Dialogue on Kashmir- but dialogue with whom? IKA has a role to play.
By Dr Shabir Choudhry
It is encouraging to note that leaders of both India and Pakistan are ‘on talking terms’ with each other. Only a few weeks ago they were blowing hot and cold; and many got worried that while the world attention was focused on the Iraq war, these nuclear rivals could start a war of their own to settle old scores.
Apart from the common sense, American influence prevailed and both countries decided to settle for a verbal war. In spite of atmosphere clouded with threats of ‘pre emptive war’, Prime Minister Vajapayee took another daring step to extend his hand of friendship.
While speaking in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) he said, this would be the third and the final effort at improving bilateral relations with Pakistan.
"Now whatever happens it will be decisive, and this will be my third and last effort in that direction," Vajpayee said adding, "I am sure I will succeed, we will win the battle but peacefully. We want to give peace another chance. I am confident that I will succeed in that,"
To reciprocate this, Pakistani Premier Jamali Sahib also took initiative and directly phoned Vajapayee Sahib. This approach is generally useful to establish friendly and conducive relationship, as it by passes bureaucratic hurdles, and helps to understand each others’ view point. Jamali Sahib should also be commended for this move, and we hope that he has blessing of those who normally call shots in this matter.
This move is welcomed by all those who want peace and stability in India, but we need to be wary of the fact that whenever there is a move in the direction of peace, people with vested interest become active, and make every effort to sabotage the peace process. I hope that this time no incident, be it some kind of attack on important building or some kind of incursion, the peace process will continue, otherwise it will be a win for those who benefit from the status quo.
Parties to the dispute
Whereas I am one of those who for many years have actively supported a dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute, I would like to know with whom the dialogue is going to take place. If Vajpayee Sahib and Jamali Sahib are serious and sincere in their efforts to resolve the Kashmir dispute through a process of dialogue and give peace a last chance, then they need to learn from their previous failures and adopt a pragmatic approach.
We all know that there are three parties to the Kashmir dispute, although India and Pakistan are powerful parties but the fact remains that the people of Kashmir are the principal party. Dr Nazir Gilan, Chairman International Kashmir Alliance and a prominent lawyer, makes an important distinction in this regard, and he says that the people of Kashmir have a ‘title’, whereas both India and Pakistan only have a ‘claim’ over Kashmir.
What it means is that in this proposed dialogue and solution, the people of Kashmir must have a final say. We are pleased that India and Pakistan are going to meet to discuss the Kashmir dispute, but the people of Kashmir must not be left out of this process; and they must become a part of the negotiations at some stage. If they are left out, as they had been left out in the previous bilateral talks then one could sadly envisage a similar outcome to their previous bilateral agreements.
Bilateral or trilateral
One can understand that the UN resolutions on Kashmir do not provide any viable solution to the Kashmir dispute, as the ground reality has changed immensely since they were passed; and both India and Pakistan accepted this reality when they signed the Simla Agreement in 1972.
Vajapayee Sahib also referred to this fact in a reply to a question about possibility of Pakistan raising this issue in the Security Council after taking over its Presidency as a none permanent member. He said, "That is good news for us. I will tell him (the Pakistan representative in the Security Council) that you are bound by the Simla Accord to solve the Kashmir issue. You cannot go back from it. We want everything to be decided through bilateral talks." The Simla Accord, signed in 1972, commits India and Pakistan to resolving the Kashmir issue through bilateral talks.
All those who shout for the implementations of the UN resolutions should know that their ‘self appointed advocator’ had abandoned the resolutions a long time ago. Despite that many expected Pakistan to take up the issue once it took up the Presidency of the Security Council, but as pointed out by the Indian Prime Minister, Pakistani government made Kashmir a ‘bilateral issue’ in 1972; and in view of that diplomats in a close door meeting told Pakistani representative not to include Kashmir in the agenda of Security Council meetings. And like an obedient ‘servant’ Pakistani representative decided to drop its plan to include Kashmir from the agenda of the Security Council meetings.
No matter what was agreed at the Simla in 1972, Kashmir is not a bilateral issue and any kind of bilateralism could not provide lasting solution to the dispute. The resolution of the dispute lies in trilateral or tripartite negotiations; and the people of Kashmir must have a say in determining their future.
Who is qualified to represent the Kashmiri people?
Whereas it is easy for India and Pakistan, the other two parties to the dispute, to decide who will take part in the negotiations; it is not so easy for the Kashmiris to decide who will represent them. The State is forcibly divided and we have ‘elected Assemblies’ on both sides of the divide; and we have a large area of Gilgit and Baltistan with no representation of any kind.
Many would question about legitimacy of these assemblies and call them ‘puppet assemblies’ of Islamabad and New Delhi. If one argues that the Assembly in Srinagar is ‘puppet’ and does not represent the people; then the same argument could be made about the one in Muzzafarabad. In any case these assemblies, whether ‘puppets’ or not, were elected to run local administrations, and were not empowered to determine the future status of Kashmir.
Outside these assemblies we have APHC on the Indian side of the Kashmir, and All Parties National Alliance on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. APHC makes a lofty claim to represent the people of Kashmir, but it is known fact that it is just a claim, and they don’t even represent the Muslims of the Valley never mind representing the whole of State of Jammu and Kashmir. In reality, they don’t represent people of Azad Kashmir, people of Gilgit and Baltistan, people of Jammu and people of Ladakh; however they have some following in certain parts of the Valley, and fear of reprisals ensures that this ‘following’ does not disperse.
Apart from this, it appears that APHC top guns don’t even know geography of Kashmir, as I have never seen them supporting rights of the people of Gilgit and Baltistan and people of Azad Kashmir; and these areas are legal and constitutional parts of State of Jammu and Kashmir. For those who either don’t know geography of Kashmir, or have no courage to speak about rights of fellow citizens in Gilgit and Baltistan and Azad Kashmir because of fear, have no right to represent the people of Kashmir.
IKA has a role to play
In any case those who are accustomed to reading typed statements ‘imported’ from outside could only understand their personal interest; and have no understanding of jurisprudence of the Kashmir dispute, hence are advised to take some lessons to understand jurisprudence of the Kashmir dispute from Dr Nazir Gilani before embarking on a ‘mission’ to negotiate on behalf of the people of Kashmir.
Not only that APCH has failed to lead the people, but has proved to be impediment in resolution of the Kashmir dispute, as some of its members had more interest in maintaining the status quo because it benefited them personally. Moreover it does not regard Kashmir as one political entity, and its past record is testimony to this fact, as it mainly speaks for the people of the Valley, hence DOES NOT qualify the test to represent the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.
In view of the above, many people think that in future negotiations, people of Kashmir could effectively benefit from expertise of IKA leadership; as in their opinion, wisdom of APHC ‘top seven’ is no match to expertise and understanding of jurisprudence of Kashmir dispute of IKA Chairman, Dr Nazir Gilani.
The IKA is less than four weeks old and already it is a ‘talk of the town’; and around the globe thinking Kashmiri people who have peaceful resolution of the dispute close to their hearts, are rallying behind this new alliance which is destined to play a leading role in determining the future status of Kashmir.
The writer is a Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, a known writer and author of many books and booklets on Kashmir, and lives in London.