Originally Published 2006-02-01 09:35:35 Published on Feb 01, 2006
It is becoming increasingly clear that a resolution to the Kashmir dispute cannot be delayed much longer if the peace process between India and Pakistan is to yield tangible results in the foreseeable future. This period cannot be longer than five years.
High resolution picture in Kashmir
It is becoming increasingly clear that a resolution to the Kashmir dispute cannot be delayed much longer if the peace process between India and Pakistan is to yield tangible results in the foreseeable future. This period cannot be longer than five years. Without a resolution in Kashmir within this time frame, the peace process would certainly lose steam and collapse under the weight of imaginary deadlines and apprehensions.

The dispute is both about Kashmir and within Kashmir. For various reasons, both are linked but can, and should, be decoupled in the interest of a solution. There is no doubt that the time for a resolution is ripe. Pakistan has decided to venture beyond the UN resolution and is now advocating 'self-rule'. The most vocal advocate of 'self-rule' is none else but President Pervez Musharraf. He could either be trusted or distrusted, but not ignored. He says India has been bypassing his appeal for working out an amicable solution to the issue.

India, on its part, has been seeking clarifications on what the General has been proposing, without much success. There is, as always, a stalemate - with the General proposing and India disposing. These are small victories, petty ego games that do not yield either tactical or strategic advantages to India. There is clearly a need to encourage a quantum jump, a shedding of historical baggage and a strategic foresight. Such a dramatic shift in positions is obviously not so easy. But it is not difficult either, if the parties involved decide to get out of the petty cubicles in which they have bound themselves in the interest of military gains and political gains or compulsions. 

It is time, undoubtedly, for us to take a decision on one important point: Are we willing to explore possibilities to settle this dispute or are we all set up on running around circles, talking in the air, shooting air balloons and retiring to the comforts of our little cubicles? If Option 2 is what we prefer, then let us give up the charade of peace talk and tell Pakistan, and whoever is interested in listening, that Kashmir is an integral part of India and if there is any one who is going to take a decision, it will be New Delhi and no one else. There is therefore no discussion. Delink Kashmir with the peace process. If we think it is time to figure out Option 1, then we need to work out an entirely new strategy. Old strategies will not work; in fact they will be counter-productive, as we have seen in the past two years.

Let us take a quick look at how Kashmir has been viewed - from New Delhi and Islamabad. For decades, India maintained that Kashmir was an integral part of India and labelled Pakistan's attempts to force a debate on Kashmir as "interference in the internal affairs" of the country. Pakistan spent years on calling for the implementation of the UN Resolution of 1948 which called for a withdrawal of troops from Kashmir and a plebiscite but it was more interested in internationalising the issue, thereby inviting a possible external mediation, particularly the US which the former felt would favour its claims. The militancy and the political and military support extended by Pakistan to various militant and terrorist groups only complicated the dispute further. India believes that Kashmir is non-negotiable.Islamabad's view on Kashmir has been quite different. Kashmir is seen as forcible occupation of a territory that rightly belonged to them. To settle scores, Pakistan has fought two wars and launched twoinfiltration attempts since 1947, without success. What really worked was the proxy war which was launched with the help of different terrorist groups operating both within Pakistan and in Kashmir. More than 15 years of this proxy war has created this impression in Islamabad that India would not have come to the negotiating table unless it was forced by the enormous cost of fighting the proxy war. It is, therefore, widely believed in Islamabad that India could be blackmailed into compromising its stated position on Kashmir. 

We can sit together on this turning point and debate endlessly how it is not in either's interest to move forward. The result will be we will turn back from the point from where there could be, just could be, a possibility of living together, if not peace in its entirely. Do we want to go back to the age of acrimony and conflict? We can. India, despite the doomsayers, will take the hit and move forward. There is no stopping India. This is, interestingly, clearer to President Musharraf more than to any one else. He knows his country will be left behind soon, if things are not sorted out, even symbolically. The weather balloon of 'self-rule' is one such symbolic gesture he wants India to accept.

Before exploring some political means to resolve the dispute, it is critical to benchmark some landmarks along the route. First, there will be no redrawing of the borders. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made this clear. President Musharraf has more or less accepted it. This should mean that we accept the LoC as the international border. That is the first compromise from the Indian side. Second, there will be no division even within Kashmir along communal lines. Third, Pakistan cannot have a say on the governance of Indian Kashmir. These three points mean that a resolution to the dispute lies within the boundaries as it exists today. 

A possible solution that steers clear of the above markers is to carve out a Union Territory comprising Srinagar, Baramullah, Anantnag, Kupwara, Pulwama and Budgam and give it a semi-State status, much like what Delhi once had. This would give ample measure of autonomy to the six districts and will, therefore, be better governed. The remaining part of the State will remain as one, with winter capital in Jammu and summer capital in Leh. This could settle some of the outstanding claims of the people of Jammu and Ladakh, while taking care to not hurt the interests of the people of Srinagar. 

From the security perspective, such a solution will not present any compromise nor will it deny Kashmir its rightful share of water resources. It will also not affect the resolution of similar issues of autonomy in the Northeast. These measures would certainly need constitutional amendments on various issues and the most controversial one would be on the status of Article 370. It is time we had a more informed debate on Article 370, especially since those who are fighting the Indian state do not claim to recognise the Constitution of India. Why should we not abolish the provision which is not acceptable to anyone in this country, be it those living in Kashmir or outside?

The Delhi solution will also satisfy Islamabad's demand for 'self-rule' in Kashmir. There cannot be better 'self-rule' than an autonomous entity governed by city and district councils with the responsibility of Finance, Foreign Policy, Defence and other key areas resting with the Centre.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, February 1, 2006.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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