Musharraf’s Bold Brinkmaship On Kashmir

There is a storm in a tea cup brewing over some half truths circulating as an abrupt change in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. In his December 5 interview to Indian television NDTV President Parvez Musharraf merely reiterated his earlier position on how he believed forward movement on Kashmir was possible. Some of those positions teh former Prime Minister nawaz Sharif had also supported. Yet political point-scoring, a lack of historical sense and sensational reporting, all combine to promote an uninformed and frenzied discourse on Kashmir.This is perhaps obvious in how the Indian opposition party BJP, which actually initaited the peace process and the idea of ‘give and take’ on Kashmir is publicly ressiting any initiative Congress even discusses on Kashmir.

In his December 5 interview with the Indian television channel NDTV President general Parvez Musharraf again conveyed Pakistan’s willingness to take bold steps to resolve the half century old Kashmir issue. Advocating the need for flexibility in traditional positions on Kashmir, Musharraf was clear that if Delhi showed flexibility so would Pakistan. To illustrate the point he said that were Delhi to move forward on conceding Kashmiri political rights Islamabad too would give up its claim to Kashmir.

Musharraf has proactively sought to break the logjam on Kashmir. He has practically pushed forward the Lahore process which too zeroed in on seeking a fast-paced solution to the Kashmir issue. He began with the 2001 Agra summit where Musharraf first introduced the notion of a four step formula which included knocking out solutions unacceptable to Pakistan and India and to opt for only solution acceptable to the Pakistanis , the Indians and the Kashmiris.

Subsequently in his November 18 2003 interview with Reuters Musharraf first publicly conveyed the government’s readiness to go beyond "stated positions." He was clear that a resolution would require that "both sides need to talk with each other with flexibility… coming beyond stated positions… coming and meeting half way somewhere." Finally in the April 2005 Delhi summit Musharraf first introduced the 4 point formula seeking a phased withdrawal of troops; local self-governance; free movement of Kashmiris across the LOC and a joint supervision mechanism in Jammu and Kashmir involving India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Obviously Musharraf was not announcing changes in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy but outlined the extent of flexibility Islamabad was willing to bring in its position. Musharraf even announced that Pakistan’s half century old position that Kashmir is an integral part of Pakistan because if the Kashmiris exercise they right to self-determination, the majority will opt for Pakistan..

None of this is completely new. Musharraf is attempting to encourage the Indians to move forward. His moves do convey some salient features of a dynamic Kashmir policy.

For example five key features of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. One Islamabad has demonstrated that while it views the UN resolutions providing the legal locus standi for the Kashmiri case for the right of self-determination, Pakistan will go beyond the UN resolutions that offer the State-integration option requiring the Kashmiris to integrate into Pakistan or India. For example conceding complete autonomy to the Kashmiris but within the context of a non-State identity. Also that the problem is not about the political future of the entire J & K state as was laid out in the UNSC resolutions but only those areas inhabited by the Kashmiris on both sides of the LOC.

Two, the first clear articulation in recent years of Pakistan’s actual position taken at the UN that Pakistan supports the Kashmiri right of self-determination i.e. the right of the Kashmiris to determine their own political future. Pakistan has sought Kashmiri integration with Pakistan.

Two Islamabad is now proactively facilitating an intra-Kashmiri and Kashmiri-Islamabad dialogue by encouraging unrestricted cross-LOC Kashmiri movement. In a significant departure from its previous policy of ‘favorites,’ irrespective of their political orientation Islamabad is now engaging with all Kashmiri groups. This has included the Kashmiri political parties of Indian Held Kashmir(IHK) like the Muslim Conference and the People Democratic Party that have participated in the State elections and have allied with the mainstream Indian political parties. Similarly Kashmiri freedom fighters , like Shabir Shah, Yasin Malik and Amanullah Khan, who have been critical of Islamabad and whose positions on Kashmir’s future have been at variance with Islamabad’s position, are now in contact with Islamabad publicly.

Three that while Pakistan and India will determine the broad parameters within which a possible solution could be found, only the collective Kashmiri voice should determine the specifics of such a solution. Musharraf has personally engaged with the cross-LOC Kashmiri movement and political leadership the ideas of self-governance, autonomy, local control over Kashmir’s security apparatus and the trilateral joint supervision mechanism for controlling Kashmir.

Four that a process approach which addresses the immediate concerns of the Kashmiris while with markers on to resolving Kashmir viable approach must include simultaneous moves a step by step approach towards solving the issue is feasible. Pakistan is proposing a staggered solution. Musharraf said in his interview about his 4 step proposal 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 05 years, 10 years, 15 years; then we can get together again to see its efficacy, if it is functional, well. If there are some modifications required again."

As Mushararf moves forward with many ideas tabled on Kashmir political criticisms abound. The Combined opposition has moved an adjournment seeking discussion on Musharraf’s statement. The motion questions Musharraf right to offer a settlement formula which has not been discussed in any forum. The motion stated: "President Musharraf has stated, replying to a question at a private Indian Channel NDTV, that he is ready to give up the United Nation resolutions regarding Kashmir which, in his opinion, can be a settlement with India. He (the president) has given a four-point agenda which has not been discussed on any forum even in parliament, which is highest elected institution of parliament, and it is major diversion from the longstanding principled stance of Pakistan on Kashmir."

The motion stated: "It seems that the president has finally let the cat out of the bag and laid bare the intentions behind the stream of vague and confusing ideas expressed by the Pakistani leadership since the peace process began. The intentions of the president have caused grave concern amongst the general public and need discussion on the Floor of the House, adjourning the business of the Senate."

United Jihad Council is critical of what it maintains are Musharraf’s unilateral concession to India. It would however support Musharraf’s proposal of joint control if it is "a stepping stone for right to self- determination." APHC Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq asked India to reciprocate to Musharraf’s "concessions." Mirwaiz wants India to take steps to ease Kashmiri suffering. Musharraf’s proposals would also provide greater freedom to the Kashmiris in Azad Kashmir.

At its December 8 meeting the PML-N criticized Musharraf for taking a U-turn on the Kashmir issue by withdrawing Pakistan ‘s just claim on the disputed territory of Kashmir. The party has called on "patriotic forces’ to reject Musharraf’s Kashmir proposal. Ironically though Musharraf’s moves are a logical progression from Nawaz Sharif’s own government

Musharraf is not compromising either the Kashmiri position nor is he unilaterally altering Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. He is merely using the tool-kit available to Pakistan- diplomacy, back channel and CBMs- and a maverick positioning to ‘encourage’ change in the Indian position.