January 2007 News

Recipe for Kashmir

16 January 2007
Balraj Puri
The Times of India

New Delhi: The recent visit of foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee to Pakistan seems to have prepared the ground for substantive talks, presumably when Manmohan Singh visits Pakistan to reciprocate Pervez Musharraf's visit to India. The Pakistan external affairs minister was appreciative of Singh's positive response to Musharraf's latest four-point proposal on Kashmir. While Pakistan needs to clarify a number of points, India need not take the onus of breaking the process of dialogue. The first point of Musharraf's proposal defines the state as comprising five regions two on the Pakistan side (Azad Jammu and Kashmir or AJK and northern areas) and three on the Indian side (Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh). Two years ago, Musharraf had proposed that the peace process should make up seven of the regions in the state, with a change in their status to one of independence or joint control. Earlier, Musharraf had held that there were two regions in the Pakistan part of the state and five regions on its Indian part. Besides the three well-defined regions on this side, two more could be formed by dividing Jammu and Ladakh on what basis except religion? The US state department had hailed Musharraf's earlier as well as present proposals without bothering to look into the differences. The former proposal was based on religious identities, which defied ground realities. A solution to Kashmir determined by religion was unacceptable to India. That Musharraf has given up his earlier definition of the state, based on seven regions, in favour of five ethnic regions, and ruled out independence for the state or a part of it, should, therefore, be welcomed. The second point in his proposal that relates to self-government of the two parts of the state and regions within it has been subjected to different interpretations by National Conference, PDP and Hurriyat. Musharraf does not mind if it is called 'autonomy' of the two parts of the state within their respective countries and regions. The proposal, in fact, would create far more problems for the two regions of the Pakistan-held part of the state. AJK is constitutionally not a part of Pakistan, but neither is it independent or autonomous. Election laws and final authority of the federal ministry of Kashmir affairs hardly permit people to elect the government of their choice. The situation in northern areas is far worse. It is neither a full part of Pakistan nor a separate state. It has neither a legislature, nor do its citizens have a right to vote for the federal legislature. The real bone of contention could be the other two points in the proposal, regarding demilitarisation and joint management. The Indian army's strength in the state would depend on its threat perception. Militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are not under ISI control. They treat not only India as a whole as its enemy, but also pose a threat to Pakistan. The most important militant group, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, was originally sponsored by the ISI. Yousef Nasim, convenor of the Hurriyat Conference in AJK, quoted the Pakistan foreign secretary as saying that the Kashmir freedom movement was not part of the decisions taken during the Indo-Pak talks to share intelligence to counter terrorism. How would Indian forces agree to withdraw from the state in this context? If Musharraf could persuade Hizb to enter into a dialogue with India on ceasefire without preconditions, the proposal for real demilitarisation and its various stages would be worth considering. As for the proposal for joint management of the state, what subjects would it deal with? Would it encroach upon subjects that the two sovereign countries are dealing with? How would it enforce its decisions? According to prime minister of PoK, Attique Ahmed Khan, "The concept of joint management need not be defined at this stage, and would acquire clarity as the process continued". When relations between India and Pakistan are normalised, a purely advisory body, comprising representatives of the two national governments and two parts of the state on either side of the LoC, could be considered to share information and advice on subjects like environment, trade, cultural exchanges and travel across LoC. This is akin to the North Ireland formula with which Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is impressed. The writer is a political commentator.


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