Saturday, January 22, 2011

KASHMIR: NO SOLUTIONS ACROSS LOC

There is undeniably a serious, continuing communication gap between North and South Blocks. It is almost as though they represent the views of two different governments.

How else does one explain the fact that while the Foreign Minister believes that Pakistan remains the epicenter of terror, the Home Secretary has manifestly seen such a major improvement in the Pak-sponsored terror situation in Kashmir that he has unilaterally announced a major policy shift? Despite Pakistan’s dogged refusal to bring to justice sponsors of 26/11, despite its Army continuing to push terrorists into the Valley, GK Pillai has announced a 25% cut in security forces there and unilaterally offered, in the words of MJ Akbar, “multiple-entry, six-month travel permits (not Indian passports, but specially designed permits that might leave the nationality question vague) to Kashmiris to cross the Line of Control into Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir,” and from there, seamlessly into Pakistan.

This, as MJ Akbar notes, suggests that India has forgotten 26/11 despite Pakistan making no move to bring to justice its perpetrators, and has almost surreptitiously decided to resume the pre-Mumbai equation with Pakistan. “The UPA may be entirely rational in conceding defeat in the stand-off against Islamabad,” he argues, “but confession and clarity before the Indian people would help.”

The unilateral decision of the Home Ministry to issue permits to Kashmiris on the Indian side of the LOC is part of a plan first mooted by General Pervez Musharraf which, as per former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Mahmood Kasturi, India and Pakistan were just a signature away from signing in 2007. It is generally accepted that the deal involved demilitarisation along the LOC and within the state on both sides, maximum self-governance, free movement of Kashmiris within the whole state, and some sort of joint mechanism comprising Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris on both sides of the LOC to oversee self-governance and other issues.

The entire deal was, to my mind, a sell-out by India even at that time. Now, considering the Islamist abyss into which almost all organs of Pakistan have descended, as developments there after the killing of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer have shown, it should not even be thought of. But the shift, announced by the Home Secretary, leaves little room for doubt that not only has Pakistan succeeded in defeating India over 26/11 but India has also chosen to ignore the fact that the Pakistan it is dealing with now is not the one it knows, the one that has been trumping it on the negotiating for decades: Qadri’s Pakistan is a dangerous, different beast altogether, not one that should be given even the whiff of victory over ‘Hindu’ India.

According to Pillai, Pakistan -- pursuing a comprehensive solution to the core problem of Kashmir -- rejected India’s piecemeal proposal to allow Kashmiris to move relatively freely across the LOC. There can, thus, be little doubt that his unilateral announcement is but the first step towards reviving at least the original deal, even though under General Kiyani, who had earlier gone along with Musharraf, Pakistan wants India to make even more concessions.

Let us examine some of the dangerous implications and ramifications of the deal that is being revived by a government that seems to have been 'stoned' into submission and is being led to believe that it has no alternative but to capitulate.
  • Free movement across LOC. It needs to be emphasised that for Pakistan LOC is not the solution but the problem. It is not satisfied with the part of the state it has and wants all of it; it “runs in its blood”. Only Pakistan will gain if the LOC is made irrelevant. Given the different ethnicities of various regions of the state, the so-called free movement across the LOC will eventually be a predominantly one-way movement from its side into not just the Valley but the whole of the huge state. Considering what happened to Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, non-Muslims from the Indian side will not only feel discouraged to travel to the Pakistan side of the LOC, but will also, one way or another, be prevented from doing so by fundamentalists there. Movement across LOC will be permitted on permits. India has Article 370 in place, so there will be almost no cases of false permits being issued to non-state subjects by the state government. On the Pakistani side, however, there is no similar restriction and Punjabis who now dominate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) are little different from those from Punjab province, from where many more many have settled there after 1947. Given that Pakistan's real objective is to amalgamate J&K into Pakistan, what we will see is planned settlement of “Qadris” over time in parts of Jammu province where they can relatively easily merge with locals and radicalise them too. Non-Muslims in the state will become even more marginalised than they are now. Terrorists will also drive them out from more and more far flung areas and close in on towns and cities over time. The separatist sentiment now confined to ethnic Kashmiris and the Valley, will spread to other parts of the state too, with the collusion and active assistance of government officials.India’s nightmare will come true, no one but its own blindness to blame.
  • Joint Control.This is a misnomer. It will be nothing less than ceding control to Pakistan. On ground, control of Kashmir Valley has already been ceded involuntarily along many significant dimensions by India. The joint control mechanism will spread that span to Jammu and Ladakh regions too. Representatives of POK, Indian Kashmir, Pakistan and India will form part of this mechanism. Effectively, three out of four of these groups will be under Pakistan control ab initio. India will also, undoubtedly, be pressured to place religion-blind, 'secular' representatives in the body from its side. Need more be said? With such a body monitoring self-government, one can be sure that demands for more and more areas of governance to be liberated of Indian (notionally Pakistani too) control will be made, militants on call to drive home the point: that is how Pakistan will complete creeping acquisition of not just the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley but the rest of the state too.
  • Demilitarisation. Demilitarisation of POK is virtually meaningless from the Indian point of view as there will no gain to India there along any dimension. It is the demilitarisation of the Indian side that will have devastating short and long term consequences. Almost immediately, thanks partly to joint control, the writ of the Indian state will become less than notional in the Muslim Kashmir Valley. Without a bullet being fired, the situation will become worse than it was in the early Nineties when Pakistani currency was openly used in parts of the Valley, and people had set their watches to Pakistan Time. The writ of militants - non-state actors if you like - will run unchecked over vast swathes. Coupled with free trans-LOC movement, it will also result in more and more areas being cleansed of Hindus with ease, often undetected, in a re-run of what happened to Kashmiri Pandits. After 20 years of fighting terrorists and after losing the lives of thousands of sons of India, its leaders will have done no more than quietly lay down arms and set the clock back to 1989, worse to follow.

These changes are not going to convert the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir into a Europe with people moving happily across as civilised human beings who are nicely settled and at peace with the world. When love and trust is absent across a settled international border drawn on the basis of religion, how can it blossom in an area that one desperately wants to snatch from the other on that very basis? Put another way, if the two countries can make their borders like the European ones, will the LOC not dissolve on its own? Why has that not happened till now? Is there even a remote chance of it happening given the trajectory that Pakistan is now on, that may well see it implode?

The answer is self-evident. Yet, a defeatist India continues to delude itself into believing that it has no choice but to give in to a failing Pakistan that is rapidly becoming become as radical and Islamist as the many groups nurtured by it. Qadri’s Pakistan is never going to be the strong and stable neighbour at peace with India that India hopes it will be after it gets what it want in Kashmir. Quite the contrary.

Solutions lie on this side of the LOC, problems on the other. India has to start thinking out of the box so that it can put Pakistan out of the Kashmir equation, not integrate it into it. Old templates need to be incinerated, not given a deceptive gloss.
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