19 April 2005

Kashmir: Peace roadmap is 'out of the box'

19 April 2005
The Hindu


In the joint statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharaf lie most of the elements of a roadmap for peace between India and Pakistan.

By Siddharth Varadarajan

THE LATEST meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is proof of the fact that in diplomacy - as in cricket - the results of a high-level encounter are often inversely proportional to the expectations that precede it.

If the excitement before the July 2001 Agra summit led to nothing but bitterness and rancour all around, the days leading up to Sunday's path-breaking summit had seen both sides consciously seeking to talk down the hype. At an off-the-record briefing a few hours before the General arrived in New Delhi, senior Indian officials cautioned that the impending summit was not really a summit or even a mini-summit but simply an occasion for the frank exchange of views. And yet, what transpired during the 36 hours the Pakistani President was in the Capital was as momentous as anything the two countries have seen in recent years.

The joint statement read out by the Prime Minister in his deadpan style on Monday morning may seem anodyne to some but within its terse sentences and paragraphs - and the call made by General Musharaf and Dr. Singh in separate meetings with the press to make existing borders irrelevant - lie most of the elements of a roadmap for peace between India and Pakistan.

No turning back

Though the two sides wisely avoided formally capturing the notion of soft borders - the concept needs to be fleshed out and debated adequately in both countries - the joint statement is noteworthy in six respects.

First, it stresses the irreversibility of the peace process now under way. The two Governments are saying that come what may, there will be no turning back from what has been achieved so far - the resumption and enhancement of cross-border traffic and people-to-people contact, including sports, and the ceasefire along the Line of Control and up in the Siachen Glacier. The self-imposed quarantine India brought about by cutting all air, raid and road links following the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament will, hopefully, never again be repeated.

Secondly, it says that terrorism will not be allowed to disrupt the relationship. The specific formulation is worth noting: "The two leaders pledged that they would not allow terrorism to impede the peace process." Terrorism, here, is no longer a stick for India to beat Pakistan with but a problem which confronts both countries equally. If the statement implies that Islamabad will continue to work to ensure terrorist incidents are not planned or launched from territories it controls, New Delhi, too, has undertaken not to over-react to the odd terrorist incident that might still take place.

In other words, India and Pakistan have jointly resolved not to give terrorists the right to veto the peace process through dramatic acts of violence.

Thirdly, the statement stresses that the purpose of having discussions on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is to reach a "final settlement." In contrast, the September 24, 2004 statement issued in New York spoke of "possible options for a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the issue," while the January 6, 2004 joint statement spoke of the "peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides." However, the reference in the latest statement to a `final settlement,' though refreshing, is hardly new; it is, in fact, taken directly from the Shimla Agreement of July 2, 1972, Clause 6 of which commits both Governments "to discuss further the modalities and arrangements for the establishment of durable peace and normalization of relations, including the questions of prisoners of war and civilian internees, a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir and the resumption of diplomatic relations." (emphasis added)

After conceding the need for such a final settlement as far back as 1972, India, somewhere along the line, chose to take the view that this was unnecessary. Reams of paper have been wasted on futile debates about whether Kashmir is a core issue or not. By returning to the Shimla language, India and Pakistan have wisely agreed to give the Kashmir issue the importance it actually has and not remain hostage to the linguistic sensibilities of those who do not know the diplomatic history of the bilateral relationship.

Trucks bearing fruit

Fourthly, having stressed the need for a final settlement, the statement suggests preliminary steps consistent with the notion of soft borders. Thus, it speaks of further measures "to enhance interaction and cooperation across the LoC," including passenger movement and trade.

Allowing trucks to cross the LoC - presumably laden with fruit on the outbound, and Pakistan-made consumer goods on the inbound - is a radical leap of faith for both India and Pakistan as it will eventually allow the economic geography of the region to revert to its pre-partition days. The position of Jammu as an entrepot, not just for the valley but also Poonch and Rajouri - once the road to Rawalakot in Pakistan is opened up (or even the old `Mughal Road' to the valley) - would be undermined, which could have unintended consequences for Jammu and Kashmir.

Fifthly, the joint statement undertakes to speed up deliverables, such as an agreement on Siachen and Sir Creek, and strive for greater business interaction. So long as Pakistan had the impression that India was using CBMs as a diversionary tactic to avoid reaching a final settlement on Kashmir, it was not interested in forward-movement on trade or fast-tracking the solution of specific disputes that have readymade agreements for the taking.

By not shying away from the Kashmir issue, India has achieved what it wanted: a Pakistani commitment to put easier problems on the front-burner.

Sixthly, Dr. Singh and General Musharraf have not only endorsed the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline in the face of U.S. criticism of the project but also expanded the scope for energy cooperation between their two countries.

Given the growing demand for energy in both Pakistan and India and the need for South Asia to access Iranian and Central Asian oil and gas, it is essential that the two countries start a broad energy dialogue.

Irrelevance of LoC

In his interaction with Indian editors, General Musharraf reiterated the proposal for soft borders made by him a few days ago. It is my belief that the Indian side - our leadership and the bulk of our media - has not yet understood the huge shift that the General's endorsement of soft borders along the LoC implies. To drive home the point, he reminded the editors of Pakistan's position that the LoC should not become the border, India's position that that there could be no redrawing of borders and the only possible via media between these two positions: "The LoC cannot be permanent, borders must be made irrelevant and boundaries cannot be altered. Take the three together and now discuss the solution," he said.

A soft border is the only administrative arrangement that allows India and Pakistan to maintain their respective de jure or de facto sovereignties in Kashmir while not coming in the way of the people of the divided State enjoying the fruits of a unified territory. The LoC need not be made permanent or redrawn; the solution is to make it irrelevant. Monday's joint statement contains six new elements that will enhance the irrelevance of the LoC. Future meetings between India and Pakistan must find many, many more.

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