There was a time when any statement on Kashmir, either by the Prime Minister of India or that of Pakistan used to create rumpus. Politicians and the media on both sides would dwell on for several days on what a particular remark tried to convey.
Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani said the other day that his country would seek a solution on Kashmir through a dialogue, not hostilities. I have not seen any comment in India nor have I found any Pakistani opposition leaders or the press taking notice of it. More significant has been the silence of pro-terrorist groups which are talking in terms of jihad against India all the time. The usual Pakistani reiteration that Kashmiri would not be allowed to stay on the backburner is there. President Asif Ali Zardari has said this week that Pakistan has not forgotten Kashmir. But this does not change the ground realities which have recognised that the line of control is the border between India and Pakistan.
Gilani’s has reiterated what the late Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto had enunciated in the Shimla Agreement four decades ago. It says: “In Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognized position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat of the use of force in violation of this line.” The agreement has stood the test of time for more than three decades and except for the Kargil misadventure there has been peace.
Perhaps leaders of the Pakistan government, including the hawks, have come to realise that there is no alternative to amity. Perhaps the peace lobby on both sides has got expanded for even the goverenments to notice and they refrain from giving ultimatums as it used to happen not until long ago. Perhaps New Delhi’s warning by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that any attack on Kashmir would be regarded as an attack on India has gone home. Three wars, plus the misadventure at Kargil have proved that New Delhi will resist with all its force any push by Islamabad. Therefore, Prime Minister Gilani’s observation not only makes sense but throws up another opportunity. Both the countries have to solve Kashmir or, for that matter, any other problem peacefully. It is a sort of no-war pact without the formality of signing one.
Yet Gilani’s statement should not lull India into complacency. Kashmir continues to be a problem. Every now and then there is an incident in the Valley to register the people’s discontent. Even the elected government, headed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, has said more than once that Kashmir cannot be sorted out without Pakistan’s participation.
India’s armed forces too are not happy with the situation because the successive army commanders of Jammu and Kashmir have said that it is a political problem, not a military one. Yet India continues to station a large number of troops in Kashmir. It has been experienced again and again that they are not trained to deal with domestic troubles.
The country’s defence is understandable but the forces should be on the border, and not used for the law and order purpose. The stationing of forces within the state only confirms that the government has no solution to the situation and it does not know how to settle the problem.
True, New Delhi has tackled the international opinion effectively. There is hardly any adverse notice abroad. But this does not solve the problem. At best it remains suppressed. Still there is civil society in India which has certain obligations that a democratic polity has to carry out.
If the Kashmiris remain unhappy and the government they elect too feels that the problem has to be sorted out with Pakistan, New Delhi has to face the fact. This does not necessarily mean that Islamabad’s demands have to be met. The latter too has to take certain realities into consideration and one of them is that India can never have another division on the basis of religion.
The Valley, predominantly of Muslims, has gone its own way and has kept at distance, both the Hindu-majority Jammu and the Budhist-majority Ladakh. Therefore, when President Asif Zardari, says that Pakistan would continue to support the Kashmir, he is only underlining the two-nation theory which India buried deep long ago. I do not think that even the intelligentsia in Pakistan has any faith left in that theory. But that is not the point at issue. It is Kashmir which I believe should get attention after Gilani’s olive branch.
I do not agree with those who argue that what Pakistan could not get through wars has no case to claim it on the table. What the two countries have to realize is that they have to give up their entrenched positions. Peace and friendship is more important than hostility. The extremists will continue to talk of hostilities because they have developed a vested interest in an unsettled situation.
I have a solution to offer. Both governments should transfer all subjects except defence and foreign affairs to Kashmirs and soften the border so that the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the Azad Kashmir meet and plan jointly the development of their region. They can have their own air service and trade and cultural missions abroad. Visitors, not from the region, will seek visa to enter either Kashmir.
Azad Kashmir will be part of Pakistan and Jammu Kashmir, of India. The case pending before the UN would be withdrawn. The part of my proposal is that the Lok Sabha’s elected members from Jammu and Kashmir should sit in Pakistan’s National Assembly and those of Azad Kashmir in India’s Lok Sabha. This is aimed at setting a pattern for the two countries to come closer in the future. EOM