The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan - Salman Haider and Shamshad Ahmad - met in Islamabad during19-23 June, 1997 for protracted talks to hammer out an epoch-making accord. The two sides have agreed to discuss and solve their outstanding issues bilaterally and in an integrated manner through the mechanism of working groups. While Pakistanis are quite naturally trying to make it out as if they have wrested major concessions from the Indians, fact is that this accord is in many ways the culmination of consistent Indian efforts to keep Kashmir a bilateral issue between the two countries.
It was refreshing to note the comments of the Pakistani Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif who described this accord "as a breakthrough in relations". He pledged to continue the process of meaningful dialogue with India for resolving differences. While referring to the conflicting stands adopted by the two countries on Kashmir, he said "We maintain and we will continue to maintain our stand and we will talk on it". Over the years, Pakistan has deliberately drifted away from its committment to the Shimla Accord which did not allow for any third party interference in Kashmir. Under the Shimla Accord, the two countries were to talk to each other to sort out the Kashmir problem. The May 1997 accord paves the way for the resumption of the process envisaged under the Shimla Agreement.
It is pertinent to note that Pakistan did not even once ask for the inclusion of Kashmiris in the bilateral talks on the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Neither did India ask for it. Both sides thus tacitly acknowledged that what matters is state power. Both India and Pakistan were also in a sense acknowledging that the creation of the two nation states 50 years ago was predicated on the assumption that the peoples of undivided India had only two options: either to join Pakistan or stay with India. There never was a third option. That Pakistanis do not seriously consider a third option is amply clear in their disinclination to bring in Kashmiris to discuss the future of the state of Jammu & Kashmir.
Nawaz Sharif has proved to be a realist rather than an rhetorician like Benazir Bhutto, who had used the Kashmir issue to cover up her government's inability to tackle the basic internal problems of Pakistan. During her tenure as Prime Minister, the Kashmir issue was raised to a shrill pitch while the economy slid inexorably into debt, corruption became rife and sectarian elements began to tear apart Punjab's social fabric. In Karachi, a vast section of the population was denied basic rights and state killings became the order of the day. While championing freedom for the Kashmiris, Ms. Bhutto's government trampled every fundamental right in Karachi and did nothing for the enslaved people of the Northern Areas. Mr. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand, knows that the real challenges facing his country include the economic crisis and the continuing sectarian violence. Years of high defence spending and profligacy by the bureaucracy has brought the country to the brink of economic collapse. He can start sorting out matters only if Kashmir is put on the backburner. Pakistan's general's and its mullah's will never perhaps allow the Kashmir problem to be sorted out but if the "Kashmir Issue" is subtly downgraded in Pakistan's public agenda, much of the emotional outpourings on Kashmir within Pakistan could gradually die down. Once this happens, tt will be much easier for Pakistan to work out a final solution on Kashmir with India.
The accord, ridiculed by some quarters in both countries, is therefore much more positive than is being made out. The basic approach is to sort out matters that can be sorted out immediately while leaving the more contentitious matters to be sorted later. This is the approach India and China have taken in reconstructing their relations and this is the only practical approach India and Pakistan can take. A look at the salient features of the accord suggest that both sides are working towards this end.
The salient features of the Accord are as follows:-.
1) Agreement to take all possible steps to cease hostile propaganda and provocative actions against each other including in the State-run media.
2) Setting up of a mechanism for fruitful dialogue by formation of working groups to identify the outstanding issues bedeviling good relations between the two countries and then address them purposefully.
3) Decision by both countries to set free boats and crew members held by both sides by July 15, 1997. The two sides have now verified 26 Pakistani boats and 195 crew and 35 Indian boats and 194 crew.
4) Release of all civilian prisoners on a clean slate basis. A date to be fixed for the same once the people are identified.
5) Further liberalisation of visa procedures by India for Pakistani nationals, easing travel for businessmen, journalists, students and artists and increasing the number of cities they could visit from the present 8 to 12. This is meant to facilitate people-to-people contacts between the two countries where a large number of divided families live. It is hoped that this single measure would produce enormous goodwill and help remove the mistrust between the peoples of the two countries.
6) To undertake all required steps to ensure peace and security including confidence-building measures (CBMs) between the two nations.
7) Establishment of a joint working group on J&K which is an acknowledgement of the inescapable historical reality that there does exist a dispute on Kashmir between the two countries. This dispute is to be solved bilaterally without third party mediation. Pakistan has dropped its traditional objection to discuss CBMs until the core issue of Kashmir was resolved. Pakistan has thus moved radically away from its Kashmir-centred agenda to a broader spectrum of engagement with India. It will hopefully open the doors to a multi-faceted interaction, allotting more political space for promoting good neighbourliness. On the other hand, India has not surrendered its legitimate territorial claims in the militancy ravaged State of Jammu & Kashmir.
8) Siachen glacier issue to be solved with determined efforts. This single dispute is eating enormous financial resources of the two under-developed countries which is quite avoidable.
9) Discussion on the Wullar Barrage project/Tulbul navigation project to be held. Pakistan in the past had been raising its vehement opposition to the construction of the project on the Wullar lake which is meant for harnessing hydro-electric potential in the State. Tulbul navigation project is to ensure smooth transport of goods through waterways, giving fillip to the economy of Jammu & Kashmir.
10) Dispute on Sir Creek to be solved amicably. It is a vantage position from the military point of view and is presently under Indian Army' control. Pakistan wants to dislodge Indian troops to gain strategic adavantage in this sector.
11) Prevention of drug trafficking taking place intermittently especially from the Afghanistan side.
12) Effective measures for curbing the menace of terrorism. On this issue, Pakistan has been playing hide and seek blaming India for the alleged denial of freedom to the Kashmiris. India is excpected to stoutly oppose this allegation in the coming talks on the issue.
13) Economic and commercial co-operation between the two countries to be undertaken.
14) Promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields to be initiated.
The agenda is impressive. Even a small step towards implementing the accord will go a long way in making South Asia more stable and tension free. Kashmir is only a small part in the big picture and if things proceed according to plan, then Kashmir will become even smaller on the regional radar screen.
Kashmiris and other friends of Jammu & Kashmir, who would like to register their protests either against such acts, please email Mhd. Sadiq at
Kashmiris and other friends of Jammu & Kashmir, who would like to register their protests either against such acts, please email Mhd. Sadiq atwww.jammu-kashmir.com
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