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Secret diplomacy on Kashmir

by M B Naqvi, 1 November 2009

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The Daily Star, October 29, 2009

Last week some Kashmir newspapers reported with approval some remarks that India’s Home Minister, P. Chidambaram had made in Srinagar. The Indian minister disclosed that secret negotiations were going on between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. He also said: "We are working on a solution that will satisfy both sides and will be good for the Kashmiris."

It is not easy to be optimistic. Kashmir has been an issue of dispute for 62 years. It is because of this that Pakistan says that the first thing is to solve the Kashmir problem. Earlier, the solution for Pakistan lay in a referendum in Kashmir to decide whether it will remain in India or will opt for Pakistan. The Indians, although they had at first accepted the proposal of a plebiscite, later incorporated Kashmir into India and made it an integral part of India.

After this India has always said it was no longer able to discuss Kashmir’s future; it was a closed transaction. That was that. Pakistan continued to say for umpteen years that unless the Kashmir dispute was solved there could be no friendship between Pakistan and India.

The Indians and Pakistanis have debated on and about Kashmir for 62 years and could not compromise. This dispute has been blocking all that India wants from Pakistan, and vice-versa. There have been a series of negotiations between India and Pakistan since the 1950s. In 1963-64, Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks had gone through six rounds, but failed. Only two agreements between India and Pakistan have so far been struck. One is Indus Water Treaty and the second is Shimla Agreement, 1972.

As for the Indus waters question is concerned, they were early days and there was enough common sense that led to a solution with the help of World Bank. The problem was resolved until now, when it is threatening to become a much bigger dispute. The Shimla Agreement was more or less dictated by the Indians because Pakistan was a defeated country in a war and had prisoners of war in India’s custody, and there also was some territory in West Pakistan that India was occupying. Pakistan had to retrieve both by agreeing to India’s terms.

The Indo-Pakistan negotiations again started in 1997, when an Indian delegation came to Pakistan and agreed on creating a format of eight groups to settle Indo-Pakistan disputes, in which water and nuclear weapons were not included.

Again, several rounds were gone through but nothing worked out. Then two important occasions arose: one in 1999 whenAtal Behari Vajpayee, the Indian PM, came to Lahore on a bus. He went to Minar-e-Pakistan and wrote to the effect that India accepted Pakistan with its heart as a legitimate state. The two prime ministers, Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, issued a Lahore Declaration that was to restart the talks and chart a way to peaceful coexistence.

Lahore Declaration was sabotaged by the Kargil adventure, that had almost started another Indo-Pakistan war, by Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf the same year. This was avoided with US help. That left a very bad taste in everyone’s mouth because it was so pointless. Pakistan had not wanted a war but would have got one if the Americans had not intervened and mediated a solution.

But remember, much of the 1990s was a period when Pakistan was doing its utmost in Kashmir to make India’s hold unstable and create conditions in which the Indians would perhaps agree to sort out other problems with Pakistan, including Kashmir. But the jihadis in Kashmir went a step further and also attacked India’s Parliament.

That brought India’s notional invasion of Pakistan, in which India’s forces were concentrated on Pakistan’s borders and threatened invasion. Again the Americans and other western countries seem to have helped and, for good measure, General Pervez Musharraf, then president, satisfied the Indians by promising not to allow Pakistan territory to be used against India. The details of the mediation do not concern us but American President Bill Clinton played a notable part.

Finally, talks restarted in 2004. The result was the same: failure. Meanwhile, Musharraf, for obscure reasons, was desperate that there should be a solution that would unlock other disputes too. Some of these disputes — Sir Creek, Siachin Glacier and two water-related disputes — could easily be solved with a modicum of goodwill on both sides. But Kashmir stood in the way.

Musharraf, at a later stage, came up with his own ideas on how the talks could succeed. He made a five-point proposal to India, in which a Kashmir solution was suggested. Musharraf’s solution was something that the Indians should have jumped to accept.

Basically, he allowed Kashmir’s division line to be made permanent, and this border was to be as peaceful as if it did not exist. There would be cross-border traffic and cross-border trade, and it would have allowed people to come and go across the border without raising the question of the legitimacy of the division of Kashmir. Indians, for obscure reasons, balked. They let go an opportunity that they later seem to have regretted. This was nothing less than Pakistan’s recognition of India’s sovereignty over the parts it is occupying today.

If the two parties could agree upon this solution of Kashmir, other smaller problems could be easily resolved. There would then be goodwill enough. But in the meantime, two bigger issues have arisen on which there have been no talks so far.

One is the question of water in the context of climate change that is taking place. The glaciers in Kashmir, from which six rivers of Pakistan and India originate, are melting. This will create more water in the shorter term and much less water in the longer term. The water dispute has now to be seen in a much wider context, and has to be sorted out.

The second dispute concerns nuclear weapons. So long as nuclear weapons are at the ready in India, Pakistanis cannot be reassured and live peacefully with Indians. Similarly, Indians cannot live peacefully if Pakistan has nuclear weapons pointing at India. The two sides have continued an arms race for long, and seem totally unable to agree to any talks for strategic limitation of these.

Indians refuse to equate their nuclear deterrents with Pakistan’s; they say they have a larger world role, and also China, to take care of.. Pakistan is frank and says that all its nuclear weapons are meant for India. So long as these two nuclear deterrents face each other, and there are no talks on the subject, the deadlock between the two countries will continue.

But hope need not be given up entirely. There are ways in which such matters can be resolved. The aim has to be larger: a rapprochement between India and Pakistan, one that takes Bangladesh and other South Asian countries in its scope. If they can create an all round détente, and then take it upward into friendship, most matters can be resolved. Pakistan, perhaps then, will be ready to give India transit rights to Afghanistan and Central Asia, for which New Delhi pines.

M.B. Naqvi is a leading Pakistani columnist.