Dialogue July- September, 2005, Volume 7 No. 1
Indo-Pak Relations and Kashmir
The Indo-Pak peace process which started in January, 2004 is expectedly alternating between hope and despair. The highs following the visit of President Musharraf in April, 2005 as part of cricket diplomacy, is currently in the lows and hardliners on both sides donot see much prospect in the near future. There is no doubt that there are mixed signals and one is justified in assuming that Pakistan is, as yet, unwilling to give up its “Jehadi” options vis-à-vis India. However, considering the history of Indo-Pak relations and Pakistan’s stand and postures on Kashmir, the highs and lows are going to define the relations and the present trough has to be taken into stride.
At the subliminal level, the “freeze” and “stalemate” resulting from both being nuclear powers imposes certain obligations and constraints on both the countries. Passage of arms, including a proxy war, is out without risking a nuclear conflagration. Hence India and Pakistan can live either in cordiality or perpetual hostility. It is this reality which is propelling the Indo-Pak dialogue process. The past and caution are at the moment weighing on any meaningful progress. Intent is there; but the will to move forward is prisoner of mutual suspicions and doubts.
The lows appeared to be a function of a number of factors. The foremost is the inability of President Musharraf to take all the stake-holders in Pakistan along with him on change of course on Kashmir. Besides, some external developments also seem to be impinging on the progress of peace process. A series of bilateral negotiations and talks at the secretaries level have not yielded any results on substantive issues. Some progress made is confined to prior intimations on missile tests, release of prisoners, negotiations on drug trafficking and opening of truck routes between Kashmir and POK. Negotiations on main issues like Baglihar, Siachen, Sir Creek, Tulbul and Kishanganga projects have ended in a stalemate. Objectively speaking, none of these problems are such, which cannot be resolved with positive approach of give and take. The main problem is in the mind and not in the facts and ground realities. It is the acute trust deficit on both sides, which is defying solutions. There is a tendency on both sides not to be seen to be conceding anything to the other side. There is tentativeness and lack of mutual confidence and trust in the whole affair. Evidently the process has not reached a stage where things can move without a push or nudge from the top even in small matters.
Yet there is no reason to despair. The overall ambience is not very disheartening. The recent meetings between the Home Secretaries and Foreign Secretaries of the two countries have been relatively cordial. It is possible that the current lack of progress on main issues may once again see a change following the meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and President of Pakistan on September 14 in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Session.
Despite commitments from both side of a composite dialogue, including on Kashmir, Kashmir continues to be in Pakistani perception a “make or break” issue. The all round criticism of President Musharraf at home for changing course on Kashmir has forced both the General and his Prime Minister to publicly demand quick results and progress on Kashmir before any substantive progress is made on other issues. How much of it is rhetoric to placate the home constituency and how much is meant to pressurise India to concede more on Kashmir is difficult to guess at the moment . The reports that the earlier restraints and constraints on various Jehadi groups has been loosening and some training camps are being revived, has been a worrying factor in India. These reports have come from credible Pak media sources. Even the Indian Prime Minister had commented that the failure of President Musharraf to deliver on his January 2004 assurance that terrorist activities and infrastructure will not be allowed on the soil of Pakistan, may derail the peace process. Additionally, the fact that Salahuddin, head of the United Jehad Council, can issue public statements of continuing Jehad in Kashmir with impunity on Pakistan soil in the presence of Federal Ministers, is bound to cause concern.
The pyrotechnics of President Musharraf in the wake of 7/7 bombings in London have to an extent brought to surface constraints in dealing with the fundamentalists and jehadis in his country. He conceded as much that in the past he had not been able to take firm action against these groups, despite assurances, for the fear of a fundamentalist backlash. Yet he never tires of affirming that Pakistan is in the forefront of fight against international terrorism. Literally speaking, he is right. But he is fighting only against Al- Qaeda and foreign terrorists in his country and on Pak-Afghan borders, as these affect the interests of Pakistan and the United States. He, however, has not done the same about other terrorist groups who are operating in and from Pakistan with local roots and affect the neighbouring countries like India and Afghanistan. President Musharraf is also adept at diverting international attention from his inadequacies and failures by taking stands like “enlightened moderation” and to lead “Islamic renaissance” world over to please the US and Western nations. To further his moderate image, President Musharraf has opened channels with Israel and the Jewish lobby in the USA. His embarrassment over Pakistani connections in London bombings and elsewhere is understandable, but then, he has himself to blame for it . He has done precious little to rein in and demolish the radical Islamic symbols or jehadi entities . Respectable Pak news papers like the Dawn and Daily Times have urged the President to move from mere rhetoric and deliver on such issues. Assured of the US indulgence Pakistan is under no undue pressure to give up its jehadi options vis-à-vis its neighbours and plead local political compulsions. But it does affect perceptions across the borders.
