VIEW: The Kashmir proposal and domestic politics —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi
If the Musharraf government wants broad-based support in pursuing peace with India it should put its domestic house in order and initiate positive engagement with the major opposition parties. Pakistan’s relations with India cannot be divorced from domestic politics because they carry long historical baggage and evoke strong sentiments
President Pervez Musharraf’s recent proposal on Kashmir articulates Pakistan’s flexibility with new ideas for seeking a pragmatic solution of the Kashmir problem. It does not offer the final prescription for solving the Kashmir problem but advances certain ideas for initiating a debate in Pakistan and India on the possible solutions prior to the initiation of talks on Kashmir between the two countries.
The proposal is not entirely new. Similar proposals focusing on the composition of population in different regions have been available at the non-official level. A host of ideas, even detailed proposals, besides these have also been floated by various think tanks, academicians, intellectuals and political activists. So far, neither India nor Pakistan has officially owned any such proposal. What is important about President Pervez Musharraf’s statement is the fact that for the first time the top Pakistani leader has publicly proposed a solution reaffirming Pakistan’s willingness to move away from its traditional position on Kashmir. It is a unilateral gesture but it cannot become operational unless India, too, indicates flexibility.
President Pervez Musharraf gave the first indications of flexibility in Pakistan’s stance on the eve of the Agra summit in July 2001 when he suggested that Pakistan would accept any solution acceptable to the people of Kashmir. After the failure of Agra summit Pakistan returned to its traditional position. The new formulation was however mentioned by Pakistani officials on several occasions. On September 20, 2002, the president suggested a four-phase approach for evolving an agreement on Kashmir “on the basis of [the] alternatives to [the] long-held positions”.
On December 18, 2003 he talked of going beyond the stated positions for solving the Kashmir problem. He stated that Pakistan would be willing to leave aside the UN resolutions if India showed flexibility. The latest statement, issued on October 25, 2004, floats specific ideas involving a region-based partition for the final disposal of the Kashmir problem.
Musharraf’s latest proposal talks of identifying various regions in Kashmir as a part of an effort to evolve a solution acceptable to the parties. Two of the regions are currently under Pakistani control and the rest under Indian control. These regions are: (1) the Azad Jammu and Ksahmir; (2) the Federally Administered Northern Areas, (3) the Kashmir valley, (4) Jammu, (5) the Poonch-Rajori area, (6) Dras-Kargil and (7) Ladakh. Determination of final status of these areas is proposed on the basis of an agreement reached through dialogue.
The statement has evoked diverse reactions in India and Pakistan because it goes beyond a general call for flexibility. India’s official response has been cautious. A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs maintained that ideas on Kashmir should be exchanged through the on-going dialogue process rather than aired through the media.
Over the last ten months India has shown a cautious flexibility on Kashmir. It has not reiterated its official position that Kashmir is an integral part of India. It also uses the phrase “all issues including Kashmir” to describe the agenda for the dialogue between the two countries. However, its policy makers — mostly retired bureaucrats — and other pro-government elements are not inclined towards taking into account all possible solutions in order to evolve an acceptable solution. They still think that India can find an ‘internal solution’ by granting the Indian-administered Kashmir autonomy within the framework of Indian constitution. Pakistan is relevant to such a solution only in terms of stopping militants from crossing into Indian-administered Kashmir and to the extent of recognition of LoC as the international border.
India’s policy makers are not likely to respond positively to any specific solution of the Kashmir problem as long as they view the internal autonomy solution as a viable option. They want to buy time to once again try it out. Therefore, the dialogue on Kashmir is expected to proceed slowly. India would prefer to delay a detailed review of specific proposals. The ‘go slow’ approach will be contested by Pakistan because it wants early movement in the direction of Kashmir solution.
There is another reason for India’s disapproval of public discussion of specific proposals. It tends to build international pressure on India for reciprocating. Given India’s preference for an internal solution, it is not inclined to discuss all available options.
The proposal has also evoked divergent responses in Pakistan. The Jamaat-i-Islami leaders see it as a sell-out to India being pursued under US pressure and have issued strident statements against it, describing it as a betrayal of those who sacrificed their lives for the Kashmir cause. They want Pakistan to insist on the implementation of the UN resolutions on Kashmir. The PML-N leaders, too, have expressed reservations to the proposal. Raja Zafarul Haq, the PML-N chairman, has said the proposal goes against vital interests of the country. The PPPP has been cautiously critical.
Whereas the Islamist parties oppose the proposal on ideological grounds, the PML-N and the PPPP — as well as some other opposition parties — are seen as refusing to support the statement on account of their strained relations with the government in the domestic political context. Several parties — including the PPP and the ANP — favour improved relations and peaceful settlement of disputes with India but are not expected to support President Musharraf. Their opposition stems from the growing polarisation between the government and the opposition. If the government wants to build support for its flexible approach towards Kashmir, it must improve its relations with the opposition.
The underlying assumption in General Musharraf’s statement is flexibility leading to a solution of the Kashmir problem that is acceptable to Pakistan, India and Kashmiris. The perspective is widely shared in Pakistan. With the exception of the hardline Islamist parties and jihadi groups, the general consensus is that Pakistan must strive for a pragmatic solution that protects its national interests and enjoys the blessings of the people of Kashmir.
However, support for peace with India and a pragmatic solution of Kashmir does not necessarily mean that specific policy measures would get automatic support from the political circles. If confrontation between the government and the opposition persists, the opposition might not extend support for specific strategies of peace with India. Therefore, if Musharraf government wants broad-based support in pursuing peace with India it should put its domestic house in order and initiate positive engagement with the major opposition parties. Pakistan’s relations with India cannot be divorced from domestic politics because they carry a long historical baggage and evoke strong sentiments. Consensus-building through positive engagement with the opposition will strengthen the government’s position in the dialogue with India.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst