The Bigger Picture: The dialogue is on track, it’s time to address the core issues
There was a time, last year, when the key to Srinagar was sought in Islamabad. Today, the key for Islamabad could well be in Srinagar. With the composite dialogue process ticking along well, a push is now needed on the big issues — ending Pakistan’s long jehad or ‘subconventional’ war against India and a final settlement on Jammu & Kashmir. This is the significance of the government’s opening up towards the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and the upcoming Manmohan Singh-Musharraf summit in New York.
The composite dialogue hasn’t yet moved mountains, but it has achieved its purpose — to build confidence on both sides that the other means business and is willing, and capable, of give-and-take. It has also yielded small successes — the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus, the missile test agreement — which have the value of maintaining the momentum of the engagement.
The decision to invite the moderate faction of the Hurriyat for talks in New Delhi was not serendipity, but based on hard-headed politics that allowed the grouping to get a more accurate measure of itself by talking directly to Islamabad. Islamabad’s endorsement of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has given the latter confidence to engage New Delhi without looking over his shoulder. Even so, it appears, that even Islamabad now realises that the 23-member grouping is not the only player in the Kashmiri game. That its politics of protest cannot quite stack up to the popular clout of parties like the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party.
While Kashmir may well be the focus of the India-Pakistan discussions in New York next week, there are several issues that Singh will have to raise with his Pakistani counterpart. First, the disturbing reports, many sourced to respectable elements of the Pakistani media, that there has been an officially sponsored resumption of training of militants destined for India. Second, that this has manifested itself in a surge of attempts to breach the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. Third, that Pakistan has instituted a series of visa rules that seek to slow down the process of people-to-people interaction.
The time has perhaps come to tell Pakistan that its retention of the ‘sub-conventional’ or terrorist option as a lever against India puts the entire process at risk. A major terrorist strike, and there have been several averted this year, will certainly strain the irreversibility that has been claimed for the process. India’s decision to begin a dialogue with the Hurriyat is a signal that New Delhi’s aim is not intended to cut out of any putative settlement in Kashmir any of the three key parties. Perhaps, in yet another gesture, India can move on a Siachen pullout, if necessary by recording its own positions on a detailed map.
The prime minister has clearly outlined the outer perimeter of the Indian position on J&K — there will be no redrawing of boundaries. He has repeated this in his two official meetings with President Musharraf, and to whosoever else who cares to hear. For this reason, the key to India-Pakistan entente now lies in Srinagar. The general has made it clear on more than one occasion that he would be willing to live with whatever the Kashmiri public opinion desires, and that this need not be determined through a plebiscite. As long as there is a transparent process, he, and presumably pragmatic Pakistani opinion, could live with the idea that there will be no territorial adjustments, and that the LoC, or a negotiated variation of it, becoming a permanent border.
Can Islamabad and Srinagar ever agree to such a formulation? Whatever their reservations, they may have to, if for no other reason than that there are no easier alternatives. In the 58-year-old history of the Kashmir issue, every conceivable option has been tried — UN intervention, mediation, direct talks, war, terrorism. Over the years, the world has gotten used to Kashmiri and Pakistani demands. But any movement ahead requires an acknowledgement of the equally vehement Indian insistence that Kashmir is part and parcel of the Indian Union. India certainly has an iron-clad juridical right to be in Kashmir, whatever the British-manipulated kangaroo court of the UN Security Council may have said in 1948. Yet, there is unambiguous awareness in New Delhi that this is not enough. There is a clear understanding that reasonable accommodation of Islamabad and Srinagar is necessary and possible. India holds the key card — physical and juridical control of the Valley — and so it is up to it to come up with proposals that can be reasonably and honourably accepted by Pakistan and the dissident Kashmiris.
So the challenge now lies in defining the internal boundaries and making them attractive enough for both Pakistan and the dissident Kashmiri opinion of the Valley. This means addressing two issues. First, Kashmiri feelings that they lack freedom. And second, Pakistani emotions over Kashmir, mixed as they are between demanding outright possession and doing ‘what is best for the Kashmiris’.
Take the Kashmiris first. It is not enough to point out that they have all practical freedoms — of speech, occupation, religion and so on; or that the fiscal dependence of the state on New Delhi is as big constraint on autonomy of the state as any; and that the practical lessons of the past decades is that Union institutions like the Supreme Court or the Election Commission will buttress Kashmiri autonomy. India needs to give more and do so in a manner that adds to Kashmiri self-esteem and honour.
With regard to Pakistan, it has been made abundantly clear that accommodating territorial demands will neither be prudent nor saleable to the Indian populace. On the other hand, there are ways in which Pakistan can become a legitimate stakeholder in the state, where it already controls substantial territory. The waters of three northern rivers are already promised to Pakistan under the Indus treaty, there is no reason why they cannot be associated with their day-to-day management as well; or in helping manage watersheds, tourism, trade and so on.
Both Pakistan and separatist Kashmiris will say that what India has on offer is not enough. This is where comes our second challenge — the need to convince them that this is just a beginning, not the end. The loop will not be closed once the present boundaries are fixed, but opened. A settlement of the J&K issue will initiate the next phase of the India-Pakistan relationship which will see a drastic reduction of the Indian armed forces in the state, softening of these very borders and even making them unnecessary.
Recall that the key breakthrough in the India-Pakistan process in 2004 was accompanied by a major breakthrough in the form of an agreement to create a South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) by 2016. By not altering boundaries today, India may appear not to concede much, but a successful Safta, something well within our reach, will make borders themselves lose their current meaning.
As the stakes in the India-Pakistan negotiations are raised, there is need for even more careful choreography to ensure that the processes in Srinagar are synchronised with those in Islamabad and New Delhi, and that they will feed into each other in a positive way, rather than become a roadblock, or worse, a blowback. Perhaps in this sense, the main aim of the coming summit would be to convince Pervez Musharraf, who is allowing sceptics in the GHQ to turn on the terrorist tap, to stay the course.
The Hindustan Times Sep5, 2005