Friday , September 22 2017

Kashmir talks: reality & myth

Riaz Mohammad Khan

KASHMIR is so deeply emotive that perceptions often mix reality with myth. This is true of discussions over the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, the Tashkent Declaration, the Simla Accords, the Lahore Summit Declaration and, most of all, of bilateral efforts to address the dispute.

On YouTube, I saw Prof Christine Fair snap at a Pakistani questioner who referred to the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir. She averred that Pakistan violated the UNSC Resolution 47 (1948) calling for a plebiscite by refusing to withdraw “tribesmen” from the territory of the state. This is a half-truth. Pakistan had expressed reservations to the resolution which led to the formation of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan and finally to Resolution 98 (1952) allowing Pakistan to deploy up to 6,000 troops and India up to 18,000. Pakistan accepted the resolution, but India rejected it invoking change of circumstances because of reports of an incipient Pakistan-US defence treaty.

Half-truths and political spin thus cloud agreements and talks on Kashmir. Politics was played around Tashkent and Simla. A text on Kashmir, similar to that of the Simla Accords, adopted at Lahore was projected as a pathway to a settlement. The 2005-06 backchannel negotiations drew criticism that Pakistan had abandoned its principled position. The fact is that Pakistan’s position, based on the UNSC resolutions and the Simla Accords, will remain intact until Pakistan accepts a new international legality affecting Kashmir. Neither the backchannel nor the earlier inconclusive talks changed this position. This aside, the plebiscite as conceived in the 1948 UNSC resolution is as academic today as is India’s claim based on the controversial accession document.

Kashmiri sacrifices and suffering must not be viewed through the prism of our security.

The first variant on the 1948 resolution came in the 1950 Owen Dixon plan for region-wise plebiscites, which was recognition of the demographic and communal realities in Kashmir. Later, Ayub Khan tried to persuade Nehru to accept a territorial adjustment; he had the Valley in mind. The Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks were not about the plebiscite. The Valley is the heart of the dispute. It represents 55 per cent of the India-held Kashmir population, where the Kashmiri people have refused to acquiesce to and have constantly agitated for freeing themselves of Indian occupation. This is the only pressure that India faces pushing it to look for a settlement. The latest youth uprising across the Valley lends fresh urgency to our moral response in support of Kashmiri rights and self-determination.

Moral principles alone provide justification for Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. Discussions sometimes meander into security considerations or the need to protect water sources, that Kashmir has tied down over half million Indian troops; and that Pakistan must remove an existential threat by securing control of rivers which pass through Kashmir. These are false arguments. Kashmiri sacrifices and suffering must not be viewed through the prism of our security; it will knock out the moral basis of our position, suggesting that we are not interested in a just political settlement. The argument negates the fact that nuclear deterrence is an equaliser which will not be altered even if India doubles its military strength. As for rivers, maps show that the upper reaches of the Indus and the Chenab lie in Ladakh and Jammu respectively, the two non-Muslim majority regions which are unlikely to accede to Pakistan under any scenario.

We may ask: what is Pakistan’s locus standi to speak with India on behalf of the Kashmiris for this or that formula? The question has logic, yet history imposes a responsibility on Pakistan to seek a solution that is consistent with Kashmiri aspirations. Otherwise all our efforts, declarations and resolutions will make little sense. Meanwhile, we must do all we can to help attenuate the suffering and human rights violations of the Kashmiris. Personally, I would say that we should be supportive if they demand azadi provided we can protect our vital interests which, in the strictly territorial sense, are linked to Gilgit-Baltistan. So, what are the realistic options for a way forward?

Do we have a military option, or jihadi recourse, or resort to the United Nations or to diplomacy? Let us focus on the political and diplomatic options. In the UN and other forums, we always make strong references to Kashmir, particularly on human rights. This must continue more emphatically. However, I do not recall any proposal for a resolution or initiative received from our UN missions since 1993 when a resolution was moved and then withdrawn in the Human Rights Council. For UN matters, the Foreign Office normally defers to the advice of our permanent representatives who are invariably persons with great experience and grasp.

India stubbornly rejects third-party or multilateral mediation and accepts no such modality to address Kashmir. Bilaterally, the 2005-06 backchannel has been the most sustained effort. I was associated with it. Doubts swirl around that effort, largely because its deliberations have not become public.

The so-called Four-Point Formula was centred on a provisional arrangement for self-governance within sub-regions of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The last draft, received from the Indian interlocutor in March 2007, included issues yet to be settled. Much of the text was, however, agreed through exchanges spread over two years, including sections on self-governance, intra-region movement and trade and economic activity. Sub-regions were supposed to have similar systems with their own administration, security, legislatures, police and law-enforcement agencies, in other words, optimum autonomy. The Kashmiris could freely move and trade across sub-regions. Joint mechanism related to specified issues such as international treaties (the Indus Water Treaty), connectivity and travel. This section and the demilitarisation provision needed further work. However, the process, which also envisaged political consultations, was stymied by the judicial crisis in Pakistan and then the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The present circumstances offer little hope for picking up the threads. The Modi government has even tried to scuttle the IHK special status under the Indian constitution. If ever diplomacy revives for a peace plan, its contours will be no different than those outlined through the 2005-06 effort. Political realities and demography impose limits on what diplomacy can achieve.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

This column was Published in Dawn on September 11th, 2017

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