Kashmir in the storm of roadmaps

People’s Conference chairman, one of the young leaders of Kashmir, Sajjad Ghani Lone has off late released his party 266 pages roadmap tilted "Achievable Nationhood" for peace in the Jammu and Kashmir. Though, there is no dearth of formulae and roadmaps on Kashmir, coming from both local stakeholders and the world renowned experts and strategic thinkers, it must be appreciated that for the first time in recent history a Kashmiri leader has taken lot of pain and labor to put forth a plan and elicit public scrutiny of that.

The roadmap outlines three-tier of institutionalized relationship between Delhi-Srinagar, Delhi-Muzaffarabad, Islamabad-Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and finally joint mechanism between India-Pakistan and Kashmiri governments of both sides. In this scheme, India and Pakistan are responsible for defense and foreign affairs of their respective sides of Kashmir while rest of the powers fall with the Srinagar and Muzaffarabad governments. However, in the management of economic affairs both parts of Jammu and Kashmir will have complete independence.

Their duties and custom rules will be alike and their will be no barrier between intra-state trade and investment. Besides, in the new arrangement both parts of J&K will be free to appoint their trade mission or councilor in any of the world capital without any restriction from Delhi or Islamabad. Similarly, their offices will be established in Islamabad and Delhi to enhance the trade activity as well as to look after Kashmiri citizens interests. The plan talks of the unification of the two parts of Jammu & Kashmir through an elaborate arrangement of sectoral overlaps and the creation of a wide range of joint institutions. Furthermore, it propounds the creation of a single Jammu & Kashmir Economic Union which would result in a boundary-less and prosperous Jammu & Kashmir.

It focuses on the sacrifices rendered by the people of J & K and posits that the resolution process has shifted from the historical context to sacrificial one. The author further elaborates exactly why and how any resolution process must fulfill the aspirations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The author urges the vital importance of making a distinction between grievances and aspirations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

As for as defense is concerned he proposes that local paramilitary forces will help Indian or Pakistani military to defend strategic installations or boarders. Indian and Pakistani forces will have to maintain low profile presence and not interfere in the internal matters of the state. The document suggests that India and Pakistan will establish their relationship with Muzaffarabad and Srinagar respectively. The citizens of both parts of J&K will be free to travel and run business and stay in India and Pakistan without any kind of legal or physical restriction. However, people of India have to get permission to enter into Azad Kashmir and similarly Pakistan to Srinagar. It is a multidimensional approach which is, in fact, a blend of the conflict resolution models of Hong Kong, Northern Ireland and Nepal.

Given the historical divide, Kashmiri opinion has always been divided into three major camps: pro-Pakistan, pro-India and finally pro-independent Kashmir, mainly led by JKLF. However, Kashmiri leadership has been under tremendous pressure to agree on something practicable and stop sticking to old rigid stance. President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf himself advised them to think beyond the beaten track of history and seek their place in the emerging frame work of India Pakistan relations.

Additionally, post 9/11 situation in general and Indian strategic alliance with the U.S in particular also led to the creation of a space for moderates in the political landscape of Valley. Resultantly, a number of stalwarts lowered down their demands in the new context. Thus, Mirwaiz Omer Farooq and his colleagues had audience with Indian Prime Minster Monmohan Singh and President Musharraf during last year, respectively. Sajjad Lone also had a long session with Monmohan Singh. In a meeting he told this scribe that premier was very keen to know his ideas on future dispensation of Jammu and Kashmir.

In fact, credit goes to President Musharraf who initiated debate over Kashmir by offering a number of proposals for settlement. It accumulated lot of fresh ideas and consequently even the pro-Indian forces inside Kashmir also had to come up with flexible ideas. Chairman National Conference Omar Abdullah, like his father advocates an autonomy formula for Kashmir within the confines of the Indian constitution but has shown his willingness to accept any other solution if agreed upon by the majority of the people. Likewise, People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti advocates self-rule which is slightly different from Abdullahs’ autonomy proposal.

On the other hand Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, head of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, wants self-governance in Kashmir. He is, largely in line with president Musharraf’s ideas on Kashmir solution. However, one needs to recognize that Sajjad Lone’s proposals are sharply different from aforementioned viewpoints of different stakeholders as he argues for evolutionary character unlike Abdullah and Mufti’s devolution of power demand from Delhi to Srinagar. Besides, he says that his model is interim and evolving rather being the final and permanent.

Conversely, Syed Ali Gilani and armed groups out rightly turn down this kind of proposals and tantamount them to concede defeat. I had a long session with Gilani recently in Delhi and he was of the view that people of Kashmir would not accept anything less than Azadi. The Azadi sentiment is still there and even Lone himself confesses this in his vision document. He asserts that independence or separation from India is the predominant political and economic aspiration of the majority. His brother Bilal Ghani Lone told me in Delhi that the propagators of diluted ideas on Kashmir find it pretty hard to face the local people. APHC coupled with Islamabad had been harping on right of self determination day in and day out over 14 long years. Now, Kashmiri leaders and Islamabad both are arguing for a forwarding looking policy but the question remains how an honorable solution can be found without changing borders. The document ‘achievable nationhood’ does not answer this fundamental question but offer at least some kind of win win solution to ensure a peaceful settlement of the dispute.

Seemingly, both countries are very close to the settlement of Kashmir problem by devolution of powers to Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. It is appropriate time to reflect upon the contour of resolution plans and make sure that people of Kashmir do not feel betrayed by Pakistan. Above all, an in-depth internal discussion is necessary within Kashmiri political and opinion maker circles to analyse what is being offered to them and how can they assert their position to get better deal out of a larger India-Pakistan package deal.