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The Door Opens A Wee Bit

Monday 4 October 2004, by SUDARSHAN*V.

Between our refusal to readjust territory and their opposition, is there a way out?

When Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Indian delegation in New York about the need to discuss Kashmir, he was advised, "first of all, at least let the bus service start." This was a reference to India’s proposal to initiate the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service that has been stalled from the time it was mooted last October. In sharp contrast to the earlier stonewalling on the issue, Musharraf surprisingly said he would consider the bus proposal very carefully. This was just the impulse Manmohan needed to shift the talks with Musharraf into fifth gear: he asked the Pakistani president to suggest options he thought were realistic and feasible in resolving the Kashmir issue.

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Mohd. Jaffar/ Snaps India

New York was considered pathbreaking against the backdrop of acrimony Indian and Pakistani leaders indulge in. No wonder, Indian officials are delighted at the outcome. A senior government source asserts, "Talks are going forward at a pretty rapid rate in terms of symbolism, atmosphere and substance."

Another government source described the New York meet as "unexpectedly substantive", arguing it marks a defining change in the discourse between India and Pakistan. For one, he insists, Musharraf’s Pakistan now recognises the importance of confidence-building measures in establishing normalcy. New York has exploded the carefully cultivated Pakistani myth that there can be no cooperation without resolving the Kashmir issue. This change is best illustrated in the joint statement which says Pakistan is now prepared to look at the proposed oil and gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan as being grounded in the matrix of expanding bilateral economic cooperation. This position is unprecedented.

Though these are still early days for predicting the longevity of the new Pakistani mindset, New Delhi is already abuzz with what could be the possible contours of a durable solution on Kashmir. The senior government source told Outlook, "We are prepared to discuss everything short of territorial adjustments." This is almost reminiscent of what former foreign minister Jaswant Singh told the Clinton administration’s deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott-that the NDA government might be prepared to settle the Kashmir issue by formalising the LoC (Line of Control) as the international border.

But is this solution acceptable to Pakistan? Unlikely. Before meeting Manmohan in New York, Musharraf replied to a journalist’s question thus, "The LoC has been the dispute we have fought wars over. So, what you are suggesting is that a conflict should be the solution." He then went on to add, "That is absolutely ridiculous. Can’t be (possible)."

Between India’s refusal to accept territorial adjustments and Pakistan’s opposition to the formula of LoC as the border, is there a way out? Government sources say Kashmiri leaders can provide the light; Musharraf can only sell a deal to his countrymen by arguing that it has the endorsement of the Kashmiris. Realism seems to have percolated into the consciousness of all three players-India, Pakistan and Kashmir. In his informal talks with government interlocutors, Kashmiri leader Abdul Ghani Bhat had remarked, "All three of us have to get our nose cut in such a way that the faces of all three also look better." In fact, sources say, the proposal of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service has its origins in, among other things, the backchannel talks with the Hurriyat.

It’s precisely for this reason New Delhi’s focus will shift to Kashmir in the next few weeks. The prime minister is reportedly keen to visit the Valley and, as is customary, announce a clutch of measures to alleviate the plight of people. Such measures mostly have a strong economic content.But New York has prompted a raging debate in official circles: should the prime minister visit the Valley without fashioning his government’s political strategy on Kashmir? Says a government source, "The PM has to go with some sort of a political decision. The grievance of Kashmiris is that there are no follow-ups to the grand declarations New Delhi makes. It is meant for photo-ops and hoodwinking people."

With strategy decided, the prime minister can choose from a host of tactical measures-reduction of troops from urban centres, release of detenus held under the Public Safety Act (there are some 350 of them); release of some TADA detenus of whom there are some 150 (some detained for about a decade); removal of the Disturbed Areas Act and Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the Jammu region; resumption of dialogue with the politically disaffected. With reduction of forces there will be a decrease in checkpoints; troop reduction would also make people less susceptible to human rights excesses.

The ground conditions seem conducive for such measures. Infiltration has dipped (see graph), violence in the state has reduced and there have been no major jehadi strikes in other parts of the country since January. The impending winter months should help preserve the prevailing status quo, if not improve it.

But there are divisions among those who want the PM to devise his strategy before visiting Kashmir. Some say talk to Kashmiri leaders, win them over and then handle Pakistan. Others argue: talk to Pakistan, get an idea of what could satisfy Islamabad and then talk to the Kashmiris. The second school insists only this strategy can bear fruit-what the Pakistanis secretly tell the Kashmir leaders will determine whether or not they accept New Delhi’s overtures.

As the government mulls its Kashmir policy, it seems New York has seen a fresh gust through the window of opportunity opened in January.


Marching Mercenaries

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Monthly infiltration figures
Source: Ministry of Home Affairs

in "Outlook India", MOnday, October 11, 2004.

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