Friday, 30 May 2008

Talk of Talks on Kashmir

Talk of Talks on Kashmir
Shabir Choudhry
Director, Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:

Since the release of APHC leaders from different Indian prisons much has been said about the talks on Kashmir. Some have even went as far as saying that, some talks took place inside the prison walls, and the release was the result of some understanding between the leaders and the government of India.

While in prison, it is possible that some Indian officials may have had some discussions with some of these leaders on Kashmir situation and its possible solution. But that cannot be called talks in the real sense or some understanding between the APHC and New Delhi. The release came as a result of many pressures, which Delhi faced, especially after the visit of Mr Clinton's visit. It is believed that India released these leaders as a result of the following:
· Increased militancy with daring attacks on military camps, which resulted in substantial loss of army personal, including officers. This had a serious dent in the morale of army, and military advice is to find a political solution as army is not best suited to deal with political matters;
· Constant pressure from outside, not only from the USA but other countries like UK, EC, Japan, Islamic World etc.;
· Domestic pressure, which has increased immensely because of economic cost, human life (to Indian men and officers), political pressure and instability associated with the issue; and
· This realisation that India must put its house in order if she is to embark for an international role for herself, be it in the form of Security Council seat or other role in the shape of regional "super power".

Through different political and diplomatic sources I have been assured that this time India is sincere in finding a solution to the Kashmir problem. But this is yet to be seen if the government is sincere or is it just another political game. The aim of this political subterfuge is to improve India' international image, and divide or confuse the Kashmiri leadership. Already some argue that when APHC leaders were imprisoned they went in as one political unit, but when they came out they were divided house. Their response to the offer of dialogue also contributed to this impression. It was only when JKLF chief Mr Yasin Malik was released that he took a firm stand on the issue of a dialogue, and brought back some kind of discipline to the APHC response.

The offer of talks, which India made through newspapers, clearly stated that it has to be within the Indian Union. It is pleasure to note that APHC refused to talk under the framework of the Indian Constitution, although there were some who said that there is no harm in starting negotiations. But if we look at it carefully there are serious dangers in starting negotiation within the Indian Constitution. If Kashmiris agree to talk within the Indian Constitution, it implies that they have agreed that:
· The Maharajah Hari Singh's accession to India was legal, and Kashmir is legal and constitutional part of India;
· If that is the case, then India has claim to the present areas under Pakistan, including Gilgit and Baltititan;
· What is to be discussed between the Kashmiri leaders and the Indian government is some kind of arrangements within the Indian Union.

And what is to be discussed with Pakistan is:
Ø Formalisation of this presumed "arrangement" between India and the Kashmiri leaders;
Ø The future of areas under Pakistan's occupation (and this occupation would not be considered legal if the above scenario is to be accepted);
Ø Issues related to cross border violence;
Ø And other matters directly related to Indo Pakistan relations

One could clearly see the dangers of such approach for the Kashmiris and Pakistan. The APHC, despite its obvious misgivings, has rightly demanded that the proposed talks must be held without any preconditions. But this leads us to another question, talks between whom? Are all parties to the dispute namely India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri leaders going to talk? This has not happened in the history of the talks on Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan have successfully kept the Kashmiris away from all the talks on Kashmir.

It now looks that India may be ready to talk without any preconditions, but it is clear that India is interested in talking to Kashmiri leadership only, whereas the Kashmiri leadership want Pakistan to be part of any negotiations on Kashmir. This again is a complicated situation. If it is agreed that there should be no preconditions on talks, and if India says Pakistan should not be part of talks that is a precondition; and similarly if the Kashmiri leaders demand that Pakistan should be part of talks, India could say that this is a precondition too.

But there are inherent dangers if the Kashmiri leadership alone talks to India. Talking to India alone means that whatever decision is reached it would be related to the Indian side of the Kashmir only. Isn't that, in a way, acceptance of the Line of Control? Already too much has been said about the sanctity of LOC. And the danger is that by us agreeing to talk about the future of only one part of the State, will strengthen this so-called sanctity of LOC.

In view of the above, it is prudent that the APHC insists on inclusion of Pakistan in any future talks on Kashmir. Also APHC has to put its house in order before it can play effective role in any talks on Kashmir. For the sake of peace and stability of South Asia the Kashmir dispute must be resolved, and it is, therefore, imperative that all three parties should agree on the following:
Ø Resolution of Kashmir dispute through dialogue
Ø Creation of appropriate environment that such talks could begin

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