Revisiting New Delhi

The most striking memory of my eight-day interaction in New Delhi with a variety of Indian opinion and policy-makers remains their love-hate perception of President General Pervez Musharraf. They love him, like him and sometimes respect him for significantly diluted Islamabad’s traditional stance on Kashmir dispute. At the same time, he is blamed for igniting old pains and bringing to fore new headaches for insisting on the settlement of the issue and that too in keeping with aspirations of the Kashmiri people. The occasion was a conference on ‘Kashmir after the Quake’ under the auspices of Delhi-based think-tank ‘The Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution’ which attracted a wide range of people from different schools of thought.

The delegates both from Pakistan and Srinagar shared the view that instead of sticking to obduracy and making the political differences with Pakistan an excuse, India must give a serious thought to the self-governance proposal and initiate talks. Delaying tactics for one pretext or the other are no solutions to the problem. The Indians apparently believed that the idea of self-governance is not a bizarre or impracticable one. They have an appetite for its details, especially about Pakistan’s real intentions on the formula. The Indians, however, seek to apply a self-governance formula to pre-1947 Jammu and Kashmir. Some Indian analysts are even keen to find creative ways to settle the Kashmir issue around the self-governance formula.

Three key elements determine today’s India-J&K relations i.e. instrument of accession, article 370 of the Indian constitution and the Delhi agreement of 1952. However, a few assume that India might abrogate the special status to Kashmir under article 370 and in future develop a framework on the basis of the Delhi agreement 1952. According to the pact, India would exercise nominal power i.e. defence, foreign affairs, communication and currency.

At the same time, the Indians seem keen on increasing their knowledge of the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir. Indian scholars also ask questions on the worldview of a common person in AJK. They were stunned to know that unlike the Indian-held Kashmir, the Northern Areas and AJK are constitutionally not part of Pakistan. Although, the UN resolutions are crystal clear about the future of the state, the status of Azad Kashmir has never been defined in international legal terms by either of the parties i.e. Azad Kashmir, the Pakistani governments or the United Nations.

Pakistan maintains that accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian state was not final and the people of Kashmir should decide the future through a plebiscite. For that matter, all the three successive constitutions in Pakistan’s lifetime, the clause (mentioned below) on the future of Jammu and Kashmir has remained intact:

‘When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and the State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State.’

Moreover, Pakistan’s does not refer to Jammu and Kashmir in its constitution as it geographical entity. The relationship between AJ&K and Pakistan are based on a treaty –” Karachi agreement of 1949 –”while the AJ&K constitution of 1974 gives Pakistan legal rights through the Kashmir Council. The same Karachi agreement gives Pakistan the legal right to control Gilgit and Baltistan.

For some analysts the million dollar questions remain: Would Pakistan be ready to extend the same self-governance option to Gilgit and Baltistan? What will be the status of LoC in the new dispensation? Will it become a permanent border or otherwise? What mechanism would apply to monitor the new governance set-up across Kashmir? Will Pakistan and India have a say in the affairs of Srinagar, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit respectively? Who will represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir across LoC? Possibly fresh elections will be necessary, so that new legislatures could endorse the settlement. Above all, New Delhi is deeply interested to make this compromised solution final. Thus, no one could revisit it again!!!

Certainly, there are no readymade answers to these questions. There are still many slips between the cup and the lips and enormous spadework needs to be carried out at the official and civil society level to arrive on a well-crafted consensus formula.

Some Kashmiris told me after their personal interaction with Indian premier Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi that both are fairly interested to settle this issue with the Kashmiris as well as Islamabad. Manmohan personally favours frequent intra-Kashmir dialogue and interaction of the leadership on both sides of the LoC. Some Kashmiri leaders even quoted Manmohan expressing willingness to consider Kashmiris on both sides to live anywhere they like to, Srinagar or Muzaffarabad. However it is disheartening that his close aides’ are relatively cold and unassuming.

Demilitarisation of a few towns of the Valley attracted a great deal of discourse on the sidelines of the conference. However, the Indian delegates unanimously conditioned demilitarisation with "Islamabad’s dismantling of terror infrastructure". The delegates from Azad Kashmir and the Valley insisted on demilitarizing the area and leaving the security-related issues onto the local people with the help of law-enforcing authorities. We also explained that Pakistan will also cooperate with India to ensure law and order in these areas. The Indians believed that New Delhi was ready to accommodate the Pakistani point of view to some extent but would not agree on joint control of the state. Some believed that New Delhi may accept a joint commission of Srinagar and Muzaffarabad governments to settle mutual problems.

Not only did the Balochistan unrest make headlines in Indian print and electronic media but Doordarshin also daily airs a programme to propagate the alleged atrocities of Pakistan forces in the military operation. It seems that the Indian government has decided at the top level to highlight the Balochistan issue equating it with Kashmir. Some Indian delegates even tried to club the Balochistan and North Waziristan violence together to satisfy India’s damaged ego on Kashmiri freedom movement. Personally, I sensed through these interactions that nothing can deter New Delhi from interfering in the Balochistan crisis besides exploring dissidents in AJK, Gilgit and Baltistan.

Interestingly, a large number of cynics still believe that Islamabad has lost its battle in Indian-held Kashmir and has instead indulged in serious internal conflicts in Balochistan and tribal areas. "The Hurriyat Conference is a divided house and their (Indian) armed forces have internalised the conflict which are capable of running counter militancy operation for another two decades." Moreover, the Indian cynics cherish the worldwide consensus of opposing armed resistance. Undoubtedly, New Delhi has further emboldened with fresh nuclear energy deals with Washington. Even, Inder Kamal Gujral was quoted by a section of press as saying that Islamabad has no option but to compromise with New Delhi. This lobby, backed by senior bureaucrats, suggests that New Delhi should not budge from its stated position. If such are the perceptions and illusions in and across New Delhi, none other than Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh will have to take a political decision to push the current process forward before it falls apart.