Friday, 30 May 2008

Kashmir Dispute Dangers ahead -Vajpaee scores a goal

Kashmir Dispute Dangers ahead -Vajpaee scores a goal
Shabir Choudhry

Another round of bilateral talks between India and Pakistan has ended. Despite the hullabaloo and media hype, a little progress has been made in real terms. Apart from other issues they want to resolve the core issue of Kashmir. It is debatable what progress they have made in these talks and which Prime Minister has scored more points, but once again they have been successful in keeping the Kashmiris away from these talks.

We believe that India and Pakistan must have friendly relations that they can end the arms race in the Indian Sub – Continent, and the meagre resources of both countries should be channelled to complete the welfare programmes. People of India and Pakistan are among the poorest in the world, and millions have no access to clean water or a meal a day. Of course they deserve better treatment than this.

We agree that it is only through dialogue disputes can be resolved, but it is important that dialogue take place with the concerned people. India and Pakistan have every right to have dialogue and reach some kind of compromise on bilateral issues, but Kashmir is not a bilateral issue and they have no legal or moral authority to make decisions on Kashmir. It is true both countries are party to the dispute - they both have occupied Kashmir - and without their co - operation no progress can be made. It is also true that both countries are under a lot of pressure to settle the Kashmir dispute. This pressure has many dimensions, international, economic, security, domestic and above all fear of nuclear use, be it accidental or intentional.

It is in the interest of both countries to resolve their differences and enter the new century as friends and good neighbours. Perhaps both governments want to do this, but they find it difficult to do so because of entrenched positions and hatred for each other which is constantly fuelled by people like Bal Thakray which exist on both sides of the border.

Disputes can only be resolved when there is atmosphere of trust and co – operation, and this could be achieved through continued dialogue, easing of visa restrictions, sports, trade links, tourism and cultural exchanges. In his continued effort to improve relationship with India, Nawaz Sharif took a bold step when he announced a cricket tour to India. The Indian Government welcomed that, but Bal Thakray on one side of the border and Qazi Hussain Ahmed on the other side of the border opposed it bitterly. Despite the fear of back-lash of the fundamentalist Hindus, the Indian Government honoured its pledge and provided full security, to ensure the success of the cricket tour of Pakistan team, even a reception was given to the touring team. After the “Cricket Diplomacy” came the “Bus Diplomacy”. Both governments were eager to go ahead with it, again Bal Thakray and Qazi Hussain Ahmed were in action. Their politics survives on the continued hatred and animosity between India and Pakistan, and of course they won’t give up that easily.

Where I agree with Qazi Hussain Ahmed is that Kashmir must not be the “price” for friendly relationship between India and Pakistan. Unfortunately there are clear signs that Kashmir would be the “price” once again to get Pakistan out of her problems. In 1972, at Simla, Pakistan had to sacrifice its stand on Kashmir to get the release of its more than 90,000 prisoners and get back its land occupied during the war of 1971. Once again Pakistan finds itself in hot water, especially after the nuclear explosions, and Kashmir could be a saviour again.

Despite the much - publicised lip service being paid to the Kashmir issue the fact remains that it is not a “priority issue” to both governments. It is still very much on the back burner, at least, until issues relating to nuclear and missiles use are hammered out; and a system of economic co –operation is set up. Once these issues are settled and progress is made on the bleeding issue of Siachin (Sir Crick is not a contentious any more), the both governments will impose a decision on the Kashmiri people. One has only to read the meaning of the following words said by Nawaz Sharif: “Both India and Pakistan should go beyond their stated positions”. We all know what are the stated positions of the both governments on the issue of Kashmir. It means Pakistan has to abandon her demand for the implementation of the UN resolutions and India will have to stop calling Kashmir its integral part. Signs of this are already visible. Mr Balram Jhakhar (Congress) who was the head of the Indian Parliamentary delegation which recently visited Pakistan said: “Both sides will have to concede some grounds to meet at a common point and his party will support such a compromise”.

If Pakistan is prepared to make a change to its “historic stand on Kashmir” then it would be in the interest of all the parties concerned that Pakistan should support the option of independence of Kashmir. India can be persuaded to accept an independent Kashmir but she would not accept Kashmir going to Pakistan; and of course Pakistan cannot accept Kashmir going to India. If this route is not followed than I am afraid Pakistan is settling for the division of Kashmir, and there are clear signs of it in the Joint Declaration issued from Lahore.

This further proves that Pakistan has abandoned its so - called “historic stand on Kashmir”. As expected, the Declaration makes no reference to the United Nations resolutions (though we do not agree with them because they limit our right to independence), it only states: .. reiterating the determination of both countries to implementing the Simla Agreement in letter and spirit ……. The Simla Agreement, as we know it, makes no reference to the UN resolutions and gives the right to the governments of India and Pakistan to decide the final settlement of Kashmir, of course without any reference to the people.

During the Vajpyee’s visit to Pakistan the militancy in the Indian side of Kashmir increased, signalling that there is a clear divide in the military establishment, or at least in a sizeable section of it, and the popular government in Pakistan. It is true that the Indian government and the Indian establishment is very happy with the outcome of the visit because their weak (politically) leader has scored a goal and emerged as a victorious. The question is will Nawaz Sharif government be allowed to go ahead and sacrifice Kashmir for the sake of friendship with India, no matter how important it is; or there is a change in the offing? People can be persuaded to accept Kashmir as an independent and friendly state, rather then leaving it in the occupation of India.

Kashmiri and Pakistani people have right to ask if this is what you had to do then why sacrifice 80,000 lives? If the division takes place there will be reaction against it, and I know Pakistan has the ability to crush that. This would make the Kashmiri people realise that Pakistan, after all, was not our friend and brother; and sooner or later this would lead them to start an armed struggle on the Pakistani side of Kashmir as well, and that, I fear, would be supported by India. So it is important that Pakistan does not opt for the division of Kashmir.

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