Why Not Freeze 'The Kashmir-issue' Basket?31 December 2015
Srinagar: Governed by Washington and endorsed by Moscow, the recent engagement between Pakistan and India is a much desired development and indeed a welcome step. Contrary to the opinion of some political pundits, I believe that the recent highlight of this engagement - the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Lahore - was neither sudden nor spontaneous. At best, one could classify it as a very well-guarded diplomatic secret, which in itself is quite a feat in the otherwise tale-bearing media of the Sub-continent. By nature, I am certainly not a pessimistic person, however I would advocate for some caution when trying to comprehend Indo-Pak relations and deciphering the equilibrium of power and authority, in particularly in Pakistan. It is evident that the Pakistani Army, the actual epicentre of power in Pakistan, is currently on board. No plane of an Indian Prime Minister could even breathe Pakistani airspace, let alone touch the tarmac of any Pakistani airport, until and unless the Pakistani Army would have given a nod of approval. The current nod is explainable, as it is a consequence of the recent visit of the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, to the United States. The bigger question is however, how long the Pakistani Army will keep approving of this harmonious engagement which many in the Army undoubtedly view as a conflict to their company's business interests? The subsequent question is, how long will it be able to contain the several Frankenstein's monsters it has created like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and the United Jihad Council? All, which exist to keep the Kashmir-issue burning and function as the front-line of the Army. Another question is, how will the Army control the so-called rogue elements in their ranks and the club of powerful retired personnel, which believe in patronizing these parties? Indeed, how long will Rawalpindi and Islamabad remain on the same page? The pro-peace forces in Pakistan, in cooperation with India, need to muster the courage and formulate policies which take away these concerns. Simultaneously, the violent forces and those who have an inclination of supporting violence, especially in Kashmir, must ask themselves the question, what almost three decades of violence have achieved? Will the current lot of a few guns really achieve what the last three decades couldn't or will it only push another generation to the brink of annihilation? There is also the question of the separatists in Kashmir. When India and Pakistan do not talk, great hue and cry is raised by each and every separatist that both countries should engage in dialogue and create an atmosphere of peace. Yet, barring just one or two separatists, every other separatist has been unsupportive of the recent re-engagement between India and Pakistan. The visible nervousness among these shopkeepers unveils that this recent re-engagement has compelled them to worry mainly about their monthly remuneration among other interests. These worries are genuine and need to be pacified while embarking upon the difficult path of peace. Perhaps their masters could summon creativity by only changing their job description. Maybe these proxies of war could be transformed into proxies of peace and still enjoy their remuneration. Albeit, for a much more humane cause. The demeanour of Syed Ali Geelani Sahib in particular has bewildered me completely. Geelani Sahib has been propagating J&K's accession to Pakistan in Srinagar for a few decades now. Logically speaking, this makes him nothing more than the local representative of Pakistan in Kashmir, defending the interests of Pakistan. When Pakistan directly talks to India, why should he then oppose this exercise and wish for a role for himself? When the main party, whose interests he is representing, starts talking directly to the other concerned party, Geelani Sahib should have no problems at all. In essence, it is his boss who has decided to take over the reins. Geelani Sahib's attitude towards the recent developments is the quintessential exhibition of hypocrisy. Most probably, worries regarding his own remuneration must have had an uncontrollable and exacerbating effect. Having said all this, it seems that in the backdrop of geo-political developments, growing threat of global religious extremism and increasing economic interdependency, both countries have decided to re-engage while following the previously agreed approach of 'bucketing' their issues into different baskets. It is also reasonably clear that there is a consensus, at least for the moment, that the basket labelled as 'The Kashmir-issue' is the last basket which will be touched at the last. This indeed, is the most realistic and feasible strategy given the current circumstances. However, I do think that in order to mitigate above mentioned concerns, this strategy needs to be institutionalized and we Kashmiris need to be brought on board. Both countries, instead of wishing away the Kashmir-issue by merely deprioritizing it, need to take us Kashmiris into confidence and make us understand that putting 'our' basket as the last one to be touched, is actually in our interest. We Kashmiris need to be told that the probability of 'our' basket getting resolved is greater when it is preceded by solutions to the other less contentious issues in the other baskets. Absence of transparency in this regard will only harvest mistrust among Kashmiris which will eventually prove counterproductive. History bears witness to the fact that there are many elements which would readily exploit this mistrust and thereby try to jeopardize this breeze of peace. One way to institutionalize this strategy and bring us Kashmiris on board is adapting the freezing to de-freeze formula. This would translate into formally freezing the Kashmir-issue for the next - let's say - twenty years in order to de-freeze it. During these twenty years, India and Pakistan should solve all other outstanding issues which will ensure economic and political interdependency among both the countries, demolish the erected walls of hatred and eventually assuage the complexities of the Kashmir-Issue. India and Pakistan should start following the broad lines of some formulae which they largely agreed upon in the past and call by different names, depending on whom you ask; 'The Musharraf formula', 'The Musharraf-Manmohan formula' or 'The Vajpayee formula'. Whichever name one might give it, both countries should, while freezing the Kashmir-issue, demonstrate the utmost flexibility by giving something back to us Kashmiris. This will pave the way of satisfying our genuine demands, create a tangible sense of hope and at the same time address our intangible yet undeniable yearning of regaining our lost dignity. Both countries should initiate the total withdrawal of their armies from J&K. A zero tolerance policy on terrorism should be adhered to by all partners. Elements in Kashmir assisted by rogue elements in the Pakistani military establishment, supporting terrorism and extremism should be aborted. The de facto border, LOC, should be made irrelevant and free movement of goods, persons, services and capital should be guaranteed. Pakistan should ensure that no further attempts will be made to disassemble Gilgit Baltistan from Pakistan Administered Kashmir (Azad Kashmir). A sustainable economy consisting of models for industrial, agricultural and touristic developments should be encouraged and invested upon by both countries. Full autonomy should be given to the Kashmiri people on both sides by constituting regional assemblies in all the five regions and only the portfolios of Defense, Foreign affairs and Currency should be managed by India and Pakistan respectively in their current administered parts of J&K. We Kashmiris on our part, need to institutionalize an Intra-Kashmir dialogue in all the regions of J&K, which includes Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan Administered Kashmir, Ladakh, Jammu and the Kashmir Valley and among all the State Subjects of J&K including all those minorities who were forced to leave their soil because of violence during the last 25 years by constituting a mechanism for the return of refugees and their right to the dispensation of justice. While considering the realities of the geo-political situation in the region and especially the global situation which will develop in this freezing period, the national interests of India and Pakistan and our own interests, we Kashmiris need to build a rationally sound consensus regarding the wishes, which our collective representatives will put forward at the end of this twenty year freezing period. I firmly believe that an everlasting solution to the Kashmir-issue will naturally follow this freezing period. When both countries will have solved all other outstanding issues and Kashmiris would have liberated themselves from violence, religious extremism and proxy warfare, none of the parties would be willing, not to solve this imbroglio. The interrelated stakes, collective appetite for peace and economic progress and the respective introspection among all stakeholders would necessitate a solution based on the principles of give-and-take. The interdependency will inevitably make giving less painful, while it will diminish the urge of taking. Every sane Kashmiri should welcome and encourage any kind of political engagement between Pakistan and India. As long as there is engagement, there is at least less or no violence, which ensures that Kashmir and Kashmiris suffer less. Whoever opposes such developments, is the actual enemy of Kashmiris and a beneficiary of this conflict. The sooner we Kashmiris understand this, the better for us. The path to peace is long, but it is a path worth walking. Yes, even crawling.