Postcard USA: The fate of Kashmir —Khalid Hasan
There can be no question now that something has been going on behind the scenes. The rapidity with which the two countries have announced and implemented what they call confidence building measures is without precedent
Something is going on — has gone on for some time — between New Delhi and Islamabad involving Kashmir. The United States denies that it has anything to do with it. Employing a string of the usual clichés, the only thing it confesses to is wishing both countries well and hoping they can come to terms and settle their differences bilaterally and in a peaceful manner. How many times have we heard that? The question is has the United States been as out of it as it would have us believe? Let’s see.
Colin Powell may have inadvertently given us a peep behind the scenes when he said in a recent interview — he grants on average three to four a day which should worry his doctors — that the US had been working on India and Pakistan for the last two years. However, everyone here (including Charlie’s aunt) emphasises that this in no way takes away the credit for the Islamabad Accord from General Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee. A Washington Post columnist has practically anointed the two leaders as potential Nobel Peace Prize winners, which must send a shiver down the spine of those who remember the Nobel awarded to Yasser Arafat and Menachim Begin. Will the same kind of peace be brought to Kashmir as has come to Palestine?
There can be no question now that something has been going on behind the scenes. The rapidity with which the two countries have announced and implemented what they call confidence building measures is without precedent. What in the past had taken years has taken days this time. Indian external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha told a meeting at the Woodrow Wilson Centre that the ceasefire in Kashmir was comprehensive and never before had such a ceasefire taken effect. It not only was being observed along the Line of Control in Kashmir but was effectively in place along the Pakistan border with Jammu, as well as in the Siachin Glacier which would be the first time those frozen heights have been spared the sound of gunfire.
Pakistan has practically jettisoned the UN Security Council resolutions calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir through a unilateral announcement by President Musharraf, a development that took the whole world by surprise. It used to be said that Pakistan was a party to the Kashmir dispute by virtue of those resolutions. They were the bedrock on which Pakistan’s case rested. It can, therefore, be argued that Pakistan stands to lose its locus standi in Kashmir if the Security Council resolutions are to be no longer operative. Why has Pakistan moved away from those resolutions? Was it asked to make this ‘gesture’ by those who are brokering the deal, more and more of whose features will surface in the coming months?
The Hurriyet stands divided, and not without help from Pakistan, as everyone in the Valley believes. I have spoken to two Kashmiris who have just returned from Srinagar and both of them confirm this. One faction is talking to India, the other is sulking in Srinagar. On Thursday, it was the Hurriyet faction led by Maulanas Abbas Ansari that stressed, according to the ‘agreed synopsis’ issued after the meeting with L K Advani that ‘all forms of violence at all levels should end’. In effect, the Kashmir issue has been reduced to an issue of violence. End the violence and there will be no issue, is the message. This has remained the Indian position to which part of the Kashmiri leadership has now agreed. The other faction led by Syed Ali Gillani has denounced the accord, as has the firebrand leader Yasin Malik.
On December 30 the Pioneer newspaper in New Delhi carried an article — it went unnoticed or uncommented on in Pakistan — by one Ms Jain (obviously a pen name) which said that “New Delhi is abuzz with inspired leaks of secret talks to settle the Indo-Pakistani border by wholly incorporating Machel, Keran and Gurez” into Azad Kashmir. These areas can broadly be called the Kishen Ganga Valley. The “purported plan envisages self-rule in the Kashmir Valley; autonomous hill councils for Poonch, Rajouri and Doda districts; Union Territory status for Ladakh; the Hindu-dominated Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur districts and overall sovereignty of Jammu & Kashmir to remain with India,” while Azad Kashmir would have “an autonomous government with sovereignty vested with Islamabad. The Line of Control will reportedly be demilitarised once the border is thus redrawn, and India will also reduce troops deployment on the Siachen glacier.”
The Pioneer report has the ominous ring of truth. Perhaps the cliché about history repeating itself has come true one more time. Are the Kashmiris going to be sold down the river? Again?
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent