A Kashmiri Pandora’s Box
Author: Ravi R Prasad
Originally published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 11/16/2004
Speaking at an Iftar party (the supper to break fast during the holy month of Ramadan) last week, Pakistan’s ruler Gen. Parvez Musharraf opened a Pandora’s box. He suggested that India and Pakistan should consider the option of identifying ‘’some regions’’ of Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control, demilitarise them and grant them the status of independence or joint control under the United
The suggestion left many shocked. India rejected it outright, without giving a second thought. Pakistan’s Islamic groups shouted ‘’betrayal.’’ That was expected. India has never accepted a third party mediation
in the Kashmir dispute and suggesting that ‘’some regions’’ be declared independent and given to the UN for administration was outrageous from New Delhi’s point of view.
Initially the Indian external affairs ministry was stunned and refused to make an official statement on President Musharraf proposition. The reaction was guarded. The Indian officials refused to comment
saying that this was not an official statement from Islamabad and need not be considered seriously.
But it was not easy for India to ignore the suggestion. Any proposition to resolve the Kashmir dispute, however outrageous it may be, is taken seriously by the west, especially the United States and the European Union. Therefore, New Delhi had to react to President Musharraf’s statement.
In the second week of November when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited The Hague to sign the strategic partnership agreement with the EU, he was confronted with questions about President Musharraf’s suggestion. For the EU leaders, who are far removed from the ground realities in South Asia, it is easy to emphasise on any possible resolution to the Kashmir conflict. For the west resolution of the Kashmir issue would mean one headache less to deal with and it can concentrate on the Middle East.
The Indian Prime Minister made it clear to the EU leaders, who insisted that India at least give a serious thought to the proposition, that President Musharraf’s suggestion was unacceptable. Manmohan Singh virtually rejected the idea put forth by the Pakistani ruler saying that such a move would not end the conflict.
“Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and it is not a matter for discussion with outside agencies.,’’ Singh asserted in The Hague. The Indian Prime Minister said that he did not consider Musharraf’s recent formulation for finding a solution to the Kashmir issue ‘’as a proposal.’’ He had earlier termed Musharraf’s statement as a ‘’off the cuff’’ remark, indicating that India does not find it serious
enough. ‘’If we receive it formally as a proposal, then we will react in an appropriate manner,’’ Singh said.
Under no circumstances India is willing to even consider the idea of giving any kind of autonomy to any region of Jammu and Kashmir. Granting autonomy or self-rule to the Kashmir region of Jammu and Kashmir province would be the beginning of formal dismemberment – a recipe to cessation.
The recent elections in Kashmir, India claims, is indicative of the fact that the residents of Kashmir do not want independence. The participation of the people in the elections and the victory of Mufti Mohammed Sayed demonstrate that the people of Kashmir have faith in democracy and are not inclined to have a separate nation, as projected by militant groups based in Pakistan.
President Musharraf’s proposition that some regions be made independent would only mean handing over the region to the Islamic militants, who have been fighting a proxy war for what they describe as
‘’liberation of Kashmir.’’
An UN led administration in the region is unimaginable. India has never recognised the UN intervention in the Kashmir dispute. The United Nations Observer Group in India and Pakistan is a silent spectator of the exchange of bombs, mortars and artillery shells across the line of control between the two countries. It has no teeth to enforce any kind of cease-fire between the two nations or deal with the Islamic militants operating from the Pakistani soil.
Moreover, handing over the administration of a selected region to the UN does not guarantee that it would resolve the Kashmir dispute. Going by what Pakistan claims and the militants have been demanding is that the people of Kashmir want independence and self-rule. A UN led administration is not an alternative to either independence or self rule. It would turn into another Kosovo.
President Musharraf not only failed to impress India with his suggestion, but he also infuriated the fanatic Islamic groups in his own country. The mullahs have rejected the idea of granting independence to any part of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. They claim that Musharraf has betrayed the Kashmiri people and their cause.
The two arch-rivals have been working hard on improving the relations, but there is not much of a forward movement in real terms. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met General Musharraf on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in October. The two made a joint statement, which did not convey much. They agreed to continue what they have been doing over the past few years.
The composite dialogue between the two nations has not made much progress. Officials from both sides meet at appointed times to make statements to the effect that they would meet again to carry the dialogue forward.
A month before Musharaf-Manmohan meeting in New York, the foreign minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri travelled to New Delhi to shake hands with his Indian counterpart K. Natwar Singh. That was the first high-level engagement between the two nations in three years aimed at paving the
way for the New York summit. After the meetings the two foreign ministers reported ‘’moderate progress in talks.’’
Since then the progress has actually remained moderate. Both countries talk about Confidence Building Measures, but apart from exchanging artistes and journalists, who return home to write about the warm
welcome, hospitality and absence of hostility in the minds of the common people, nothing much has happened.
The new Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, is heading for a trip to India later this week. He will also visit the other south Asian nations. But this visit too may not be of much significance, as Kashmir remains the sore point in the relationship between the two countries.
India’s efforts to engage separatist Kashmiri leaders in a dialogue too have not yielded results. India’s minister for internal security (Home) Shivraj Patil has accused Pakistan of trying to interfere in these efforts. Islamabad has denied the allegation.
India is urging that Pakistan respect its commitment to ending violence in Kashmir by militants based on Pakistani soil. ‘’As long as Pakistan abides by its commitment we are prepared to engage in a serious dialogue with Pakistan on all issues including Jammu and Kashmir,’’ Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the EU.
In January the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf agreed on a joint statement that the ‘’territory of Pakistan will not be allowed to be used for cross-border terrorism.’’ India claims that Pakistan has not kept its word and militants are still carrying out attacks in Kashmir. Some 17
people were killed in the first week of November in terrorist attacks.
Incidentally the militants have not even spared the hardline Kashmiri leaders. Some militants shot and wounded the son-in-law of Kashmiri separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar while he was
praying at a Mosque. The attack has come at a time when the separatist leaders are trying to re-unite the Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organisation of hardline groups in Kashmir.
The hardliners in Kashmir too are peeved with Gen. Musharaf for his suggestion. They have told the Indian and Pakistani leaders that Kashmir is not a bilateral matter between the two countries, but is a trilateral issue, involving the people of Kashmir. ‘’There can be no dialogue on Kashmir without involving the people of Kashmir. It is their aspirations which form the bottom line for discussions and keeping them out of negotiations will not help solve the problem,’’ said Shabbir Shah, a moderate leader who favours talks with New Delhi.
Yaseen Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front says that bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan cannot take place without the presence of Kashmiri people. The people of Kashmir are the principle party to the dispute. They have a legal and constitutional right to participate in the talks.
For the separatist leaders in Kashmir, their fear is improved relations between New Delhi and Islamabad could mean loss of Pakistan’s support to their cause. But, that is unlikely as the two countries are far from having a cosy relationship in the near future.
While New Delhi, Islamabad and the leaders of Kashmir are the three parties to the conflict, the massive displaced population of Kashmiri Hindus are never considered to be a party in the efforts to find a solution. Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus forced out of their homes are living in temporary shelters right under the nose of the Indian government in New Delhi, but their voice is never heard. They continue to work as labourers and small traders to make both ends meet. This section of the Kashmiri society, which remain non-violent, is largely ignored and its leaders have no say in the decision making process. Hardly does anyone hear of leaders of Kashmiri Hindus being consulted by New Delhi in any matter. After all they do not AK47 guns nor do they have support from across the border.
Also, the economy of Jammu and Kashmir has become the biggest victim of terrorism and political indecisiveness. The Indian government has handed over development packages running into millions of dollars for the economic and infrastructure development of the region, which was once a paradise for tourists. The absence of economic and employment opportunities as well as the lack of development are also reasons for the rise of militancy in the region. Unemployed youth, who are faced with a bleak future, enlist themselves dreaming of becoming rich in an independent Kashmir.
Bio: Ravi R. Prasad is an Analyst based in Colombo. He writes on issues relating to security and terrorism in South Asia, South East Asia and the Balkans. He can be contacted on email@example.com