There is another factor which may impinge on Indo-Pak relations which most experts and analysts seem to be downplaying. This is the growing interplay between Indo-US, Sino-US, Indo-Pak and Sino-Pak relations. The chinese factor in Indo-Pak and Indo-Bangladesh relations is becoming more relevant than we are willing to concede. The Sino-US rivalry in the Far-East, South-East Asia, Central Asia and the Indian Ocean is bound to involve India and Indian interests. The growing trajectory of Indo-US strategic relationship cannot but to be viewed by China as an effort by the USA to contain Chinese super-power ambitions in Asia and the Indian Ocean region. Its a delicate balance which Indian diplomacy has to manage to keep Sino-Indian relations above the likely Sino-US rivalries in Asia and elsewhere over the theme of unipolar and multi-polar world. China has enough leverage both with Pakistan and Bangladesh to pursue its strategy of confining India in the South Asian region. The rivalry between the USA and Russia and China has started unfolding in Central Asia. It is likely to spread to other Asian regions. In this scenario the course of Sino- Indian relations will also impact on Indo-Pak and Indo-Bangladesh relations. There is, at the moment, no clarity on the issue.
Kashmir has a crucial and important place in any exercise to normalise relations between India and Pakistan. Although having agreed to a composite dialogue, including on Kashmir, Pakistan keeps on reverting to its earlier stand that without any substantive progress in resolving the Kashmir dispute, there cannot be progress on other issues between the two countries. Related to this are the various developments within Kashmir and Pakistan’s approach to the problem.
The constrains of post 9/11 International disapproval of terrorism and of nuclear stalemate have also had an impact on how Kashmir problem is being seen by both the protagonists. This has led to various kinds of maneuverings in Jammu & Kashmir around issues like people-centric solutions, loose border, participation of Kashmiris in Indo-Pak dialogue, alleged human rights violations by Indian army in Kashmir, wihtdrawal of Indian troops, LOC as an international border, tarns-border terrorism etc. However, one thing is certain that the earlier stand on UN Resolutions and its implementation to ascertain the views of Kashmiris have been diluted with Pakistan and India having agreed to discuss other options to find an amicable solution acceptable to both the countries and which will also go down well with the Kashmiris. The bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and visit of the APHC ( Mirwaiz)and Yasin Malik (JKLF) to POK and Pakistan in June 2005 were the two visible symbols of easing the environment for further progress.
Pakistan had been positioning itself to extract maximum advantage and concessions from India on Kashmir which had taken a stand that there cannot be another partition of the country and re-drawing of the borders. In order to send a message of moderation, Pakistan had constrained / restrained various jehadi groups operating from its soil. Within Kashmir having failed to unite the two factions of its proxy the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), it has decided to back the moderate APHC(A) faction led by Mirwaiz Farooq and has sidelined the Gilani faction its earlier favourite, which is unwilling to give up its hardline stance of accession to Pakistan and the jehadi option etc. In early June, Pakistan invited APHC (A) to POK and Pakistan for discussions and it was an opportunity to anoint it as the Pak recognised APHC which would represent the Kashmiris for dialogue purposes . This visit had no other fall-out except to give the APHC (A) a somewhat inflated view of their status. The APHC has always been, since its formation in late 1992, a proxy for Pakistan. APHC was meant to be the overground political face of the ongoing armed militant movement in the state.
