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Both sides now

india Updated:
AG Noorani

'Many of us think that it is rather disgraceful and does no credit to India that this matter should have dragged on... so long,’ Sardar Patel told the United Nations mediator on Kashmir, Owen Dixon, on July 20, 1950. Come October, it will be 60 years since “this matter” arose, ruining the peace of this region. If the peace process is allowed to take its course, there is every possibility of accord on the framework of a Kashmir solution before October.

Meanwhile, a lot can be done to facilitate that, as two promising statements suggest. On December 31, the J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said that some sort of “joint management” with Pakistan-Administered Kashmir (PAK) is possible in the fields of tourism, trade, culture and water resources, which could pave the way for a lasting solution to the Kashmir dispute.

On February 10, Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, Prime Minister of the Government of PAK offered to supply gas and electricity to J&K and invited entrepreneurs from “all regions and religions” to invest in PAK. “The gas can be provided to the Kashmir Valley through Chakoti and through Sialkot to Jammu at Suchetgarh if the authorities on the other side are willing.” He had earlier invited doctors and engineers from the state to work in PAK and asked universities in J&K to admit students from his region. He could not have proposed all this without Islamabad’s consent.

Azad would render a historic service if he invites Ahmed Khan to Srinagar for talks on both sets of proposals. Far from impairing the current parleys on joint mechanism, it will buttress it. The talks are at a political level and aim at a final solution. The CM’s venture will be purely administrative, inspired by humanitarian considerations, for alleviation of a harsh situation in the interim, pending a solution. The two leaders would consult on administrative measures which each would take on his side of the LoC. The top leaders would resolve the political and legal issues on the basis of their agreement that the LoC must be made “irrelevant”.

True, J&K and PAK do not “recognise” each other — formally. But if the United States and China can hold talks for years at Warsaw without according recognition to each other, it is absurd to suggest that two Kashmiris cannot meet within the State itself and discuss how best to provide relief to the people.

They have several problems to resolve at the administrative level — revival of pre-1947 mode of transport and communication; improvement of procedures for travel by bus; the opening of new routes; cooperation in the Border Area Development Programme; trade and investment; joint power ventures; tourism, health, protection of environment; promotion of traditional Kashmiri handicrafts, captive breeding of chiroo goats; protection of forests, etc.

Districts are arbitrarily divided. Poonch can now be reached from Baramula only via Jammu. A trip from Uri to Poonch; a mere 60 kilometres apart, should take an hour or so. It now takes nearly three days — from Uri to Baramula, thence to Srinagar, on to Jammu and finally to Poonch. Rajauri and Anantnag, virtually sister cities, are divided by the LoC. The Jammu-Sialkot road can be opened to mutual advantage.

Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan’s visit will initiate a regular exchange. Azad can go to Muzaffarabad. Other exchanges can follow on ministerial and official levels. The atmosphere will undergo a radical change and so will the lot of people as the administrative measures take effect.

The ‘Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus’ is a misnomer. Buses from each side stops at the LoC and go nearly empty thanks to the absurd requirements. On January 15, 1949, the C-in-Cs of India and Pakistan, Generals K.M. Cariappa and Roy Bucher “agreed to restore the communication by road between Srinagar and Rawalpindi and to rebuild the necessary bridges”.

Till 1953, the simple ‘Rahdari’ procedure was followed. A letter from the District Commissioner enabled the poor villager to go across. The State’s constitution has a chapter on “permanent residents”. A certificates of such residence should suffice. The 2005 bus accord imposes farcical conditions.

In December 2004, India proposed that divided families be allowed to meet at five points — Tangdhar, Uri, Poonch and Mendhar on the LoC and Suchetgarh on the international border along the Jammu-Sialkot road. Pakistan has yet to respond to it.

Wajahat Habibullah made useful suggestions in a paper he wrote in June 2004 on “the political economy of the Kashmir conflict”, which the two CMs can study with advantage. “Governments in the Indian and Pakistani parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir must grant their people freedom, not merely by holding elections but also by rolling back restrictions on business and terminating governmental monopolies in trade and commerce, which are, in any case, a drain on government resources. The governments should also be encouraging investment that will generate economic activity.

“Key areas for investment are watershed development, the timber industry (which will first require investment to restore the forest cover), fruit processing and power generation. If these sectors were active, they could help jumpstart the entire economy. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) could make low-interest loans.”

But that cannot be all, as he points out. “The deployment of large security forces in civilian neighbourhood only feeds public resentment, fuelling violence. While it will be necessary for India to maintain a military presence in the State until normalcy returns, that presence should be scaled down steadily, and the responsibility for the administration of law and order should be restored to the local police. Such a measure would help rebuild the Kashmiri public’s confidence in the Indian central and state governments.”

The Special Operations Group, comprising surrendered militants, was “abolished, in name only, in 2002”. New Delhi must intervene decisively and in fundamental respects to alter the entire security set-up. There is something terribly wrong in a set-up in which even Mohurram processions are banned since 1989, tear gas shells are lobbed to disband them, and the processionists beaten up as they were on January 28 this year. Is the political process within the State to be confined to party debates within closed doors, the legislature and the occasional seminar? Terrorism cannot be stamped out as long as avenues of peaceful protest are barred.

On November 19, 2000, the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, announced that the security forces would not “initiate combat operations” against the militants during the month of Ramzan. Militancy has declined hugely since but the army police’s and security forces’ excesses have mounted steeply. The army is busy grabbing land everywhere.

The political process badly needs reinforcement by a host of administrative measures if it is to make a difference to the people’s lives.