EDITORIAL: LoC incident and ‘official positions’
As India allowed the first of the five openings on the Line of Control in Kashmir, earthquake victims from the Pakistani side tried to rush across the heavily mined Line of Control (LoC) and had to be kept back by Pakistani police with teargas shells. The Rawalakot-Poonch opening allowed trucks of relief goods to pass from both sides; but India will take more time letting people through because it requires prior exchange of lists and will not accept just any identity document. Pakistani Kashmiris were heard shouting “Independent Kashmir” and Pakistani troops did not seem to mind that too much. The earthquake seems to be forcing India and Pakistan to relax their entrenched positions on the question of the LoC; and yet there is an “acceptable” level of “reinterpretation” of the issue on both sides.
As India mulled Pakistan’s offer of opening the LoC at five points, Kashmir “experts” in the Ministry for External Affairs in New Delhi must have pointed out that the Pakistani offer was “insidiously” linked to its old stance on the non-acceptance of the Line as a sacrosanct physical feature. Someone else must have pointed to the contradiction between the old Indian “track two” proposal to allow the Kashmiris on both sides to move freely between the two zones on the one hand, and India’s insistence that the LoC be respected as the dividing line. On the Pakistani side, a new tolerance of people asking for an independent Kashmir has been gaining ground. Pakistan no longer asks for the either/or option of the UN resolutions; it now accepts the “third or fourth option” approach even if under the presumption that an independent Kashmir would somehow be “unofficially” a part of Pakistan or an autonomous Kashmir would be closer to Pakistan than to India.
A bus service link had already been established between the two Kashmirs before the earthquake struck. Kashmiri leaders from the Indian side had visited Azad Kashmir with all their contradictions showing, while the only hardline “pro-Pakistan” leader among them had decided not to come — without Pakistan minding that too much. At the unofficial level, more and more opinion-makers are recommending the opening of a trade route across the LoC. Although Pakistan still balks at the idea of free trade between India and Pakistan — because it wants Kashmir put on the front-burner in the Indo-Pak composite talks — it has not been totally averse to the proposal. On the face of it, the new developments seem to bolster Pakistan’s old stance that the LoC cannot be allowed to become a permanent border, but they are clearly of a piece with the Indian desire to normalise relations as a prelude to tackling the Kashmir issue. If you want ambiguity — which is required when you want to make progress on deadlocked issues — the Lok Sabha stance that Azad Kashmir too must fall to India should come in handy for the Indian government.
In 1989, internal upheaval in the Indian-held Kashmir revived a dispute that had been dormant for more than a decade. Because of the indigenous nature of the uprising, many Pakistanis started thinking of the “third option”, that is, the possibility of allowing Kashmir to be an independent state through self-determination. Now the Kashmiris seemed to emerge as the “third party” in the dispute with a right to be independent and sovereign. Officially rejected by India and Pakistan, the “third option” has figured in the manifesto of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a coalition of the various parties fighting against Indian troops in Kashmir. The “third option” discomfited Pakistan because it implied the separation of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan from Pakistan. Meanwhile, under pressure from the struggle in Kashmir before 1993, some Indian academics and journalists put forward the proposal of converting the LoC to a soft border allowing Kashmiris to travel across it.
The LoC has been sanctified by the Simla Agreement of 1972. Pakistan may chafe at the “inference” that its “protection” may push the Kashmir dispute into the background, but the world would not like Pakistan to take steps to do away with it. Now that the earthquake has intervened, Pakistan may get much more from the new situation than it expected. It may even get something that the orthodoxy in Islamabad may not like. The validity of the latest development on the LoC may lie in the fact that both sides could conceivably be put off by its long-term implications. Perhaps that is where the final solution lies, only one should not jump the gun and do away with the current ambiguity that keeps the normalisation process between India and Pakistan going. *
EDITORIAL #2: A cruel joke on the nation
The interior ministry asked Islamabad’s law-enforcement authorities on Monday to “expedite” the process of collection of information on the activities of “banned organisations”. It already has on its table a list of 163 people belonging to various banned groups and living happily in Islamabad. One can get an idea of the “freshness” of the report from the fact that “more than 35 among them have died but are still on the list”.
The UN committee that oversees Pakistan’s compliance under its anti-terrorism commitments must be baffled by this news. And Pakistanis must feel like being the butt of a cruel joke. The banned organisations are all over the place, their names changed and their leaders still fulminating against the president of the country whom they have tried to kill thrice. The president himself got the IGPs of all the provinces together not long ago and asked them to nab the “renamed” culprits. But nobody took him seriously. Quite rightly, too, because not much later he accepted the logic of the banned terrorists as relief-workers in the earthquake-affected areas. The last news that came in was that the banned organisations had done the most effective job because they were working in areas where they had been training! So much for that. *