By Zubeida Mustafa
KASHMIR is again in the news, this time not be cause of an upsurge in violence. Once more there is talk of peace. Another plan has been floated by Pakistan.
In an interview to an Indian television channel last week, President Pervez Musharraf proposed a four-point formula that envisaged the free movement of people within the state with unchanged borders, self-governance or autonomy to the state, a phased withdrawal of troops and a joint supervision mechanism with the participation of India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris.
This is a variation of the proposals President Musharraf has made time and again on several occasions since 2004 — the most notable being the statements of October 25, 2004, April 18, 2005, June 14, 2005 and October 21, 2005. As before, India’s response has not been encouraging enough to give rise to hopes for a breakthrough in the peace process.
Last week’s offer elicited a wishy washy statement from India’s junior foreign minister who spoke of his government’s position being that of making the “borders irrelevant”, but “not redrawing the map”. He reaffirmed India’s desire not to remain in conflict with Pakistan.
These casual exchanges have encouraged President Musharraf’s critics to react cynically to his move. The right wing lobby in Pakistan cannot stomach any modification in Pakistan’s position on the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris and so the new formula is anathema to them. There are others who see Islamabad’s persistent effort to offer different versions of its peace plan as counter-productive since New Delhi has not responded positively to any of the proposals recently floated.
One may well ask if it is worthwhile formulating such peace plans especially when they imply a shift in Pakistan’s position? In fact, the president was quite categorical in stating last week that Pakistan would give up its claim over Kashmir if India accepted his peace proposal. As it is, Pakistan has modified its conventional stand and no longer demands that the UNCIP resolutions of 1948 and 1949 be implemented. This is a sensible move. Who would deny that after 58 years these resolutions simply cannot be implemented in letter or even in spirit? To go on reiterating the old demand ad nauseam would confirm that Pakistan is not interested in bringing about any change in the nature of inter-state relations in South Asia.
The position adopted by President Musharraf is, therefore, the best option available to Pakistan. One should remember that Islamabad has failed to seize Kashmir on the battlefield. An armed insurgency launched by infiltrators has also backfired causing a lot of opprobrium to be heaped on Islamabad. Now the only route open for Islamabad is the diplomatic one and any agreement reached at the negotiating table can at best be a compromise. With India holding the better part of the state, Pakistan’s bargaining position is weak and it should perceive it as a political victory if it just manages to retain the goodwill of the Kashmiris.
This would be possible if the Kashmiri leadership — both from the valley and Azad Kashmir — is equally involved in the dialogue that takes place on the future of the state. This requires both the sides to work out the modalities. Instead, what we have is Pakistan giving the impression of trying “to rush a solution” and New Delhi adopting a “do nothing” stance. As the second roundtable of prominent persons from India, Pakistan and both sides of Kashmir held in Gurgaon in January 2006 observed, “There is need to find a right balance.”
President Musharraf will have to refrain from trying to conduct diplomacy through the media as he is fond of doing — every time he has floated a proposal on Kashmir it has been in a press conference or a television interview. Should not he be seeking a dialogue on his proposals through diplomatic channels? Such sensitive issues are normally not negotiated in the glare of the media.
As for India, the roundtable’s warning is timely: “There is danger in delaying a solution as the situation could take an ugly turn. Some feel this is no time to talk of solutions but to help the dialogue process within the state and across the LoC.”
The present need is to expand the common ground on which the two sides feel they can act without undermining their political standing. The Gurgaon roundtable identified many areas on which action can be taken without creating a public hype. There is, for instance, much internal tension in both parts of Kashmir. India and Pakistan can facilitate intra-Kashmiri dialogues at several levels — between Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas and between the leaders of the three communities in the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh.
The India-Pakistan CBMs in Kashmir need to be stepped up. The five LoC crossing points opened in Kashmir have proved to be symbolic considering the limited number of people who actually use them on account of the rigorous processes for travel documents involved. The need is to make the LoC soft and allowing free movement of people.
In this context the most innovative proposal made at the Gurgaon roundtable was for a peace park to be set up on the LoC covering an area of three by five kilometres on the main Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road. This should be a demilitarised zone where free entry is allowed to all Kashmiris from both sides who will, however, not be able to use it as a transit point to travel further on. This peace park will be administered jointly by the Azad Kashmir and the Jammu and Kashmir governments. The two sides as well as the India and Pakistan governments could finance the establishment of the infrastructure such as meeting halls, telephones, electricity, water supply and medical facilities.
The roundtable suggested that if this experiment succeeded more peace parks could be set up enabling the divided Kashmiri families to meet and increase interaction between the people from both sides. This is an excellent idea since it has the seeds of the key measures proposed by President Musharraf. In a small part of their own state, the Kashmiris will learn to administer themselves jointly, the area will be neutral territory, free movement of people will be allowed and it will be a demilitarised zone.
One hopes the two sides pick up this idea when their foreign ministers meet next. It would be a modest beginning but could go a long way in growing into something big.