As far as stumbling blocks go, the real estate dispute involving the state of Jammu and Kashmir has long become part and parcel of India-Pakistan relations. While common sense would have told New Delhi and Islamabad that both parties have much to gain — economically as well as politically — by turning the Line of Control dividing the two sides of J&K into a de facto border, heels have been dug too deep on both sides of the LoC to be extricated without national egos being bruised. Speaking in Jammu on Sunday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggested a more practical approach to take out the ‘Kashmir problem’ from the India-Pakistan equation: making a soft border out of the LoC. If borders can’t be changed, they can be made “irrelevant” and thereby use Kashmir as a strategic bridge, rather than a moat, for India-Pakistan ties. Mr Singh’s idea is for India and Pakistan to work together and use the region for the benefit of the people living on either side of the LoC.
This is not the first time the idea of a soft border has been mooted. In fact, Mr Singh himself has gone on record before, stating that “short of secession, short of redrawing boundaries, the Indian establishment can live with anything.... we need soft borders, the borders are not so important”. His predecessor, A.B. Vajpayee, had started the ball rolling by talking about ‘insaniyat’ clearing matters, rather than harping on moth-balled stated positions that stopped mirroring reality long ago. But terms like Mr Vajpayee’s ‘insaniyat’, Pervez Musharraf’s ‘demilitarisation for self-governance’ and Mr Singh’s ‘Line of Peace’ have an airy-fairy ring to them and can become impediments to clear thinking.
It is in this context that making the LoC a soft border with shared resources, access and responsibilities is an idea whose time has come. With Islamabad having to firefight in its own backyard, this is the right moment for the General to stop missing the wood for the trees. In the supply and demand of cross-border terrorism, we now have victims on either side of the border-LoC. With a realistic agreement on how to handle J&K — a buffer zone that facilitates the “freer flow of ideas, goods, services and people” — all three parties, India, Pakistan and J&K — stand to gain. And this can be a reality once those who keep scuttling the whole process, the jehadis, are once and for all made the losers.