Thursday, 29 May 2008

Is this first step towards the final settlement?

Is this first step towards the final settlement?
Dr Shabir Choudhry 22 October 2005

Tragedies, no doubt, bring death, destruction and suffering, but they also help people to forget many divisive issues and help people to unite in time of need. Perhaps it is first time after 1965 war that the people of Pakistan have forgotten their political issues and come out voluntarily to support victims of the quake.

One can criticise the government of Pakistan for its actions or lack of them to support the victims of the earthquake, but sincerity, love and care of the people is overwhelming; and one cannot find appropriate words to explain this.

Kashmir dispute has also brought death and destruction, and untold miseries to the people of the region. Many attempts have been made to resolve this vexed dispute without any success; even wars, guerrilla war and proxy wars did not produce the desired results.

With start of the peace process, many saw light at the end of the tunnel, even though the main party to the dispute, the Kashmiri people were not made part of this process. To many the peace process continued while the Kashmiris were watching it as amused spectators, with burning desire to become part of this process wherever it was taking them.

Despite many Confidence Building Measures, which were put in place to create conducive environment, and protracted peace process nothing substantial was achieved in these parleys, as India and Pakistan were apparently not ready to relinquish their traditional stands on Kashmir. India still claims that Kashmir is part of Indian union, and that there could be no compromise on territory, in other words borders have to remain as they are today.

Pakistan on the other hand appears to have shifted ground, but if one analyse it carefully then it becomes apparent that this ground shifting is more to do with overt or covert activities related to militancy, which has seen its peak in Kashmir. Pakistan is still not ready to accept an independent Kashmir or leave its control over territories of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan.

While speaking to Yasin Malik, a Chairman of one group of JKLF, Prime Minister of Pakistan said, we ‘will not deviate from or compromise on its stand on Kashmir at any cost.’ He said, ‘the Kashmir dispute would be settled in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of Kashmiris.’

Pakistani stand, we all know is related to the UN resolutions which practically mean one option, accession to Pakistan, and that won’t happen as conditions required for implementation of these resolutions have not been met, and they won’t be met till doomsday. Pakistani government is fully aware of this fact, and yet for public consumption continuous to talk of these resolutions even though it said good - bye to them in the Shimla Agreement by agreeing to resolve the Kashmir dispute bilaterally.

What this means is that the UN resolutions are not a viable or working option; and Pakistan is not willing to accept an independent Kashmir, this, one might say, could be interpreted as Pakistan’s tacit agreement to accept the status quo. India on the other hand also has no love for an independent Jammu and Kashmir; and this might also be perceived against the long interest of some other important parties with keen interest in South Asia because of Kashmir’s strategic importance and resources. All the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir unanimously oppose the division of Jammu and Kashmir; and in view of this one wonder what is at the table to be negotiated.

One doesn’t have to be a genius to figure out that some kind of division, without calling it a division, is at the table, and both governments with help of their ‘mentors’ are working minute details of this sensitive issue to safeguard their national interest at the cost of interest and wishes of the Kashmiri people. And reliable sources indicate that ‘Kashmiri leadership’ is prepared to sign on the dotted line provided they get appropriate rewards and are seen to be part of the process.

After reaching some agreement on Kashmir with ‘outside supervision and guidance’, bilateral talks would have turned in to trilateral and tripartite talks, where ‘Kashmiri leaders’ would have happily put their thumb prints on the agreed document, as two Pakistani officials did with the controversial upraising of the Mangla Dam and made it appear as an agreement between Azad Kashmir government and Pakistan (The agreement was signed by WAPDA Chief and Chief Secretary of Azad Kashmir, who is always a Pakistani). After the thumb prints of ‘Kashmiri leadership’, this Oslo type treaty was to be announced later on, perhaps in 2006, but situation has changed dramatically due to the earthquake.

The earthquake has trampled the ‘sanctity’ of the LOC, and made millions homeless in Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan; and many commentators pointed out that LOC has to wither away if we are to help the victims appropriately and start rehabilitation and reconstruction, especially on the Pakistani side of Kashmir.

Despite the serious nature of this tragedy and despite apparent ‘success’ of the peace process, both governments have not abandoned their habit of scoring political points against each other; and this game of scoring points became more evident over the past two weeks when people expected maximum cooperation and support to alleviate the misery of the suffering people.

It is good news that both governments have decided to follow the foot - steps of the earthquake and have decided to make the LOC irrelevant, which was the desire of many people. This appears to be a positive step to strengthen the much needed relief work, but one wonders if that is the only motive.

In 1949 forced division of the state came in to being in the form of a cease – fire line, which generally indicates that war has not ended but fighting has ceased. This cease - fire line was converted to Line of Control in Shimla Agreement after Pakistan’s defeat in the war of 1971. This change of name also changed status of the Kashmir dispute, whereas previously future of the State had to be decided by people of Kashmir in a plebiscite, Shimla Agreement dictated that the final solution is to be decided bilaterally by governments of India and Pakistan, hence leaving out the people of Jammu and Kashmir from the process of decision making.

Now some ‘experts’ of conflict resolution suggest that for the sake of peace and stability in Kashmir and South Asia, LOC should be converted in to ‘Line of Peace’. Time frame for announcement of this ‘Line of Peace’ was not 2005, even if all related problems were ironed out, but since this tragedy has hit the area and millions of people are directly affected, ‘mentors’ and guardians of the peace process has urged the parties to bring the date forward.

There are many clear advantages of adopting this approach. The peace process, if it drags on without any apparent progress will surely frustrate people and will lose its significance. This, ‘experts’ fear, might have adverse impact on the global war on terrorism, as frustration could lead to extremism, and could make people easy target of ‘Jihadi forces’ to recruit them.

Because of this great tragedy of earthquake, people are not only vulnerable but they are also in different mind frame. They seek help and cooperation from each other to build shattered lives of millions of people in this region; they have even accepted help from Israel. And in this changed environment if anything is thrusted upon them under the disguise of help and support, first, they won’t understand and secondly they will at this stage, won’t be able to muster sufficient support to resist it. So in the view of these ‘wise men’ it is opportune time to take some bold decisions that will change history and future directions of South Asia.

One may ask what is this ‘Line of Peace’ and to whom it will provide peace and stability? If tomorrow LOC becomes ‘irrelevant’, then how is it going to change lives of people of Jammu and Kashmir? Is militancy and violence going to end? Is the Indian army going to go back to barracks? Will Pandits and other uprooted people and minorities feel safe and be allowed to come back to their homes? What will be the status of Gilgit and Baltistan, and will these people get their basic human rights? And what will be the status of Azad Kashmir and how it will be rebuilt that social and economic benefit is transferred to the Kashmiri people.

The Kashmiri people wonder that a system which was prevalent on both sides of the divide before the disaster, and which failed to provide decent housing, employment and health care to the people, would re- house millions who are uprooted from their homes and are shivering in this cold winter. And how will it establish infrastructure that can enable people to compete in 21st century, especially in areas in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan where this infrastructure was not existent.

Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:

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