Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kasuri's truths and half-truths

Journalism, it is said, is the first draft of history. But interviews in the form of draft history often reveal a variety of flaws — fading memory, self-serving recollections and a lack of complete knowledge about the issues discussed.
Former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri ’s candid interview to an Indian TV channel does suffer from some of these limitations. But it does have the value of bringing out just how much had been achieved by the peace process in the period 2004-2007. He is substantially right on Sir Creek and Siachen, but his take on the resolution of the mother of all disputes — Jammu and Kashmir, is only partially correct.
This is in great measure because while the first two issues were subjects to detailed official-level agreements, the J&K issue was still floating around as “non-papers” (non-attributable documents) in the back channel.
He is also right about the fact that 2007 would have most likely seen a visit by PM Manmohan Singh to Pakistan where the Siachen and Sir Creek agreements would have been finalised and given the Kashmir settlement a major push. Instead, Pakistan went into a meltdown begun by President Musharraf’s attack on the judiciary and the Lal Masjid confrontation.
Kasuri’s description of the ‘four-fold’ J&K elements is really the Pakistani version of the situation. They have been described in various formulations, including in President Musharraf’s memoir In the Line of Fire in 2006.
The Kasuri version here suggests that India and Pakistan would have demilitarised the state, given greater autonomy to their respective parts of Kashmir, joined them into a special regional entity by softening the borders between them, and had a joint mechanism to supervise the governance of the state.
The Indian view is much more frugal and realistic. It would insist on emphasising existing sovereignties, even while agreeing to measures to soften the intra-J&K borders. It had no problems with more autonomy, but its versions of demilitarisation would depend crucially on the security situation prevailing and the larger India-Pakistan relationship.

Most crucially, there was a difference in the Joint Mechanism of Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris which was supposed to supervise the new arrangements. In India’s take, this mechanism would look after subjects such as watershed management, forestry, tourism and the like, while Pakistani leaders insisted that it should also involve political and administrative features. There was no agreement on this point.

In the case of Sir Creek, the key breakthrough had come at the end of 2006 when Pakistan and India agreed to do a joint survey of the creek to come up with a single data set relating to the flow of the creek. Pakistan had also agreed to the internationally agreed practice of using the equidistance method of determining the maritime boundary. But while India was willing to concede the 160-odd square kms that Pakistan would gain here, it was not willing to accept Islamabad’s version of the Baseline Point, the last point in the land boundary uncovered during low tide. This is because this Baseline Point is the beginning of the maritime boundary and its location could lead to a gain or loss of thousands of square miles of maritime territory. This vital issue remained to be clinched.
With the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas closing in mid-2009, both India and Pakistan needed to come up with a common Baseline Point so that they could present a maritime boundary for ratification. Now both countries are likely to present their respective base-line points and the UN is unlikely to recognise the extension of their exclusive economic zone from the present 370 to 650 kms under a new UN plan.

In the case of Siachen, the idea of withdrawal and demilitarisation were agreed to in 1989 and 1992 and never implemented. Kasuri’s claim that “in fact, we had worked out certain schedules of disengagement whereby Indian and Pakistani concerns would be met”, is accurate.
This appeared in Mail Today February 20, 2009

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