Peace Process and future of Jammu and Kashmir
Dr Shabir Choudhry 16 December 2005
Despite a lot of hard work and many proposals on the table, in my opinion no one exactly knows what will be the final outcome of the Kashmir dispute. Both governments because of internal and external pressures have agreed to continue their talks even though if there is no visible progress, and even if some groups commit violence to derail the process. They have also agreed not to resort to military adventure to solve political disputes.
In view of the above agreement I can safely say that the peace process will continue, as both governments have no option but to continue talking. Not only this is against their tradition and agreed policy of the past, they will also have to invite the Kashmiris to the negotiating table, which has been a ‘no go area’ for the Kashmiris since 1947.
It would be interesting to see, who in their opinion represents the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. On both sides of the LOC both governments have groomed their own ‘b teams’, and have been projecting them as leaders of the Kashmiri people. Reality however is that no single leader, party or even alliance represents whole of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
If after agreeing on some kind of solution they plan to invite their chosen few, who are known to feel proud to dance on the tune played from Islamabad and New Delhi, and get their thumbprints, then it might not work. The best thing is to facilitate meetings of people of Jammu and Kashmir, and they can decide who are the best people to defend Kashmiri identity and Kashmiri interest.
The concept of United States of Kashmir is very much talked these days. It is good that different options are discussed, and we are no longer asked to decide between India and Pakistan. However it is strange that it is coming from a man or men who have opposed the concept of united Kashmir in the past, and who do not have ideological clarity.
This United States of Kashmir is different to the concept of an independent Kashmir we have in mind, as this USK might not be s sovereign state. However perhaps it is the best option available on the table at present, and should not be rejected as it provides some way out.
During my last visit to the region in June 2005, this idea of autonomous regions on both sides of the LOC came under discussion with senior Western diplomats and some other people. I said to them that the idea of autonomous states as it is would not work, as people did not pay sacrifices for autonomy. However if it could be improved, for example, by having a Senate consisting of 25 members, (five from each autonomous region) to work out intra region matters and also to deal with matters with others including Indian and Pakistan, then it might be acceptable to the people.
This idea of USK could not have been put forward without a green signal from Islamabad; in fact, it would be quite safe to say that it was discussed between the two in great details. But important question is if this idea has been discussed with the third party or was it broadcasted to score a political point and to cause embarrassment. I hope it was properly discussed at different levels before it went to the press because when the parties to a dispute discuss matters through the media it could create problems and misunderstandings.
Although it appears that progress on Kashmir is being made quite quickly, and some even suggest that we can see some kind of settlement soon; but I tend to disagree with this view. No doubt peace process has been going on for a long time now, and good progress has been made; but all that is to create conducive environment where all parties could comfortably sit down and discuss all disputes with an open heart.
That has been done and different options have been discussed and looked at, and from this stage we need to move to the next stage, which is to work out a mechanism that could be applied to negotiate and implement an agreed formula on Kashmir. In my considered opinion that is not going to happen soon, as both countries, especially India, are not yet ready to make big concessions on Kashmir.
Even after tripartite or triangular negotiations a decision is reached then still it is questionable if democratic government of India would make a final deal on Kashmir with a government which is not recognised as a democratic and does not enjoy a public support, as it is often said that public support is with Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.
This has to be seen in the context that Kashmir dispute is the biggest dispute between the two countries, and has great emotional, economic and strategic value to them. It is debatable if government of India which claims to be the biggest democracy on earth, would sign an agreement on an issue like Kashmir with a man in uniform, or wait a few more years until more acceptable and popular government is in place.
It is hoped that many big political changes will take place in Pakistan after 2007, and future government will have a popular support, even though it will have the same man as a President without army uniform. It is believed that the Indian government might feel more comfortable in signing a deal on Kashmir with that government then the one in place at present; and hopefully that government will have more credibility and public support as it is expected that it will have some input from Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.
This means we are still a few years away from the final settlement on Kashmir, and this should not disappointment people as this is not a long time in life of nations, especially when we expect to get better outcome with a few more years of struggle.
Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org