Intra-Kashmir talks a must: PoK leader
8 January 2007
Islamabad: Fearful of being sidelined in the diplomatic efforts between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir leadership says it wants 'institutionalised' interaction between people on both sides of divided Kashmir that will act as a 'bridge' in the peace process. In a conversation with , Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, Prime Minister of PoK, said he wanted a dialogue with the elected representatives of Jammu and Kashmir and to invite professionals such as doctors and engineers from the State to visit and work in 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir.' A 'sacrifice' Mr. Khan said he was not pushing for Kashmiris to become 'physically associated' as party to the peace process, as there was 'no hurry' for this. It was a 'sacrifice' that Kashmiris could make. On the other hand, a dialogue between Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control could become part of the process for evolving a 'common strategy' towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue, said Mr. Khan, who became Prime Minister following the June 2006 elections. 'We have been asking for intra-Kashmir dialogue for a very long time, that this should be facilitated. It is partially available, but it has to be strengthened and given an institutional shape. All shades of opinion should be allowed to meet each other frequently, so that the Kashmiris are able to make their contributions towards the peace process,' he said. If Pakistan or India had problems issuing travel documents to prominent Kashmiris, Mr. Khan suggested giving them a special 'South Asian' travel document. 'India has been generous and kind enough to meet Kashmiri leaders and hold talks with them. Pakistan is also meeting Kashmiri leaders. Then why not these Kashmiris be allowed to act as a bridge between both?' Mr. Khan said. Welcoming the 'positive response' of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to President Pervez Musharraf's four-point formula for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, Mr. Khan said he appreciated the Indian response from the 'bottom of my heart.' Praising President Musharraf's proposals as evidence of his desire for a negotiated political settlement, Mr. Khan suggested a beginning could be made with a 'token withdrawal' of troops from population centres on the Indian side — 'there is no build-up or escalation of military in AJK' — as this would remove the 'mistrust, suspicion and enmity' of the people. Concepts such as 'joint management' — one of President Musharraf's four points — need not be defined at this stage as that could create obstacles in the process. These concepts would acquire clarity as the process continued. Lamenting the absence of interaction between Kashmiris on both sides as a 'major link [that is] missing' in the process, Mr. Khan said the introduction of the Muzzafarabad-Srinagar bus service, 'the only Kashmir-centric confidence building measure,' had come bundled in procedures that discouraged rather than encouraged contact. Proposals for other bus services between other points such as Kargil-Skardu and a truck service had been unable to get off the ground. 'This is one of the questions that we have been raising often — why Kashmiris on both sides are not allowed to see each other frequently. India and Pakistan have fought two and three wars but still they have diplomatic and political relations. But Kashmiris are not allowed to meet for the last 60 years. It is a question that irritates Kashmiris. Why only the bus service? Why not people like us, the political people, why are we not allowed to use our own vehicles to cross on both sides?' he said. Recalling his oath-taking speech, Mr. Khan said he had given an open invitation to his 'elected counterparts' in Jammu and Kashmir to cross the Line of Control and visit this side of Kashmir. Mr. Khan issued another public invitation — a formal offer might follow soon — to the 'educated unemployed' in Jammu and Kashmir and professionals such as doctors, civil engineers, town planner and architects to work in PoK. 'Because we are in the process of reconstruction, we are looking for a large number of skilled people. I will look after them, provide them a very handsome opportunity to work with us in the process of reconstruction,' he said. Referring to the objections of hardliners such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who accused Pakistan and Gen. Musharraf of a sell-out to India on Kashmir, Mr. Khan expressed the hope that when the veteran Kashmiri leader and others like him saw 'something positive happening on the ground,' they would no longer oppose the peace process. 'No third position' 'Either we accept the need to co-exist, or we reject it. There's no third position. If we agree that there is a requirement that we have to co-exist, accept and tolerate each other, then everybody will have to talk to everybody else, even though there may be some disagreements,' Mr. Khan said. The Kashmiri leader said Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was a 'model' of self-governance. Gen. Musharraf's proposal for autonomy or self-governance would have to be implemented in Jammu and Kashmir first 'to bring it on the same level as Azad Kashmir.'