Kashmiri dissidents find space in ongoing dialogue
By Khalid Hasan
Washington: There is now greater space for Kashmiri dissidents to participate in the ongoing political debate, which is part of the larger India-Pakistan dialogue process, according to Teresita Schaffer, head of the South Asia programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Writing in the monthly bulletin issued by the Centre’s South Asian unit, the former US ambassador and noted authority on the region points out that while the formal India-Pakistan dialogue remains bilateral, a supplementary process has been created through which Kashmiris can engage with both countries. The Hurriyet’s claim to represent the Kashmiris is contested, she adds, since its representatives include only Kashmir Valley Muslims, and even within this group
they include neither militant organisations nor the elected state government. The most stoutly pro-Pakistan elements, such as Syed Ali Geelani, as well as some major pro-independence figures like Yasin Malik, have kept aloof from parts of this dialogue, she notes. “However, there is now greater space for Kashmiri dissidents to participate in the political debate,” she adds.
Ms Schaffer believes that the pace of contacts across the Line of Control between different Kashmiri groups may also accelerate. The chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir plans to visit Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, while a former president of Azad Kashmir (Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan) has just been in Delhi. Trade delegations from the Kashmir Valley plan to visit Azad Kashmir to explore exports of both manufactured and horticultural products. From the American perspective, she writes, “the most important development” on the non-Kashmir agenda was the announcement on August 7 of an agreement on nuclear risk reduction. India and Pakistan agreed to notify each other of missile tests; they revived a hotline between the two countries’ foreign secretaries and agreed to hold a structured hotline call once a month; and they will technically upgrade the hotline link between their respective directors general of military operations. “This is not the first time that India and Pakistan have put in place communications measures designed to prevent misunderstandings. The key test of their effectiveness will be whether they continue to work even if overall relations sour,” she points out.
Ms Schaffer writes that Indian and Pakistani officials have made “useful progress” in
defining possible compromise options on their Sir Creek boundary dispute. Meanwhile, the World Bank has named a neutral expert to address the disagreement between the two countries over India’s plans for a dam and power plant at Baglihar, on the Chenab River in Kashmir. There have been unconfirmed reports that India might be considering sales of power from the Baglihar plant to Pakistan in exchange for Pakistan withdrawing its objections. Technical discussions on the steps that might precede demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier continue, but no decisions have been made. The two countries have exchanged a number of trade delegations, and press reports suggested that one bank from each country might soon be allowed to open a branch in the other.
The CSIS expert believes that as in the past, India and Pakistan have found it “prudent” to keep the discussions open to several alternative pipeline routes, in the light of Washington’s objections to a pipeline originating in Iran. In the weeks before the Musharraf-Singh meeting in New York, she notes, all signs seemed to point to a new breakthrough. Both sides released a total of some 500 prisoners; the Indian government announced that it was withdrawing the Border Security Force from the city of Srinagar; and the press reported impending deals on Siachen and on water issues. In the end, there were no dramatic announcements on any of these subjects.
“As it turned out, the timing was not good in either country for a dramatic announcement from New York,” she adds, pointing out that President Musharraf’s speech to the United Nations included a reference to the 1948–49 UN resolutions on Kashmir, despite his periodic statements in the past few months that he was ready to “move beyond” the resolutions. “This undoubtedly touched some raw nerves in India,” she adds.
Ms Schaffer writes, “In Pakistan, Musharraf’s critics on the Islamic right generally oppose resolving issues unrelated to Kashmir without visible progress on Kashmir and have
become more vocal in their criticism of Musharraf’s policy toward India. But both countries did announce, at the end of September, that they would open a bus service between Lahore and Amritsar. The absence of a breakthrough in New York disappointed friends of both India and Pakistan, but it by no means signals the decline or end of the peace process. In the India-Pakistan dialogue, as in other difficult peace processes, it is normal for periods of energy and progress to alternate with episodes of slower activity.” She sees the personal interaction between the two leaders as a hopeful and positive sign. The upcoming visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
to Pakistan may be the occasion for “another high-level injection of energy.” She sees contacts with and among Kashmiris in the last six months as “encouraging,” since they are the
constituency that has been most persistently left out of the dialogue.
According to Ms Schafer, “With both leaders strongly interested in keeping a process going, this is a time for the United States and others outside the region to focus on quiet encouragement rather than high-profile diplomacy. The visible part of this process consists of small but concrete steps: expanded contacts among Kashmiris and between ever-expanding
groups of Indians and Pakistanis, more frequent discussions between them and national leaders in Islamabad and Delhi, forward movement on the hardy perennial items on the India-Pakistan agenda.” She believes that this is the best that can be expected in the next year or two. Expanded political and popular contacts can help change the environment and facilitate future progress. Economic peace-building measures could do the same thing. “If an eventual dramatic political breakthrough is possible, especially one that redefines the political relationships among India, Pakistan, and Kashmir, it will take longer. It will need to take shape in months or years of private discussions and with a massive exercise in political leadership. The personal relationship the national leaders develop now may turn out to be their most important asset if they embark on this more ambitious path.” DT/kh