryol now has the highest degree of autonomy that India can concede (since it claims that the sky is the limit to autonomy) to its part of semi- sovereign J&K; this should, in turn, be allowed to freely interact with the Pakistani side of Kashmir and Northern Areas, including the formation of joint federating councils and other administrative institutions. Other solutions can be blended with existing models, such as Aaland Island, a disputed territory between Sweden and Finland, and Sami Parliamentary Assembly, a joint platform of regional parliaments of the Sami people spread across northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. The Basque leader Jose Ibarretxe's proposal for 'shared sovereignty and free association' can also be suitably adopted without formally compromising Indian and Pakistani territorial claims over J&K. Another model for dispute resolution is the Good Friday Agreement to resolve the Northern Island's status. This is a most opportune time for the solution of the Kashmir dispute. Never before in our history has the political leadership across all divides, except certain fringe elements, been inclined towards a resolution. What Mr. L. K. Advani has been saying during his visit to Pakistan and on his return to New Delhi reflects a new level of maturity and statesmanship. It is time to seize the moment and let the Kashmiris decide their fate in a framework that takes care of the ground realities and a shared fate with India and Pakistan. Rather than a source of conflict, let J&K become a bridge of friendship between India and Pakistan and let it show a path towards creating a South Asian fraternity of peoples and states.