Originally Published 2005-07-14 11:30:42 Published on Jul 14, 2005
One of the critical issues that seem to have missed the Indian-Pakistan peace process is terrorism. Pakistan has quietly managed to keep the issue on the backburner by raising the issues of Baglihar dam and Kashmir.
Priorities of Peace Process
It is time to conduct a reality check on the India-Pakistan peace process. In fact, there is a particular urgency for it. For, the peace process seems to have got hijacked by secessionist elements in Kashmir and Pakistan who never had any stakes in it. Those who have an interest - and an overriding one at that - in the peace process are the people of India and Pakistan, who see it as a historic opportunity to correct the wrongs.

The first step would be to clear the confusion about who are the true representatives of the people of Kashmir, on either side of the border. This will help in removing the conflicts engendered in the current situation. The question about who represents the people can be resolved by clarifying the locus standi of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in Kashmir as well as in the peace process.

The APHC is a loose confederation of secessionists and political wannabes who want a stake in political power without going to the people. It is a medley of disparate ideologies and perceptions. It has no proven credential of being the sole representative of the Kashmiri people. The APHC at best has a nuisance value, a `proxy' which Pakistan has been using quite effectively to spread dissension in the Valley. Its members have have no political relevance.

This should be made clear to the APHC leadership as well as Islamabad, by India. The Hurriyat leaders will have to wait for the next round of Assembly elections to prove their claims to being representatives of the people of Kashmir. Islamabad too has made a similar suggestion to the Hurriyat, which is a dramatic shift from the latter's earlier stand of boycotting elections. It would call upon the Hurriyat leadership to form a political party and seek recognition by the Election Commission of India, elect its office-bearers, and set in motion the process of contesting elections.

This is bound to generate several ideological and practical problems for the organisation, which has no political base in Kashmir. The biggest challenge before the APHC would be to put together a political agenda, and secessionism cannot be it. It would amount to the Hurriyat's diluting its stand on Kashmir and India. It could also mean accepting Indian suzerainty, a position that is bound to disintegrate the Hurriyat.

This leaves the current elected representatives in the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly as the true representatives of the people, and they should be included in the peace process without any loss of time.

The second step would be to confine Kashmir to being one of the subjects of discussion. Pakistan has been trying to centre the entire debate on peace in the subcontinent to the one issue of Kashmir. The hype over the recent visit of Hurriyat leaders to Pakistan is an indicator. There was no need of it, and was undoubtedly an example of mischief by Islamabad.

India should not have fallen into the trap; it, therefore, needs to remind Pakistan that the dialogue on peace involves not just Kashmir but a host of other equally important issues as well. The reality check is all the more essential because Pakistan seems to have developed cold feet on the peace process and has been denying making any commitments.

For instance, while President Pervez Musharraf has projecting himself as the messiah of the peace process by advocating irrelevant borders and self-governance, his foreign office is busy drumming up a different story. Pakistan Foreign office spokesperson Jalil Abbas Jilani, early this month, tried to redefine the geographical identity of Kashmir to prove his point. He said India must not talk of areas which have already "sought freedom from India and the Maharaja", implying that the term "occupied" Kashmir refers only to the Valley. This is a most mischievous statement.

There are two reasons to say so. First, the Maharaja of Jammu, Raja Hari Singh, who signed the Instrument of Accession in favour of India, ruled over more than just the Valley. If Mr Jilani is referring to the area called Kashmir as it existed before 1947, then he would need to consult his history books. Kashmir has always been a large geographical area without Line of Control running through it. The Valley was just a small part of the Maharaja's vast kingdom.

The second reason is the UN Resolution to which Mr Jilani refers in his argument. The UN Resolution clearly refers to the whole of Kashmir, including PoK, in the gamut of dispute. One of the things which Pakistan ignores is that PoK is no less a part of Kashmir than the rest of the Valley.

Mr Jilani's statement has also a twist in the tail. The four-star President has been talking about going beyond the UN resolutions and making borders irrelevant, while his foreign office, which cannot wink without the Army's nod, has suddenly begun parroting the tune of UN Resolution. This could constitute a serious setback to the peace process. It could also mean either a difference of opinion within the Army over the General Musharraf's recent statements on Kashmir, or his own ruse to create diversion. Forked tongue has been Pakistan's forte.

Returning to the UN Resolution would mean slipping on the grease pole by several yards. It could mean undoing the countless CBMs that have taken months to be put in place. It could mean hardening of stands, as also reverting to the 2002 standoff.

Mr Jilani's insistence on India accepting Kashmir as disputed territory is bound to backfire. The very fact that India has been talking about Kashmir and not Bihar or Orissa to Pakistan amounts to de facto acceptance that disputes of various kinds exist on Kashmir. But these are purely inter-state in nature, mainly misalignment of relationship between the State Government and the Central Government due to reasons of history and governance.

Mr Jilani should look in his own backyard for a definition of disputes: Balochistan, Northern Areas, Waziristan, Sindh, Baltistan. These are all in dispute, areas where people have been demanding freedom, autonomy and equitable living. Perhaps Mr Jilani could rethink the issue of calling any region "disputed"; else, he would find many of his country's provinces falling in that category.

This exercise could also help him answer the question whether any state has a right to interfere in the internal disputes of another country. If his answer is yes, then Pakistan should open Balochistan, Northern Areas, Sindh and Baltistan to international mediators, especially with India which has historical and cultural relations with many of these provinces and their people.

Mr Jilani's statement on Siachen betrays a similar denial of history. The stated position is that India occupies the heights of Siachen and is willing to withdraw and help convert the icy desert into a science park. In return, India's demand has been simple: Pakistan must identify the exact position its troops hold on the glacier.

India has already identified and documented its position. It wants wants Pakistan to similarly inform India about its position on the glacier. But Pakistan has refused to accept the Indian request and wants India to, instead, withdraw unconditionally. Unconditional withdrawals are only carried out by parties which have been defeated in a conflict. The demand is a clear demonstration of Pakistan's increasing belligerence in the face of India's broad-based approach to peace in the region.

The author is Senior Fellow, South Asia Programme and Director, Information Services, Observer Research Foundation.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, July 6, 2005

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