Musharraf’s Kashmir deal, mirage or oasis?

January 20, 2011

musharraf londonThe foreign secretaries, or top diplomats,  of India and Pakistan are expected to meet on the sidelines of a South Asian summit in Thimpu, Bhutan on Feb 6/7 to try to find a way back into talks which have been stalled since the attack on Mumbai in November 2008. Progress is expected to be limited, perhaps paving the way to a meeting of the foreign ministers, or to deciding how future talks should be structured.

Expectations are running low, all the more so after a meeting between the foreign ministers descended into acrimony last July. And leaders in neither country have the political space to take the kind of risks needed for real peace talks right now. Pakistan is struggling with the fall-out of the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer  among many other things, while Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been weakened by a corruption scandal at home.

However, in the interests of establishing a baseline, I asked former president Pervez Musharraf in an interview earlier this week about a roadmap for peace he had agreed with Prime Minister Singh in 2007 before political turmoil forced him out of office. The roadmap brought the two countries to their nearest in years to a peace deal, and during Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign, there was a great deal of hope it  could be revived in order to ease tensions between India and Pakistan  in turn helping to stabilise Afghanistan. Even after the Mumbai attacks ended chances of an early “Kashmir to Kabul” peace settlement, the idea has lingered on as one of the more promising models. Yet since the agreement was reached in secret, its details have never been officially released.

Diplomats say the agreement hinged on an acceptance by India and Pakistan that there would be no exchange of territory in disputed Kashmir but they would work to make irrelevant the Line of Control which divides the region. There was also supposed to be a “joint mechanism” under which Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris would oversee areas of common interest.  No one can agree, however, on far advanced the talks were. Some say the deal was ready for signing; others that there was still a long way to go.  In particular, the two countries had yet to agree the nature of the “joint mechanism”, and bring on board their own people and domestic constituencies in accepting the agreement. Here is what Musharraf had to say when I asked him about the sceptics’ view of the draft agreement:

“You are probably concentrating only on Kashmir. But there were two other issues, Sir Creek and Siachen. On Sir Creek and Siachen we reached a stage that they can be signed yesterday. There is no doubt in my mind.”  The disputed territory in Sir Creek had been surveyed and was just awaiting a leadership decision, he said. ”Then Siachen, we had decided on the relocation of troops beyond certain lines, so everything is done.”

“Yes, Kashmir is not that easy. We had found basic parameters; it was my idea actually … the parameters were first of all demilitarising, which meant really demilitarising on the Line of Control; graduated demilitarisation from the Line of Control and also from the cities in the Indian part of Kashmir; that is what is bothering and troubling the civilians there; so therefore in first case leave the cities and go into the outskirts and then further getting to garrisons. The second element was maximum self-governance, and the third was an overwatch of those areas not given for self-governance, and also (to) see how the self-governance is functioning. This body we had proposed, I had proposed, (was to) be of Kashmiris, Pakistanis and Indians.

 ”So these were the parameters and then the issue was of the Line of Control, making the Line of Control irrelevant … The Indians thought we should make this as a permanent border. My view was that this has been the cause of wars. How can we have the cause of conflict as the permanent solution? So my idea was that we could look into making the Line of Control irrelevant.

 ”Now we were in the process of drafting an agreement. Obviously there were differences on the wording and the expressions.”  He said that the leadership in both countries needed to show sincerity, flexibility and above all political courage to see the deal through. ”Because when you reach a deal or an agreement, there is always a give and take. Nobody will allow a take-and-take to the other side. So where there is a give-and-take the good path is the one which leader has faced boldly because there will be elements in your country who will agitate, on both sides, because the give has to be on both sides … So now I don’t know whether we could have shown that kind of guts and leadership that we arrived at a conclusion within six months, but we were making fast progress, that I know.”

Asked about how many people had been involved on the Pakistan side beyond Musharraf and his special envoy, Tariq Aziz, he said the foreign minister and foreign secterary were always taken on board, while Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani – then head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – had been there since the beginning. “He was the DG-ISI, so he had to be on board.”

The draft agreement has been virtually disowned by the current government, which says it has no record of it, even in the Foreign Office.

“Do they want peace or not? If they want peace, then let them come up with another idea,” Musharraf said. “Nobody has the right to disown something that was moving forward unless you come out with another idea. If you have another idea by all means go ahead … but I believe that peace is essential.”

The former military ruler who plans to return to Pakistan to fight elections due by 2013 said he believed the deal could still be resurrected.  It had been discussed with politicians on both sides of Kashmir, along with the main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, and everyone was on board on the parameters, he said. And nobody else had come with another solution.

Those Musharraf/Singh talks are history now.  The two countries have reverted to their stated positions – Pakistan that the future of Kashmir must be settled through a plebiscite in line with U.N. resolutions; India that the region is such an integral part of the country that it does not even recognise its status as disputed.

Perhaps that deal was always going to be a mirage, the final details slipping elusively out of grasp. Or perhaps it is the only model that could ever have worked. At least if we know enough about what nearly happened we might be to assess better where talks might go in the future.

(Reuters photo: Musharraf speaks during an interview at his London home/Stefan Wermuth)

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