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Indo – Pakistan dialogue and the Kashmir conflict:
The inclusion of Kashmiri dimension in the dialogue process

Zafar Khan

Despite the on going ‘composite’ dialogue between India and Pakistan, the core issue of Jammu Kashmir (hence forth to be referred to as Kashmir) has yet to assume centre stage in their deliberations. If history of Indo- Pak dialogue over the question of Kashmir conflict is any guide, negotiations between them on this issue have yielded very little tangible results in the past.

Despite coming close to full scale war during the period of ‘eye ball to eye ball’ military stand off after the attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001, both India and Pakistan have begun a dialogue process which appears to be moving along routinely rather than in a dramatic and substantive manner. India has not conceded on her traditional position on the Kashmir issue, but has warmed up to Pakistan over the past few years. India has even toned down her usual rhetoric on Pakistan ‘sponsored cross border terrorism’- a convenient diplomatic stick which the Indian establishment has frequently used against Pakistan, especially since 9/11.

Both countries make encouraging gestures to each other on areas that divide them, and have come closer in areas over which they wish to develop immediate ties. This rapprochement has not however taken away the climate of suspicion that quite often determines the pace and substance of the on going Indo - Pakistan dialogue process.

Differing perceptions, especially on Kashmir, of both countries contribute towards a climate of uncertainty and confusion, particularly among Kashmiris across not only the Line of Control-LoC- but in the Diaspora too.

India on the whole displays her customary intransigence while Pakistani leadership appears quite optimistic and confident about an imminent settlement of the dispute.

Recently Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Mr Khurshid Kasuri, in an interview with Kamran Khan of the Geo TV claimed that ‘an agreement to resolve the Kashmir issue was close to being signed.’ Similar optimistic utterances have come from Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan former Prime minister of Azad Kashmir during his current visit to India.

His utterances are significant as he is close to the point of view of Pakistan government and equally his hosts in India are considered close to New Delhi’s thinking on Kashmir. Pakistan’s flexible policy on the other hand has given rise to apprehensions among Kashmiris. Even staunch pro Pakistan Kashmiri politicians question the wisdom of President Musharraf’s untoward flexibility, without reciprocal response from India.

The recent four-point proposal offered to India by President Musharraf on the issue reflects this flexibility. The proposal refers to opening of the LoC, ‘demilitarisation’, ‘self governance’ and ‘joint control’.

Kashmiris regard this proposal as a basis for formalising respective Indo- Pakistan positions in Kashmir. This becomes quite clear if we examine what Dr Manmohan Singh the Indian Prime Minister said in March 2006:

a) That borders cannot be redrawn but they can be made “irrelevant”

b) People on both sides of the LoC should be able to move more freely and trade with one another

c) A situation can be envisaged where two parts of Jammu Kashmir can, with active encouragement of the Governments of India and Pakistan for greater cooperation for furthering the social and economic development of the region.

Let us look at the context of the conflict:

Political and constitutional status of Kashmir has remained unresolved for almost six decades. India took the issue to the United Nations at the end of 1947, citing aggression by Pakistan. The U N on the other hand has dealt with the issue without any success. Kashmir’s fate was often decided by US- Soviet rivalry as the former Soviet Union used its veto in the Security Council to support India. The UK and United States of America never played a decisive role, despite the fact that Pakistan remained firmly in their camp during the ‘cold war’ era.

Kashmiri masses rebelled against their ruler- the Maharaja- at the time of partition. Popular discontent in Kashmir had been a manifest reality for quite some time against draconian rule and for political, economic and social emancipation.

Partition of India created new imperatives, aspirations and apprehensions in Kashmir. In this uncertain climate Kashmiris took to arms and liberated areas that are now under overall control of Pakistan. Threatened with the overthrow of his rule, the Maharaja sought India’s intervention. Indian Government showed reluctance to intervene without a legal basis, because along with 560 other states in the sub continent, Kashmir reverted to sovereign status at the end of British raj.

The Maharaja was ‘persuaded’, under compulsion of circumstances to accede, which he did on 26 October, providing India with the legal basis that she had sought for intervention.

Having secured the accession under questionable circumstances, India landed her troops in Srinagar on 27 October 1947.

Fearing encroachment by her powerful neighbour newly created Pakistan formally entered in the conflict in April of 1948 on the side of Kashmiri rebels. A full-scale conflict ensued till 1949 when, under the auspices of the United Nations, formal cessation of hostilities took place. Thus came into existence the Ceasefire - Line that was turned into the Line of Control under the Simla Accord of 1972.

Both countries have fought three full-scale wars since their independence from Britain. They fought their last war in 1971, when India intervened on the side of rebels during the civil war in East Pakistan, resulting in emergence of Bangladesh.

Violence and human rights violation:

India and Pakistan have a substantial military presence in Kashmir, with perhaps as many as three quarters of a million soldiers, deployed mainly by India. Militarised violence has created deep social scars, and physical pain in Kashmiri society.

Utter disregard and abuse of human rights has been a feature of military operations in Kashmir with deaths, rapes, collective punishment and disappearances of innocent young men at a time when activities by the freedom fighters have considerably reduced.

