Thursday, December 17, 2015 – SINCE about partition we have willingly allowed the Kashmir issue to dictate all our policies—social, economic, foreign, defence . In a way we have allowed the issue to hold us to ransom or more precisely we seemed to have locked ourselves into the Kashmir corner and thrown the keys away.
At times we did try to break out of this tight corner unilaterally by waging as many as three and a half frontal wars and one almost 11 year long proxy jihad but to no avail. Meanwhile, we have also attempted to unlock the Kashmir gridlock through trilateral and bilateral negotiations including via the United Nations but without an iota of success.
We seem to be once again back in the bilateral negotiation mode after having remained on no-talking terms for almost 18 months that saw the tension between the two South Asian neighbours rising to a crescendo threatening to degenerate into another frontal war—God forbid a nuclear one at that.
That we are back from the brink is essentially because of the escalating pile of nuclear weapons capable of obliterating the two countries many times over and not due to a sudden desire among the ruling elite in Pakistan and India to resolve the Kashmir dispute through negotiations.
When two parties enter into negotiations to win an absolute victory we can safely assume that such negotiations would eventually end up perpetuating the stalemate giving rise to one more round of acrimonious tensions leading to another round of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation and turning the region once again into a nuclear flash-point with the entire world scrambling to keep the two combatants from crossing the red line.
This scene has repeated itself so many times that the entire sequence has become nauseatingly predictable.
Every time Pakistan has entered into negotiations with India on Kashmir the former had wanted the latter to hand over the Indian Held Kashmir to Islamabad without offering anything in return to India. New Delhi on its part, on the other hand, has shown its willingness, during such encounters, to discuss Azad Jammu and Kashmir but not IHK.
Since India seems in no mood to hand over IHK to Pakistan under any condition and Islamabad in no mood to bring AJ&K to the negotiating table, there is hardly any hope that the negotiations, no matter how serious and how prolonged would end in the absolute victory of any one of the two.
How do the two extricate themselves out of this logjam? The ready answer would be either by adopting a policy of give-and-take at the negotiation stage or Pakistan normalizing relations with India willingly without conditioning it on the resolution of the Kashmir issue or still better, both India and Pakistan retreating from their historic positions.
It was this third option which the former President General Pervez Musharraf proposed in 2006 when he was wieldingabsolute power in Islamabad. Musharraf’s formula had included a) Kashmir should have the same borders but free movement across the region be allowed for people on both side of LoC; b) There should be self-governance or autonomy but not independence c) Region should be demilitarized with phase- wise withdrawal of troops from the region. d) A mechanism should be devised jointly so that the road map for Kashmir is implemented smoothly.
In May last year former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Special Envoy, Satinder Lambah revealed that the Congress-led government had a formula for resolving the Kashmir dispute that did not seek to redraw the border or amend the Indian Constitution, but one that made the boundary irrelevant, enabled commerce, communication, contacts and development of the Kashmiri people on both sides and that ends the cycle of violence.
Mr. Lambah spoke in his “personal capacity,” but the vision he outlined for a solution are clearly recognisable as the contours of the Manmohan-Musharraf four-step formula.
The points he highlighted are: it is important that military forces on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) are kept to the minimum, especially in populated areas; it is imperative that the people of Jammu and Kashmir on either side of the LoC should be able to move freely from one side to the other; it is important to ensure self-governance for internal management in all areas on the same basis on both sides of the LoC, and Jammu and Kashmir can, with the active encouragement of the governments of India and Pakistan, work out a cooperative and consultative mechanism to maximise the gains of cooperation in solving problems of social and economic development of the region. It should be possible to do so to enable it to look into socio-economic issues like tourism, travel, pilgrimages to shrines, trade, health, education and culture.
This formula had clearly diluted the positions of India and Pakistani significantly as 1) It had set aside the U.N.’s resolutions on plebiscite; 2) Self-governance substation for self-determination; 3) Gave up religion as a criterion for joining India or Pakistan; 4) Pakistan advising Kashmiris to talk to New Delhi and India ignoring Article 370 of its Constitution; and 5) The two accepting the Line of Control (LoC) provided it is combined with joint management.
Officially neither Pakistan nor India have rejected the formula even though both Musharraf and Manmohan have faded into history and the governments that succeeded them are not known to draw political inspiration from the authors of the formula.
The best that the successor of Musharraf government could come up with while answering a relevant query was: “We are a democracy, Parliament has to own them, Parliament has to endorse them, Cabinet has to discuss them,” former foreign minister in PPP government, Shah Mehmood Qureishi said when he was still in office, adding these proposals were “neither discussed by Cabinet, nor endorsed by Parliament. So, as democrats, there are certain Parliamentary procedures that we have to fulfil.”
A number of non-papers discussing the Musharraf-Manmohan formula—refined during umpteen meetings in the back channels between the National Security Advisors of the two countries spread over almost two years—are believed to have been exchanged between the two countries.
It would be advisable on the part of both Indian and Pakistani governments to hand over these non-papers to their respective NSAs tasking them to come up with a mutually acceptable formula that did not produce a victor but a win- win result for both the countries and specially for the people of Kashmir.