Kashmir-beginning the long road back into peace talks

May 16, 2010

fayazaward2Indian writer A.G. Noorani has just become the latest to weigh in on the parameters of a possible peace deal in Kashmir.  Writing in Dawn newspaper, he argues that  no solution will work unless it is supported by a domestic consensus within each of the three parties involved – India, Pakistan and Kashmir.

“First, no Indian government can accept de-accession of Kashmir and survive even for an hour. Secondly, no government in Pakistan can accept the Line of Control as an international boundary and survive, either. Thirdly, nor will the Kashmiris submit to the partition; and lastly they insist on self-rule,” he writes.

Noorani, like others before him, argues that the best option for consensus lies in a roadmap peace deal sketched out by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then president Pervez Musharraf. This was intended to cut through 60 years of deadlock on the Kashmir dispute by agreeing that there could be no exchange of territory between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, while at the same time making borders irrelevant by opening up the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the region. 

“…  since ‘borders cannot be redrawn’, we can, as Manmohan Singh said on March 24, 2006, ‘work towards making them irrelevant — towards making them just lines on a map’. In effect the state is reunited, de facto though not de jure,” he writes.

He adds this would be coupled with three other points — demilitarisation, self-governance and a joint mechanism for supervision of aspects of Kashmir shared between Pakistan and India.

The proposal has been discussed many times on this blog, most recently here.  It carries with it the advantage of requiring both countries to give ground - a prerequisite for successful negotiations. Pakistan would have to relinquish its insistence  that Kashmiris be allowed a plebiscite to decide their fate, in accordance with UN Resolutions passed in 1948; India would have to acknowledge Pakistan had rights to some oversight over a region which it has long insisted was a non-negotiable and integral part of the country.

That said, there is little evidence to suggest the Singh/Musharraf roadmap for peace was ever quite as far advanced as its supporters suggest. While most analysts agree the two leaders had decided on the broad outlines — no exchange of territory in return for making borders irrelevant — it is unclear how far they had gone in hammering out the details of such potential deal-breakers as the nature of the joint mechanism to supervise Kashmir.

Nor were people in any of the three main constituencies – India, Pakistan and Kashmir – brought on board in a deal which was agreed in secret back-channel talks between personal envoys of the two men.

After the long diplomatic limbo following the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, both India and Pakistan have to work out where they stand on the roadmap. The agreement has had time to gather thick layers of dust since the back-channel talks  stalled in 2007,  when Musharraf ran into political problems at home which were eventually to drive him from office. In public at least, Pakistan’s civilian government has signalled that sees no reason to honour a draft agreement negotiated by its former military ruler.

And with distrust running high between the two countries, perhaps the hardest challenge for the governments of the two countries will be to carry their different constituencies with them on the need to even try to find a compromise on Kashmir — and that is before anyone starts talking about the actual details of an agreement.

Meanwhile in the long gap between the last talks, a new cause of tension has risen between the two countries  – a row over water supplies from their shared Himalayan rivers – as melting glaciers and rising population threaten a long-predicted water war.  Reaching a compromise now on Kashmir is if anything even harder than it was in 2007. 

And in Kashmir itself, a generation of young people have grown up in the years since the separatist revolt began there in earnest in 1989. Caught between militants on one side and what many Kashmiris saw as an occupying army on the other, some of them have known nothing other than the years of violence. The region’s youth have been at the forefront of recent anti-India protests in Kashmir. Their elders might see the value of a compromise reached after so many years of deadlock. But can Kashmir’s youth be convinced to put their trust in an agreement reached in the arcane corridors of power between Delhi and Islamabad?

(Postscript:  For a break from politics, do read this Kashmiri verse, courtesy of Chapati Mystery)

(Photo: Kashmiri youth holds bricks to throw at police during a demonstration in Srinagar in June 2009/Fayaz Kabli)

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