Fencing is part of the deal.
Dr Shabir Choudhry
To satisfaction of some and to frustration and annoyance of others the much talked and controversial fence along the Line of Control is nearly complete. Most people don’t fully understand the impact this fencing will have on the on going struggle and the future of State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Many think this fence is similar to the wall which Israel is building in West Bank, as rational behind both is to stop ‘infiltration’. In simple words, both governments think that by erecting these obstacles they will be able to resolve problems which they have failed to do by use of military might. What they fail to understand is that political disputes could not be resolved by use of gun or by erecting walls.
The wall which Israel is building has been declared by the International Court of Justice as ‘illegal’ and violation of international law; and Pakistan’s foreign
office spokesman Masood Khan wasted no time in welcoming this verdict of the ICJ.
Like Israel, India is also erecting this fence in a territory which is internationally recognised as disputed; whereas Israel’s action was fiercely opposed and taken to the ICJ to be declared illegal, no one even cared to take the matter of fencing along the LOC to any international forum.
Critics believe that Pakistan could not have lodged any complaint against this fencing because of the secret understanding between the both governments. For many years India tried to erect this fence, but could not do it due to continued shelling across the LOC. Whenever India tried to erect this fence Pakistani troops targeted those involved in the fence erection, and they used to flee after leaving dead bodies of their colleagues.
India was desperate to erect this fence as Indian experts in violence and ‘counter terrorism’ believed that only way to stop militancy is to deprive it of its support from across the border. Their belief was that if ‘infiltration’ from across the border could somehow be stopped, then it would be only matter of time that a large Indian force deployed in Kashmir will be able to root out militancy.
This view was shared by many in the West, and some in power circles of Islamabad also shared this view and were eager to take such measures that militancy should be curtailed if not totally crushed, in order to establish friendly relationship with India.
Peace and harmony in South Asia was not only need of India and that of international community, multi nationals and transnational corporations, but Pakistan was also desperate for it. And despite strong opposition of some sections of Pakistani and Kashmiri communities, government of Pakistan continued the journey along this bumpy road known as ‘peace - process’.
And in order to fulfil its part of the bargain, government of Pakistan under strong leadership of General Musharaf took some hard decisions which no civilian government could have dared to do. Many in Pakistan said that after dumping ‘their own boys’ in Afghanistan, Musharaf government, under international pressure, has worked a plan to ‘dump’ Kashmiris, and has started to curb activities of militant groups which they helped to set up and supported until recently.
The people of Kashmir, barring those who are always willing to dance on tune played by the Islamabad, were dismayed and felt that Pakistan has once again betrayed them. At one time overwhelming majority of Kashmiris were in support of joining Pakistan, but due to wrong Pakistani policies, especially in the past decade, has turned that majority in to a small minority.
With that background where internal and external pressures were simultaneously working against the both governments, it was decided to jump start the peace process, and Vajapayee Sahib and Musharaf Sahib can claim credit for taking difficult decisions to get the ball of peace process rolling.
The peace process and what is to follow could not be successful if people continue to cross the LOC and embitter the relationship between the two countries, hence create instability in Kashmir and in South Asia, and endanger the economic and strategic plans which have its roots outside the boundary of this volatile region.
So it was imperative that something had to be done, and fencing was perceived as one solution which will surely stop ‘infiltration’ and it will also strengthen the position of the Indian army in Kashmir.
Those who cross the LOC, whether they are Kashmiris or non Kashmiris and whether they have right to cross it or not, do it with some help and support of Pakistani army, which has complete control of borders on the other side; and this fact is now increasingly acknowledged by many Pakistani writers and leaders. So if Pakistan government is also determined, as is the Indian government, to stop ‘infiltration’ then there is very little chance of anyone crossing the LOC in presence of two large armies guarding borders from both sides.
And if anyone, somehow, manages to hoodwink both armies and crosses the LOC, he will be hunted down within that five miles area which separates the LOC and the fence; as it is virtually impossible to cross this fence which is high and wide, and has electric current running through with watch towers, and controlled and monitored by satellite.
Some critics believe that it is as a result of this tacit understanding that the government of Pakistan made no formal complaint to either India, or raised the issue at any international forum. However the government of Pakistan in order to satisfy people paid some lip service and issued some statements. At one stage Pakistani government officials at the highest level said that we cannot do anything because India is building this fence five miles inside the territory under its control; thus implying that India has a free hand to do anything on that side of the LOC even though the whole State is disputed.
But this policy was soon reversed on the issue of Baghaliar Dam, and Pakistani officials wasted no time and went across to hold meetings with the Indian officials to resolve the matter. This clearly shows that Pakistani government had worries about flow of water reaching its territory even though Baghaliar Dam was built more than ‘five miles’ inside the Kashmiri territory controlled by India.
As there was understanding over the issue of fencing, Pakistani government under disguise of cease fire, indirectly helped the Indian government to build this fence, and made no attempt to stop it. Cease fire was declared on LOC and on Siachin where as a result of cross border firing there were casualties to both Pakistani and Indian soldiers. This saved lives of soldiers of both countries, and also helped to build the fence.
It is ironic that since 1989 a whole generation of Kashmiri people have lost their lives, and it was they who urgently needed some relief in the form of some kind of cease fire, but it was not even considered. Both governments have taken many confidence building measures and I wholeheartedly support them, but in my view it was more appropriate to declare cease fire in Kashmir as well and presented it as a package that people of Kashmir could have got some relief and confidence in this peace process.
It appears to Kashmiris that lives of Pakistani and Indian soldiers and issue of water is more important than the lives and difficulties of the Kashmiri people. I discussed the issues related to the fence and cease fire with one Pakistani official and complained why Pakistan did not take this issue at the international level.
His point of view was that it is just waste of time, as India does not pay any attention to any international treaties, and gave example of the UN resolutions on Kashmir. I explained to him that Pakistan is also partly responsible for the fate of resolutions on Kashmir. I further said that we all know Israel’s record is second to none when it comes to violations of human rights and total disregard to dozens of UN resolutions, and yet the case of Israeli wall was taken to the ICJ, and appropriately declared as illegal. If Pakistani government had not given a tacit agreement then they could have taken this case to the ICJ as it is clearly violation of international law and UN resolutions on Kashmir.
This official, although was a senior person, but his knowledge on the subject was very limited, and he said, ‘Shabir Sahib, apart from the fence Pakistan has many other problems, and we have to look after the Pakistani interest’. He soon turned his guns against me and started talking about divisions among the ranks of Kashmiris, and asserted that it is because of these divisions the fence was erected and Kashmir is still divided.
I acknowledged divisions in the ranks of the Kashmiri leaders, and said that these divisions are created by our occupiers. Their territorial aims could only be satisfied if Kashmiri leaders and the State remains divided. I further said that fence is part of the deal which they have on Kashmir. In future this will become a de-facto border between both countries, as no one will be able to cross this fence. Perhaps both will set up certain check points for purpose of visits and trade, and annex certain parts of the State and give some kind of autonomy to the remaining parts of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Even before I finished my ‘sermon’ on Kashmir dispute which I claim to know fairly well, I realised that I have annoyed another Pakistani official; and soon he will report back that Shabir Choudhry is ‘anti Pakistan’ just because I have dared to criticise Pakistani policy on Kashmir. Unfortunately these officials fail to see difference between state and the government, and criticism on government is construed as ‘attack on integrity of the State’.
Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is a Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email: email@example.com