PUCL Bulletin, January 2004

Peace moves by India and Pakistan encouraging

-- By Rajindar Sachar

Strategically brilliant and politically wise is the only way one should objectively describe the latest initiative by Prime Minister towards Indo-Pak Relations, more especially with reference to J&K imbroglio.

The most bold initiative is the offer to open up a bus route between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in POK Kashmir. It is a repudiation of the Pak allegation that India is afraid of contact between Kashmiris living on either side of Line of Control (LOC). Here is thus an open offer to Kashmiris of Muzaffarabad to come to Srinagar to see for themselves how Pak allegation that there is undeclared war against people of Kashmir by Indian army is a lie. I am not for one moment suggesting that there are no gross human right violations of seizure and searches and even the inexcusable actions by the security forces resulting sometimes in death of innocent. But simultaneously there is overwhelming condemnation by the society forcing sometime the authorities to punish the guilty, (though it has to be conceded that more restraint is called for).

Not surprisingly Pakistan while being positive on some of the measures has taken a hawkish stand on Srinagar–Muzaffarabad Bus. Its suggestion that persons traveling should have UN stamp are deliberately stalling the issue. If the argument that people traveling from Indian side of Kashmir cannot be allowed to enter Pakistan and POK (Azad Kashmir in Pakistan Parlance) its present conduct in permitting any number of Kashmiris with Indian Passport endorsement to go to Pakistan and even POK shows the hollowness of its present stand.

It also goes against Simla Accord which provides that notwithstanding any interim arrangement on LOC it will not prejudice either of the countries stand on final solution. This fig leaf cover by Pakistan is nothing but an attempt to prevent people from POK seeing for themselves the reality of duly elected civilian government managing its own affairs.

I feel that the Central Govt. should not shelve this proposal because of Pakistan reaction. Rather it should go ahead with all preparations – namely get buses ready, invite application for those wanting to visit Muzaffarabad and issue passports with authorization to visit Muzaffarabad through the bus journey. It should also at the same time invite applications from residents of Muzaffarabad and issue visas to them to visit Srinagar through the bus route. India should do this unilaterally. This will send a strong message across and Pakistan will have to face the ire of families from Srinagar and Muzaffarabad because it will be Pakistan that will be responsible for denying the reunion of families. India with its claim to open society should welcome people coming from Muzaffarabad and see for themselves the massive tourist influx, the Dal Lake extravaganza, winter games in the valley of Srinagar and even Gulmarg. Let people from Muzaffarabad and Srinagar get a feel that even if they remain citizen of two separate countries i.e. Indian and Pakistan they will have a soft border with easy access to friends and relatives and mutually beneficial trade relations and also free from the danger of terrorism or the army-militant clashes and killings.

The refusal by Pakistan to open up border in J&K is motivated by the fear of military regime of Pakistan at the prospect and good will that will be generated by the get together of people and families across the border. Pakistan army caucus obviously fears that normalization of relations may strengthen the demand in Pakistan of restoration of civilian Rule. A very significant and touching remark by the school children both of India and Pakistan who visited the other country when asked by the press about their impressions exclaimed spontaneously “Oh they are people like us”. This innocent remarks show how the politicians have so muddled the situation that the coming generations of India-Pakistan seem to feel that they are from different planet, rather than from the same mould of earth.

In the last few weeks attacks by the militants terrorists have increased in J&K like blowing up Shalimar train. Evidently the ISI lobby in Pakistan is sending a message that it is not inclined to let Kashmir question cool down. It is also sending the message to Hurriyat and other groups that any talks with the Government of India will invite attacks by militants endangering their lives. In fact, the Hurriyat leadership when it talks of tripartite talk including Pakistan at the initial stage is in fact conditioned by this fear. But practical realism dictates that talks initially have to be between the Government of India and the various groups in valley, Jammu and Ladakh.

Unfortunately, reaction of Hurriyat has not been what one would have expected of a mature leadership. It had earlier in confidential talks with the human rights activists expressed its readiness to meet in the first instance if invited by the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister. That was a sensible approach because once both sides have sized each other on a political level details could later on be worked out by experts and at official bureaucratic level.

It would show cravenness and refusal to face reality if Hurriyat now insists on tripartite talks to start with. No doubt India and Pakistan have to engage in a dialogue and agree to a J&K solution – but before that happens Central Govt. and various groups in J&K have to bilaterally agree to a solution which can then be put to Pakistan – Pakistan cannot be at the first dinner party, like India cannot be when Pakistan starts talks to Muzaffarabad to work out a final solution to J&K.

Unfortunately, the tactless or studied strategy of the remarks of Deputy Prime Minister Advani that discussions were envisaged only on devolution and decentralization of power in Kashmir thus purporting to place conditionalities in talks has played in the hands of separatists who will naturally put pressure on Hurriyat and other leaders like Yaseen Malik, Shabir Shah to refrain from reciprocating the call for dialogue by exploiting the purported limited nature of talks. In my view no conditions should be put by either side for initiating the talks. Let both sides try to understand during the talks the limitation of each other and also the methodology of how grievances can be redressed. In that context, Advani’s statement purporting to lay conditions was ill-advised. Because there are some positions which are so self evident to all, that statesmanship demands silence. Is it not clear to even a novice in political domain that no govt. in Pakistan or India can agree to give up the territory of J&K which at present falls under its respective jurisdiction and no Govt. either in Pakistan or India can survive if it acts differently. That is the ground reality which constraints not only the governments but any honest opposition or group engaging in talks.

I have long held a view that there can be no solution except to convert the line of control subject to certain defence and demographic adjustments into an international border. I also believe that as a measure of recognition of the long struggle by people of J&K they must be left absolutely free to manage their internal matters, excepting in subjects defence, foreign affairs, currency and communication which alone were ceded to Central Govt. in 1947. This alone will give the people of J&K afresh air of freedom and fulfillment.


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