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Don’t be fence-sitters

The best contribution Kashmiris can, and indeed must, make is to assist in the development of the consensus so that it meets Kashmir’s interests, writes AG Noorani.

india Updated: May 08, 2007 05:43 IST
AG Noorani

‘India today seems to be the victim of three traumas: Kashmir, the Aksai Chin and poverty. To try to solve the first two by vast military expenditure can only divert its funds and energies from the struggle against poverty.’ Replace ‘problems’ for ‘traumas’ and you have an accurate description of the situation that Dorothy Woodman, a committed friend of India, described in 1969. Things have improved since, especially on Kashmir. The remarkable progress in the peace process is matched by significant signs of thaw.

The Hizb chief, Syed Salahuddin’s ceasefire offer last year was welcomed by unionists and separatists alike. On February 26 this year, he welcomed President Musharraf's four-point formula as a first step. Two days earlier, the LeT chief, Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, talked to Lt Gen VG Patankar, who had served in Kashmir and expressed his readiness to visit India in order to hold talks. On March 27, for the first time in 17 years, Ram Navami was celebrated with eclat in the Valley, particularly in the historic temples, Badarkali in Handwara and Ram Chandra Mandir, Barbar Shah in Srinagar. Some Pandit refugees also returned to a warm welcome by their former Muslim neighbours. From April 23-25, the BBC broadcast a special programme on the Pandits in Kashmir.

The equally unprecedented massive turnout at the rally at the Martyrs’ Grave in Srinagar on April 22 to welcome Syed Ali Shah Geelani could upset the equanimity of only those who had frozen themselves in a comfortable state of denial. The date and venue were announced on April 10. If money and muscle could galvanise such a mammoth crowd, the loyalists would have organised several such shows. Geelani reflects the people’s alienation. The rally could have been stopped only by a massive crackdown, fuelling the alienation further and inviting international attention. We must attend to the alienation rather than crush its expression.

Another source of excitement, the ‘joint management mechanism’, has a very respectable ancestry. It was discussed at length on May 8, 1964, at Nehru’s house by Sheikh Abdullah, Foreign Secretary YD Gundevia, the High Commissioner to Pakistan G Parthasarathi and the AMU’s Vice Chancellor, BFHB Tyabji, who had drawn up a note. It proposed “India-Pakistan Regional Councils to deal with the common problems of the three former partitioned areas of Kashmir, the Punjab and Bengal” and listed the subjects they would deal with, “without affecting their respective sovereignties. A central Indo-Pakistan Council should be empowered to watch their functioning”.

Sheikh saheb initiated the talks by defining three tests that a Kashmir accord must satisfy — it must promote India-Pakistan friendship and not leave a sense of defeat on either side; it must not “weaken the secular ideal of the Indian Constitution”; and it must not weaken the position of the minorities in both countries. His interlocutors said that if Pakistan agreed “to settle the Kashmir question in this context, immediate ad hoc measures could be taken to deal with them, and then, step by step, they would be given legal and constitutional form. Joint bodies could be set up in various areas for dealing with...” The topics were then mentioned.

Gundevia recorded: “The Sheikh said that he would like to have some definite proposals to this effect as early as possible so that when he went back to Kashmir, he could sell the idea to his people there, and later on to Pakistan.” Apparently, the proposals were not given and he took instead the unrealistic idea of a confederation to Ayub Khan. Sheikh saheb, however, persuaded Ayub Khan to visit Delhi. Nehru’s invitation reached Pakistan on May 27, the day he died.

It is anybody’s guess what shape the talks would have taken if Nehru had lived and the idea of joint bodies developed further. With Musharraf’s rejection of the criteria on religion, his proposal of a ‘joint management mechanism’, one of his four points, is constructive. The TRC’s Working Group on “strengthening relations across the Line of Control”, headed by MK Rasgotra, admitted an able report. It unanimously recommended: “A a joint group or committee of 10 members of each of the legislatures of both sides may be constituted to exchange views periodically on social, economic, cultural and trade-related matters of mutual interest.... Initiative in this regard could be taken by the state government”. The aim is to establish “in stages... a Free Trade Area” comprising both parts of the state. The BJP member Ashok Khajuria concurred.

The group’s concern was to suggest measures of alleviation, not proposals for a settlement. The basic idea can be developed in the final accord, which cannot go beyond the consensus registered in the pronouncements of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Musharraf's four-point formula. The best contribution Kashmiris can, and indeed must, make is to assist in the development of the consensus so that it meets Kashmir’s interests. Far from any conflict, Kashmiri concerns harmonise with that consensus. But there is no sign of any Kashmiri contribution to this process. The leaders are agreed that the LoC will be rendered “irrelevant, just a line on the map”. What steps will be taken to ensure this result? Will all the curbs vanish? Kashmiris are entitled to ask India and Pakistan for firm assurances on this.

Precisely what powers would the State possess? Article 370 is a husk. What should be the form of a last presidential order under Article 370, which restores the autonomy, contains guarantees against any further orders destroying the autonomy and ends the obscurity of constitutional amendment by executive fiat, which President Rajendra Prasad denounced in a note to Nehru on September 6, 1952. Further, India and Pakistan must jointly agree and ‘undertake’ to each other and to the people in both parts of the state to respect their self-governance.

The consensus can be elaborated to provide for an All J&K Joint Parliamentary Forum comprising legislators on both sides, that meets alternately in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, twice a year. Claims of domestic politics must not override those of the cause itself. The cause is best promoted by concrete contributions to the peace process — now. Time is running out faster than is realised.

“A joint management mechanism is pre-eminently practicable. ‘Joint Management’ can be of three kinds. A supra-national body with legislative and executive power is unthinkable. A purely consultative body can become useless like the important zonal councils under our States Reorganisation Act, 1956. It is the twilight zone of discussion, coordination and agreement on action in each part of Kashmir, which must be explored.

Sources in Islamabad and New Delhi are agreed that a commendable job has been done by Foreign Secretaries Shivshankar Menon and Riaz Muhammad Khan and by the partners in the ‘back channel’, Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz. The twilight zone, only the political leadership can explore. Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf must roll up their sleeves and, in a fine demonstration of ‘joint management’, bash up the devil who is lurking in the detail.