Meanwhile, S.A.S Gilani APHC(G) has floated a political party Tehrik-e- Hurriyat (TEH) and has accused Pakistan of betraying the Kashmiris and the Kashmiri cause . He describes APHC(A) as traitors. Pakistan’s difficulties in this regard have multiplied due to the fact that the fundamentalist groups in Pakistan and militants belonging to United Jehadi Council led by HM and LeT and JeM have lined up behind Gilani. Gilani also seems to have greater support among the separatists within the valley. Even the POK (Azad Kashmir) leaders questioned (Dawn –June 25, 2005) the claims of representative character of APHC (A).
These developments have left the APHC (A) in weaker position and despite its aggressive postures after return form Pakistan, it found itself in a very odd situation. Its grand-standing and posturings in Pakistan and in the valley as sole representative of Kashmiris and supporting the Pakistani line on Kashmir issue (see article of Mirwaiz – Hindustan Times of June 25) had caused reservations in the minds of Government of India towards them . The claims of the APHC(A) of being bridge between Indian and Pakistan sounds hollow as their conduct defines them only as a proxy for Pakistan’s viewpoints. There is a big gap between its postures and real support base. Their earlier rejection of Prime Minister’s invitation for talks, before they had met Pakistan leaders, had also riled the Government of India.
In the end, APHC (A) had to seek intervention of intermediaries like Saifuddin Soz (MP-Congress) to meet the Prime Minister (September 5) for talks. However, the outcome of the meeting was preliminary in nature with the Government of India agreeing to review the cases of POTA/ PSA detenus and consider withdrawal of army if the violence graph comes down. No road map of further negotiations has been worked out. In brief, Government of India has tactically extended support to a moderate faction of APHC by agreeing to meet them at the PM’s level. It atleast helps the peace constituency. Also implied is that there are other stake-holoders and that the Government of India would seek their opinions, including the overground political parities. Pragmatically, the APHC (Mirwaiz) has nothing much to offer for ending the violence and stalemate in the state. It has no influence on the Jehadi groups and the APHC (Gilani) is in no mood to compromise. Only Pakistan has leverage with the Jehadis and militants. However, the move to engaging APHC (A) is right as it encourages moderation. Meanwhile, other stake-holders like Yasin Malik and Sajjad Lone etc should also be invited. The overriding sentiment in Kashmir valley of participation in the dialogue process and being party to the final solution has to be addressed in practical manner.
The Government of India receives lot of gratuitous advice from experts on how to handle Kashmir and what all to do next. Most of them have superficial awareness of the ground realities obtaining in the state with the Jehadis and separatists unwilling to give up violence and Pakistan not going full length to prevent trans-border terrorism and dismantle the Jehadi infrastructure in POK and Pakistan. At the moment the options for India in the state are limited. The claims of various separatist groups to represent the Kashmiris in the dialogue process is neither true nor convincing. Kashmir valley is not the state of J&K and the separatist sentiments are not shared by a substantial population and the regions of Jammu and Ladakh. None of them represent anyone outside the Kashmir valley. Mediamen and experts do not factor in the regional imponderables in the state. Yet most of the separatist leaders hog the limelight in media, both visual and print, without being questioned as to whom they represent. The Government of India itself has so far not given their due to the overground political parties like the NC(F) , Congress, PDP and others who have made sacrifices. Hundreds of their cadres and leaders have been assassinated by the Jehadis. While in a democracy the government must engage all viewpoints, but any move to sideline or downgrade the role and importance of overground political parties vis-à-vis the separatist groups in any dialogue process will be neither desirable nor advisable. They are themselves not averse to engaging the separatists, but without diluting their standing.
The Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan is nowhere near solution. It is moving in a broad direction with both sides positioning themselves. The Indian position is fairly clear but Pakistan’s postures indicate a strategy of mounting pressures on Government of India to wrest concessions by keeping terror/violence alive and propagating that Pakistan is making lot of concessions while India is inflexible. Pakistani President does not tire of publicising Kashmir as an Islamic issue along with Palestine and Chechenya .He is the only leader of Islamic countries who does this. Even Al – Zawahiri, the number two of Al-Qaeda, in his last two statements, only mentioned Palestine, Iraq and Chechenya.
