Pakistan renews calls for Kashmir peace deal

June 6, 2009

One of the more intriguing reports about Pakistan under former president Pervez Musharraf was that it had come close to a deal with India on Kashmir. The tentative agreement failed to see the light of day after Musharraf became embroiled in a row over the judiciary which eventually forced him to quit. His successor, President Asif Ali Zardari, then renewed calls for peace with India, stressing the economic gains of increased trade ties and even offering to overturn Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine by offering to commit to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. Then came last November’s attack on Mumbai, blamed by India on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, and all talk of peace was off.  India quashed any suggestion a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would help bring peace to South Asia, insisting that linking Kashmir with the Mumbai attacks would reward acts of terrorism.

Three developments this week pushed Kashmir back onto the agenda.

In the Kashmir Valley itself, protests erupted over the alleged rape and murder of two Kashmiri women.  Residents said the women, aged 17 and 22, were abducted, raped and killed by security forces. Indian authorities denied the killing and said the women drowned in a stream.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said a resolution of the Kashmir dispute held the key to durable peace in South Asia. Significantly, he said a peaceful solution must be found in line with U.N. resolutions passed in 1948 giving the people of the former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir the right to vote on whether to join India or Pakistan.  That suggested a hardening of Pakistan’s position compared to the one adopted by Musharraf, who had been willing to set aside the U.N. resolutions if this opened the way to a peace deal. Gilani’s comments were echoed by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who was quoted by the Daily Times as saying that there could be no durable peace in South Asia without a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir conflict.

Finally, a Pakistan court ordered the release of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who had been held under house arrest after the attack on Mumbai. His release was criticised by the United States while India said it raised serious doubts about Pakistan’s willingness to crack down on militant groups operating from inside its borders. Many in India are sceptical about Pakistan’s willingness to crack down on militants, fearing it will target those groups which threaten Pakistan itself, like the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat valley, while leaving Kashmir-oriented groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba alone.

So what does the future hold for Kashmir?

Some analysts argue that India may well resume talks with Pakistan, if only to do so on its own terms rather than being seen to cave in to American pressure to ease tensions so that Islamabad can concentrate on fighting the Taliban on its western border with Afghanistan. U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns will travel to India on June 10-13, according to the State Department, in what is being seen by Indian media as preparing the ground for an expected visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton next month. 

But even if India were to resume peace talks (and media reports suggest opinion is still divided on the subject), there appears to be little room for substantive concessions on Kashmir.  Rather some are arguing that India should capitalise on the participation of Kashmiri voters in state and national elections to try to restore normalcy to the Kashmir Valley, pulling out its troops and leaving the police to maintain order. In the long run, this would allow India to declare the Line of Control dividing Kashmir as the international border – an idea Pakistan has long resisted.

In Pakistan, the latest editorials on the subject suggest there is no single view on how to approach India and the Kashmir dispute. The News International has an op-ed editorial saying that Pakistan should repudiate the tentative deal made by Musharraf as offering far too many concessions to India and betraying the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. 

“The best course would be to return to the pre-Kargil position: political, moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people for a settlement under the UN Security Council resolutions. It would be in consonance with the wishes of the new generation of Kashmiris which has grown up in the shadow of Indian bayonets and is not prepared to accept indefinite Indian occupation of the state. Implicit in this stance would be a rejection of the Kashmir non-paper hammered out during the Musharraf regime. In the diplomatic newspeak popularised by Joe Biden, it is called pressing the reset button,” it says.

In Dawn newspaper, columnist Irfan Husain defends Musharraf’s efforts at peacemaking. “For all his many faults, at least Musharraf did try to break the logjam over Kashmir with a number of out-of-the-box proposals that were either shot down, or allowed to languish unanswered by the Indian government,” he writes.  He calls on India, as the more powerful country, to make a symbolic gesture towards confidence-building by pulling some troops back from the border and for both countries to work together to fight terrorism. “We have seen that a piecemeal approach to fighting terrorism has not worked. By pooling intelligence and by denying jihadis sanctuary and political space, the war can be won.”

And in another column in Dawn, Ayesha Siddiqa argues that Islamabad should open up trade to India, including a transit route to Afghanistan, to improve relations and give India a stake in maintaining stability in Pakistan.

“But then what does one do about the Kashmir issue? More than 60 years of experience tell us that we were not able to solve it militarily and using the issue to withhold solutions for other matters is not likely to work either. At the moment, India has no stakes in solving the issue to Pakistan’s advantage especially when it is investing in its own political system to come up with a solution for the Indian state and the Kashmiri population,” she writes. “Part of the reason why India refuses to be sympathetic to Pakistan’s position is that it has no major stakes here. Transit trade and bilateral trade is one of the formulas for starting a more constructive relationship between the two countries.”

And how does all this look from inside Kashmir itself? Take a look at the home page of the Greater Kashmir newspaper.

(Photo: mourners at funeral of Nisar Ahmad, a protester killed by a tear gas canister; Indian policeman fires tear gas; funeral procession in Srinagar; a charred policeman’s helmet next to a burned effigy/Fayaz Kabli)

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