Pak-India reset: Let’s start from Kashmir

Posted by Faheem Belharvi

Recent overtures from both sides clearly indicate that the Pakistan and India want to improve their bilateral relationship. President of Pakistan’s non-state visit to India and the ensuing joint communiqué, grant of MNF status for India, resumption of sporting activities and Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid’s recent wish that: ‘it is high time India and Pakistan move forward together hand-in-hand’, are some of the indicators pointing in the right direction.

Both countries agree that there are outstanding disputes and unless these are resolved, they could come back in circles to haunt the process of normalization. Unfortunately, track record of resolution of out-standing disputes through bilateral effort has not been a promising one. Though there is a sense of relief that both official and Track II channels are operative, yet there is only a subdued optimism in the context of final out come.

It is unfortunate that some of very meaningful peace processes between the two countries went astray for one reason or the other. An objective analysis reveals that most of these processes comprised of protracted rounds of parleys focused on peripheries, while shying away from the core issues. The outcome was obvious; lingering disputes remained un-resolved; and they revisited at critical stages of negotiations to block any qualitative improvement in the relationship.

Quantitatively, the situation has been of one step forward and two backward. In the present atmosphere of visible political will to try another reset, it is essential to learn from previous slippages and focus the effort on core issues– territory related disputes. Unfortunately, the two countries have not been able to achieve anything worthwhile in territory related disputes. Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachin are the tipping points; of these, Kashmir has always dominated the canvas of relations between India and Pakistan. Over a period of time Kashmir dispute has gathered a lot of political baggage on the domestic political landscape of both the countries.

here is a need to mobilize comparable political will to overcome the baggage. Apparently sitting governments of both the countries have requisite clout to marshal requisite critical mass. As Pakistan is likely to be a beneficiary in case of equitable resolution of most of territory related disputes, it has always been keen to see the conclusive phase of the efforts aimed at resolving these issues. Due to successive disruptions, people of Pakistan have become sort of disenchanted with the mundane rituals of dialogue and are in a state of despondency. Likewise, Indian public has also developed an attitude of indifference towards bilateral initiatives; hardliners on Indian side feel confident that India would not cede any space to Pakistan through dialogue.

There is a need to restore the public confidence in the fruitfulness of bilateral dialogue. Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has recently said that India wants to resolve all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, with Pakistan through dialogue. It would be worthwhile to start with Kashmir; the effort should be beyond rhetoric, some thing concrete and irreversible to convince the people of the two counties that Kashmir dispute would be resolved in short to medium term timeframe.

Kashmir dispute is recognized by the UN, and its settlement framework has also been specified in the relevant UN resolutions. Both India and Pakistan have agreed to the UN proposal of a plebiscite. Ever since, Pakistan has maintained a consistent stance that it regards the UN resolutions as the best way of settling the issue. Whereas India has persistently followed a policy of deliberate ambiguity, alternating between acceptance and denial of the dispute; the objective of this murky approach is to erode the mandate of UNSC resolutions. Kashmir dispute continues to be on UNGA agenda since 1948. Each year UNGA passes resolution emphasizing the necessity of resolving it.

The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) is stationed in Kashmir to monitor the control line since 24 January 1949. Even today, the UNSC resolutions remain the best way out for providing a win-win situation for Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri people. Persistent political resistance by the people of the IHK against the oppressive Indian rule has kept the issue in the limelight at the international level. Spells of Kashmiri intifada have been spectacular in their scope, scale and expanse.

The tenor of struggle has gradually transformed from militancy to peaceful political resistance. It is visibly out of India’s control, both politically and militarily. World watches with dismay that even by stationing of around 600,000 combatants for over a decade, India has not been able to subdue the spirit of Kashmir’s of the IHK. IHK has the unenviable distinction of being the most militarized zone in the world. The hardest hit victim of the conflict has been the socio-economic fabric of the Kashmir. Recent reports by Amnesty International (AI) and Citizen’s Council for Justice (CCJ) have adequately exposed the deplorable Human Rights (HR) conditions in IHK. Starting point for resolution of Kashmir could be giving the people of IHK a feeler of security.

This could be done through concrete confidence building measures like revocation of all the draconian laws like: the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Public Safety Act; Disturbed Areas Act; Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act etc. Likewise, a timeframe should be announced for retrieval of Indian army to their barracks and let the Sate police take care of the law and order.

IHK State government should also release all prisoners of conscience. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has extended an invitation to 8 members of the executive council of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), to visit Pakistan from 15 to 22 December 2012. This initiative has been taken to begin a consultative process between the political leadership of Pakistan, AJK and pro-movement leaders of IHK. This initiative is expected to jump-start the process for peaceful resolution of Kashmir issue.

Pakistan envisages that APHC could act as a catalyst in bridging the gap between the two governments’ standpoint and public aspirations of the people of Kashmir. From Kashmiri perspective also, frequent interactions between the political leadership of the two side of Kashmir would result in narrowing down their perceptional gaps. Hopefully, the visit of APHC leadership would the first step to re-start an intra-Kashmir process of dialogue and the Kashmiris of both sides would be able to take advantage of the current improvement of relations between India and Pakistan.

While addressing the 67th session of the General Assembly, President Zardari had rightly attributed the non-resolution of Kashmir dispute to the failure of the UN system. Understandably, UN effort had reached a dead end because of its structural inadequacies. Both India and Pakistan should pickup the threads form where the UN left them in 1948 and move ahead for the resolution of Kashmir and other territory related disputes. Otherwise the current thaw would also be a short lived political gimmick.

(Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal)

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