APHC’s message to Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders’ visit to Pakistan came as a watershed in the protracted dispute between India and Pakistan on the status of Kashmir. In the bonhomie and euphoria that met the APHC leaders in every city they visited, some basic implications of the political strategy adopted by the Hurriyat leaders and the Pakistan government’s handling of the situation have been missed.

They indicate U-turns by Pakistan and the moderate Kashmiri leadership and a partial turn around by India. What is most important is that this turnabout is the best thing to have happened to South Asia — termed as the most dangerous spot in the world by President Clinton in 2000 — as it can now at long last hope for peace.

Taking a look at Pakistan we find that it had since independence pinned its entire foreign policy on Kashmir. We don’t have to argue whether it was the dispute on Kashmir which vitiated Pakistan’s relations with India or realpolitik compulsions of the two governments that pre-empted a solution to Kashmir. Whichever it may be, the fact is that India and Pakistan remained locked in a vicious dispute that cast its shadow on all other aspects of their bilateral relations.

For the first time, the president of Pakistan has in categorical terms abjured war and ruled out a military option in Kashmir. Four wars have been fought on this state to no avail and it comes as a relief that Pakistan has opted for the peace card.

As a corollary to this change in strategy, Pakistan has withdrawn its support to the militants who are even now determined to wage an armed struggle to “liberate” Kashmir from the “clutches” of India. It is well known that the Kashmiris who resorted to violence in a bid to win their freedom did so with the active support of Pakistan. Yasin Malik, the JKLF leader and a militant turned politician, himself declared during his visit that he had crossed the LoC eight times during the course of his armed struggle.

Like Yasin Malik, Islamabad now realizes that the time has come to use peaceful means and a dialogue to negotiate a settlement. The message sent by President Musharraf has been loud and clear. The militant section of the APHC led by the Jamaat-i-Islami leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, is not acceptable to Islamabad. Although the invitation was also extended to Geelani, he did not avail of it because he refused to journey by the bus which he had opposed tooth and nail. With India having impounded his passport, Geelani’s plans to travel to Pakistan by other means were frustrated. There was not even a whimper of protest from Islamabad. Why should there be? Geelani has been opposing President Musharraf’s peace dialogue and his fellow partymen in Pakistan are at the moment the staunchest political enemies of Musharraf. Politics in Pakistan, international relations in South Asia and the global mood against terrorism have combined to sideline the militants.

Keeping in view the emerging trends, President Musharraf has shrewdly changed his stance on the obsolete UNCIP resolutions calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir. He has been talking about exploring other options and “out of box” solutions. But he has wisely continued to demand a solution in keeping with the will of the Kashmiris. How does one determine their will? By inducting the Kashmiri leadership into the dialogue that has been taking place between India and Pakistan, says President Musharraf. It is to his credit that a solution on Kashmir appears not as unachievable as it was before.

The leadership in Kashmir has also shown a good measure of pragmatism and statesmanship. There are some people in Pakistan who feel betrayed by the Hurriyat. They fail to realize that the main brunt of our policies — good or bad — was borne by the people of Kashmir themselves. It was Pakistan which had been setting the direction. Isn’t it time now to let the Kashmiris decide how they want to settle the future of their state – not just the final solution but the modus operandi as well?

If the Hurriyat leaders have changed their stance and have been talking with New Delhi, they should be commended for their statesmanship and foresight. When Nelson Mandela, the inveterate freedom fighter in South Africa who spent the better part of his life in Robben Island prison, was released in 1993, he negotiated a deal with his white tormentors. The National Party, which had brought the curse of apartheid to South Africa, was included in the interim government that was set up and Mr de Klerk became one of the vice presidents. Mr Mandela’s statesmanship saved his country from a bloodbath and its ravages.

The leader of the APHC delegation, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, made it clear in his speeches in Pakistan that the status quo in Kashmir and a division along the LoC is entirely unacceptable to his party. He spoke of other options which he said he had discussed with President Musharraf but would not disclose at this stage. His main demand is for the APHC to be included in the dialogue. As a concession to the Indian government, the Mirwaiz said that “triangular” rather than “trilateral” talks were acceptable to him.

In other words he was appealing to Pakistan to accept a format in which the APHC would talk separately with India and Pakistan, while New Delhi and Islamabad could carry on their dialogue. He let it be known that he would be briefing India about his visit to Pakistan. Given the conditions the Mirwaiz has spelt out — a change in status quo and no partition of the state — why should Pakistan question this framework especially if it can produce peace.

The change in India’s stance has been the minimum, but it has been there. As the strongest and biggest party with nothing to lose, India can afford to cling on to a hardline approach until it is pressured by circumstances or a bigger power to change gears. But it should be appreciated that after years of repeating ad nauseam that Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union and not open to negotiations with an outside power, New Delhi is now discussing the Kashmir issue with Pakistan. It has taken key decisions on issues such as the bus service, the ceasefire across the LoC, and how the Kashmiri leadership should be involved in the composite dialogue. These are major changes and should not be underestimated.

We will have to wait and see in what direction the peace process on Kashmir proceeds. The Mirwaiz and his colleagues asked why they are being asked to prove their credentials when other leaders, such as Mandela or Arafat, were not asked to do the same. Given the deep divisions in the Kashmiri leadership it is best that a more intense intra-Kashmir dialogue be encouraged to form a collective team.

Elections, when they are held for an interim government in the transitional phase, could be held simultaneously on both sides of Kashmir and the fairness of the electoral exercise be ensured by having neutral and independent monitors. All leaders, those in the governments in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and those in the opposition as well as those outside the political set-up at the moment such as the Hurriyat and the JKLF, should be allowed to contest the polls. The interim government so formed could of the work out the details of the form of government to be adopted.

It may be pointed out that Pakistan will have to step back and allow the Kashmiris to take the front seat. For instance, it cannot insist that independence of the state was not offered in the UN resolutions or that the Azad Kashmir leadership only recognizes accession to Pakistan (because it has not been allowed to express any other viewpoint).

Mr Agha Shahi, a former foreign minister, explicitly pointed out to the APHC leadership at the Karachi symposium that Pakistan has supported the rights of the people of Kashmir but it also has its own national interests to guard. That is true but national interest is not something absolute. It is a relative issue which changes with times. It calls for statesmanship to determine when the time for a change has arrived.