Musharraf attempts to resuscitate the Kashmir plan

On December 5, 2006, speaking before Indian TV channel, Musharraf said that Pakistan was prepared to give up its claim to Kashmir, if India and Pakistan agree on the four-point solution (a solution in which boundaries are not changed and India does not have to give up any territory).When pressed on Kashmiri Independence, Musharraf reasserted his objection. He said,” Yes, we are against independence.”

This is not the first time Musharraf has floated the idea of abandoning Pakistan’s longstanding claim to Kashmir. On 18/112003 Musharraf said, “We are for the United Nations Security Council resolution, whatever that stands for. However, now we have left that aside… We keep saying that if we want to resolve this issue both sides need to talk with each other with flexibility… coming beyond stated positions… coming and meeting half way somewhere.” Since then Musharraf has been working tirelessly to implement the Kashmir plan drafted by the US sponsored Kashmir study group.

America’s road map for Kashmir echoes the four stages spelt out by NDTV during the interview with Musharraf–”namely: i) Kashmir will have the same borders but people will be allowed to move freely back and forth in the region; ii) the region will have self-governance or autonomy, but not independence; iii) troops will be withdrawn from the region in a staggered manner; and iv) a joint supervision mechanism will be set up, with India, Pakistan and Kashmir represented on it.

What is particularly noteworthy about the interview is its timing. Pakistan has been pressing India to kick-start negotiations over Kashmir, which was brought to a sudden halt after the train bombings. Now with the impending visit of Indian Foreign Minister followed by the Indian Prime Minister to Islamabad next year, Musharraf wants to resurrect the peace process between the two countries. Musharraf’s urgency to solve the dispute stems from America’s wish to see a fully fledged civilian government in Pakistani during 2007. Before then, America wants Musharraf to cast in stone the Kashmir plan into a political framework that cannot be altered by anti-American politicians after the Pakistani general elections.

It also provides Manmohan Singh with the ability to convince skeptics both within his party and Congress’s coalition partners–”no matter who is in power in Islamabad the peace process will not falter. America believes that this is the all important first step necessary to facilitate the normalization of relations between Pakistan and India–”eventually leading to America’s domination of South Asia.

Musharraf is under no allusion that resolution of the Kashmir dispute is going to happen during his tenure office or sometime in the near future. Speaking during the interview he said, "My view is that it is easier said than done. I mean it’s not as simple as put in across four stages or four aspects of it. This could be left for trial for five years, 10 years, 15 years and then we can get together again to see its efficacy, if it is functional, well. If there are some modifications required, again.”

On the Indian side, Prime Minister Manmohan faces several obstacles before he can push ahead with the Kashmir plan. First, many of his cabinet members, as well as the coalition parties subscribe to Nehru’s Kashmir doctrine–” all of Kashmir belongs to India. He will have to convince then that that the doctrine is absolute now and India must be prepared to make concessions.

Second, there is great concern that if the central government acquiesces to some sort of autonomy for Kashmiris then other secessionist movement would also demand independence thereby leading to India’s implosion. A lot will depend upon how Article 370 of the Indian constitution is modified to accommodate such concerns and at the same time not encourage others to demand independence. Third, and more importantly, the Kashmiri separatists do not speak with one unified voice. India will have to work with Pakistan to create an indigenous leadership that can be used as a vehicle to accomplish the implementation of the road map. The elevation of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq as party chairman of the AHPC marks the beginning of an arduous process to include militants and politicians that are committed to the Kashmir plan.

In conclusion, American efforts to normalize relations between India and Pakistan cannot succeed unless the Kashmir dispute is resolved. This also delays the accomplishment of America’s overall plan for South Asia, which is to use Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as a counterweight to China. Given the Bush administration’s pre-occupation with Iraq, Bush may not be able to provide enough support for Musharraf and Manmohan to push ahead with the Kashmir plan, thus stalling Pakistan’s normalization with India. If this were to happen then China will be encouraged to quickly cement its ties with India and reduce the prospect of American hegemony in South Asia.