Very little if any, good will and confidence exists among ordinary people for Indian authorities. Due to a multiplicity of reasons, not least the so-called current ‘war on terrorism’, Indian authorities have literally got away with murder in Kashmir.

Lesser levels of oppression have changed political maps elsewhere in the world, while Kashmiris continue to suffer in their struggle for justice, human dignity, freedom, democracy and the inherent and inalienable right of self-determination.

Kashmiris are invisible:

Yet throughout the life span of the conflict, Kashmiris have been rendered invisible in the diplomatic and political arenas; and as the most important party to the dispute have become marginalised. The Indian and Pakistani dimensions in the issue therefore, have come to represent the ‘reality’ of the conflict.

Kashmiris have been kept outside of the negotiation process, and are exploited often as leverage by both countries to score political points against each other.

Despite periodic audiences granted to select and hand picked leaders by India and Pakistan exclusion of Kashmiris remains the norm. This attitude of Islamabad and New Delhi has given rise to a great deal of cynicism and alienation among Kashmiri opinion makers and ordinary masses.

Both countries give scant regard to the fact that; Kashmiris as principle stakeholders hold the key to the impasse over the dispute. The process of peacemaking and search for a solution of Kashmir conflict will be greatly helped by induction of Kashmiri dimension in the process.

The important question of who comprises and represents this dimension has not seriously been addressed.

Friends of Kashmiris’ often lament at the disunity in the Kashmiri camp. Considerable debate is required to unravel and identify various elements that influence divisions among Kashmiris; suffice to say however, that India and Pakistan bear a great deal of responsibility for this.

Both have a powerful physical presence in the territory and inevitably exert influences to reinforce their respective dimensions that are often detrimental for unity.

It is an area that has to be addressed if we are to make progress in forging a broad consensus of opinion among Kashmiri political players as opposed to Kashmiri masses.

What next?

Despite strong reservations among the Kashmiris, the dialogue process between India and Pakistan is making some progress. But the future status of Kashmir still hangs in the balance. We could argue that in the dialogue process, both countries are dealing with less contentious issues like relaxing trade barriers and travel restrictions before dealing with the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir. However, travel across the LoC via the five designated crossing points, is still restrictive, highly bureaucratised and not open to all Kashmiris and would require a considerable level of Confidence building before realisation of what Dr Manmohan Singh envisages in this regard.

Nevertheless thawing of Indo- Pak relations has created a climate conducive for deliberation and seeking clarifications on positions of concerned parties. We could revisit and look afresh at the strongly held perceptions of the parties in the dispute with the sincere desire to identify a way forward for an acceptable solution.

The questions that might well directly deal with the possible solution or solutions of the issue need to be posed and posed unambiguously. These questions among many might include:

a) Who will determine the process and nature of the mechanisms that might be helpful for a solution? b)

Shouldn’t India be prevailed upon to accede to the principle of starting a people centred process to seek a lasting, equitable and just solution of the Kashmir issue, which takes full account of the fundamental political and constitutional locus in the issue of the Kashmiri people?

2. Will such a solution be acceptable to the concerned parties?

3. Who will have the final say and who will represent the Kashmiri people?

4. Will the representation take place through existing institutions on both sides of the LoC: could such a method comprise holding of a Grand Assembly or a Grand Jirga across the LoC, or a mechanism such as a plebiscite or a referendum to ascertain the will of the people either:

a) For choosing those who will represent Kashmiris at the negotiating table or:

b) To determine a solution of the conflict?

5. Are the militant groups or their political counter parts outside of the existing institutions an expression of the popular desire; and how could they be brought into the process toward seeking a lasting solution of the conflict?

6. Is the assembly in Muzaffarabad an expression of popular will, or is the Srinagar assembly any more credible? Since both are subservient to formal and informal diktats of Islamabad and New Delhi respectively.

Implications of at least some of these questions are important to rulers of India, Pakistan, the international community and Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC and in the Diaspora.

Furthermore in the climate of Indo- pak rapprochement and dialogue, the principle of Kashmiri self-determination cannot be ignored as an important fundamental principle to move the process for peace and stability forward in the sub continent.

The sub continent, with two declared nuclear powers that not long ago mobilised one million soldiers across their borders, cannot afford to have the continuation of a conflict in perpetuity. Kashmir is the core issue and as such must be addressed in earnest to pave the way for a lasting peace and prosperity in the region.

Ultimately a solution of the Kashmir conflict will never become a reality if the manifest and democratic will of Kashmiris is excluded from any dialogue process. Thus a people centred approach to the issue must form basis of any dialogue over Kashmir’s future political and constitutional status. It is therefore incumbent upon the international community and in particular countries like the United Kingdom and the US to not only encourage but also seek a solution which is based on the inherent and inalienable right of the Kashmiris to self-determination.

( The article is the text of a paper presented at a seminar chaired by Lord Avebury, in Committee Room 3 at the Houses of Parliament on 8 July 2007 by Dr Zaffar Khan)



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