NEW DELHI – A month after President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan proposed a four-point formula to resolve the troubled question of Kashmir jointly with India, exploratory contacts between the two governments have gathered momentum.
Their efforts at reconciling mutual differences are likely to get a boost during a planned visit to Pakistan next week by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee. But the top leaders of the two countries will have to resolutely counter criticism from ultra-nationalists on both sides and take bold, imaginative initiatives if the efforts are to bear fruit.
Musharraf proposed a "four-point solution" to the Kashmir issue on Dec. 5 in an interview with an Indian television channel.
His formula envisions soft or porous borders in Kashmir with freedom of movement for the Kashmiris; exceptional autonomy or "self-governance" within each region of Kashmir; phased demilitarization of all regions; and finally, a "joint supervisory mechanism," with representatives from India, Pakistan and all parts of Kashmir, to oversee the plan’s implementation.
The dispute over Muslim-majority Kashmir goes back to the decolonization and partition of British India, on the basis of religion, into the independent countries of India and Pakistan in 1947. Kashmir, then a separate kingdom, was claimed by both countries and they proceeded to carve it up into two regions that are divided by the militarily fortified Line of Control (LoC).
India has been pushing for a conversion of the LoC, which has stood for almost 60 years, into an international border. But Pakistan has consistently rejected this plan and several wars have been fought between the two countries that have altered the contours of the original ceasefire line.
So far, India has not officially responded to Musharraf’s proposal but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he welcomes the "new ideas and thoughts expressed from Pakistan"; they can help "resolve all pending issues" which must be approached "with an open and friendly mind."
Addressing a meeting in Amritsar on Dec. 20, Singh said India and Pakistan "should forget the past"; "we need to think about our collective destiny, a destiny where both neighbors can work jointly towards a better future for their citizens."
During the past month, Musharraf and other senior Pakistani officials have offered to drop Pakistan’s "claim" to Kashmir if the issue can be resolved through "self-governance" just short of independence on both sides of the Line of Control, which divides the former kingdom.
They have clarified that Islamabad has never in fact "claimed Kashmir to be an integral part of Pakistan"; its legal position is based on resolutions of the United Nations Security Council going back to the late 1940s. These call for a plebiscite in Kashmir to determine if its people want to accede to India or Pakistan. (The plebiscite never happened).
The officials quote Article 257 of the Pakistan Constitution: "When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and that State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of the State …"
Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has further elucidated this by saying Pakistan has "no territorial claims" upon Kashmir.
"Clearly, bold sides have adopted a soft tone and indicated that they are willing to depart from stated positions," says Karamat Ali, a Karachi-based social activist and a founder-member of the Pakistan Peace Coalition, an umbrella group formed in 1999. "This, in and of itself, is a welcome development. It signifies that the peace process, which stalled after the July Mumbai train bombings, is likely to be resumed earnestly."
This change hasn’t come about suddenly. It is the culmination of "back-channel" discussions over several months between Manmohan Singh’s special envoy S.K. Lambah and Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Tariq Aziz. These have narrowed mutual differences.
Thus, Singh and Musharraf could report "progress" on Kashmir when they met during the Non-Aligned Movement summit at Havana in September.
"Beyond the back channels," says Karamat Ali, "there is a deeper realization in both countries that losing the present opportunity for normalizing India-Pakistan relations will entail heavy costs. Musharraf knows he has to deliver something to the Pakistani public before the presidential elections due this year. His economic record isn’t impressive enough. If he can achieve progress towards a Kashmir settlement, that will help him in the election."
Similarly, Indian leaders realize that Musharraf might be the best candidate for negotiating a Kashmir solution. The present moment is propitious. The India-Pakistan ceasefire across the LoC has held for three years. There has been a significant decrease in terrorist violence in Indian Kashmir. And the popular mood in the Kashmir Valley favors reconciliation.
Major parties of the Valley, such as the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, and the moderate faction of the pro-separatist All Parties’ Hurriyat Conference have applauded Musharraf’s four-point solution.
Musharraf’s proposal builds on the basic understanding reached recently between him and Singh: the Kashmir status quo must change; but there can be no redrawing of boundaries; and yet, the LoC should become irrelevant.
Of the four points, the last one (pertaining to a "joint supervisory mechanism" to oversee the implementation of a solution) is completely new and assumes a high level of cooperation between India and Pakistan.
The "joint supervision" issue is likely to prove the most contentious. The Hindu, right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bitterly opposes it and says Pakistan cannot be trusted enough.
Last weekend, senior BJP leader and former home Minister L.K. Advani accused the Manmohan Singh government of entering into clandestine deals with Pakistan at the expense of "the national interest."
"The BJP would of course like, if it can, to wield veto power on foreign policy," says Kamal Mitra Chenoy, of the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. "But it mustn’t be allowed such excessive power. Singh will have to stand firm on a deep dialogue on Kashmir with Pakistan and either ignore the BJP or blunt its opposition. He should know that Indian public opinion strongly favors dialogue."
In Pakistan too, right-wing and pro-jehadi parties oppose "dilution" of Islamabad’s stated position on Kashmir. But it’s relatively easy for Musharraf, a self-appointed president and military leader, to ignore them.
The other points in Musharraf’s formula will also be bitterly contested in both countries. Each of them raises questions. What will be the content of "self-rule" or "self-governance"? Will the pattern vary from sub-region to sub-region?
Who will ensure the economic viability of the "self-rule" government? Which judicial tribunal can determine if the rules of self-governance have been followed?
How soon can the first step of troops reduction, eventually leading to demilitarization, be taken given the violence prevalent in Indian Kashmir?
What will be the scope, functions, powers and composition of the "joint mechanism"? What if a dispute arises? Who will settle it?
"All these could prove deal-breakers," agrees Chenoy. "But obstacles to mutual cooperation created by conservative hardliners in the two establishments are an even bigger problem. They have now taken on a particularly unpleasant form, through restrictions on travel by diplomats."
In keeping with tough visa regimes, which are calculated to discourage people-to-people interaction, India and Pakistan do not allow each other’s diplomats to leave the capital cities without prior permission.
A Pakistani diplomat posted in New Delhi can only visit neighboring suburbs like Gurgaon. And an Indian diplomat based in Islamabad can only visit Rawalpindi next door, or Murree in the hills close by.
In recent days, the two governments carried these restrictions to absurd lengths, insisting that diplomats obtain prior permission even for visiting these neighboring places.
"Indian and Pakistani leaders must not allow cussed bureaucracies and intelligence agency hardliners to dictate the agenda," says Chenoy. "Singh and Musharraf should personally take charge of the peace process and insulate it from hardline interference."
Adds Chenoy: "Conservative mindsets won’t be easy to change, but change they must if India and Pakistan are to put behind themselves their half-century-long hot-cold war and reap the peace dividend by demilitarizing their relations and ending their arms race. A Kashmir solution represents a great bonanza. The must not squander the chance to reach it.”
(Inter Press Service)