Both internally and externally, a situation of stalemate is developing in Kashmir. Following the ceasefire on LOC and trans-border traffic, no worthwhile progress is possible unless end to violence is brought about. It holds key to any meaningful and progress. Neither the separatists nor Pakistan seem to be interested in it for the time being. They consider it as their main leverage to wrest concessions from India. The result is that it is the innocent people in the state who are suffering in the bargain. While the violence graph in Kashmir has come down, the civilian casualties have remained high. Large number of men, including women and children, are being executed by the Jehadis allegedly for helping the security forces. In 2004, over 700 were killed and till August 2005, nearly 380 have lost their lives at the hands of separatists, some of them in a very brutal manner, including their families. Its rather unfortunate that neither the Human Rights activists, because of their misplaced priorities, nor the local media, because of fear of militants , have been giving due attention to this aspect. While both have been critical of alleged human rights violations by the security forces, they have kept silent about Jehadi excesses. In fact as claimed by the separatists if their movement is so popular, how come people in hundreds are being killed by them for assisting the security forces?
Both the local media and people are unhappy over militant excesses, but due to terror are unable to protest beyond a point. In this situation of stalemate where everyone knows that dialogue and peace are the only options, its the innocent Kashmiris who are paying the price with their lives , including the children. This is the real tragedy of Kashmir where both Pakistan and Jehadis knowing that their terror tactics has run its course yet are unwilling to give up the option. Gilani and Jehadis are putting up impossible conditions for ending violence. Its both callous and mindless. To talk of one-sided ceasefire and withdrawal of army etc in the face of current level of violence is neither practical nor desirable. Security forces are there because of armed militancy and not on a picnic. Cease fire is an option which can be exercised as part of a dialogue process. Such gestures in the past (2002) have only been spurned. It is in this background of ground realities in Kashmir that India has to fashion its internal responses. Its complex and not easy. External factors have a decisive say and difficult to counter.
There is no dearth of ideas or people who know what is to be done? Even how it is to be done? The main problem is achieving it in the shadow of gun. Scores have paid with their lives, including the father of Mirwaiz Umar for treading the path of moderation. A.G. Lone, uncle of Mirwaiz and burning down of the historic Islamia School are only the latest examples of fate of those who try to moderate. Only those survive who support S.A.S. Gilani’s line or play both the sides. In practical terms, cutting out the rhetoric, this places limits and real progress is possible only after the Jehadis and militants decide to embrace peace. Their clout and potential for violence still remains considerable, pushing the peace efforts on the defensive.
People’s desire for peace and normalcy is overwhelming. Yet , due to alienation factor ( in Kashmir valley ) and terror factor , they have become the silent victims of armed actions of both sides. There is apparent disconnect between the mind and hearts of the Muslims of the valley. It is this gap which the government has to address. The main thrust ought to be to convince the people of government’s resolve to ensure a life of dignity and self-respect, which current violence has denied them. The Prime Minister has already said so in his meeting with the APHC (Mirwaiz) on September 5. To achieve this objective, end of violence or relative peace is the sine qua non. This is where Pakistan comes in to convince both the overground and underground actors under its control and influence, particularly the Gilani faction of APHC and TEH, to be practical and compromise with the realities. India has already engaged Pak preferred APHC(A) group in dialogue process. Pakistan itself requires assurances that its vital river water interests are safe (which they are) and secure and loose borders between the two Kashmirs with greater political autonomy will be ensured.
At the moment the key is how to achieve peace and normalcy through dialogue and pursuation. Kashmiris themselves cannot ensure this howsoever keenly they desire it as the Jehadi and militant groups are pawns in the hands of Pakistan. APHC(A) and others must play a role in ending the cycle of violence which is hurting only the Kashmiris. India can only at the moment be positive, transparent and above all even-handed between the various factions and individuals. The Government of India should also put in place a visible and credible mechanism for internal dialogue. Past experience is that track II intermediaries develop vested interest with particular groups and individuals and start competing with each other, thus hurting the credibility of the process. Some of them are also naïve and feel that dialogue is an end in itself and give undue importance to individuals like Shabir Shah who are adept at playing on both sides of the net. Transparency and genuine concern for the dignity of Kashmiris will overcome the perceived deficit in trust and bonafides of the Government of India.
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