'Speech writing is often where policy is made, regardless of where it is supposed to be made’, Dean Acheson astutely remarked. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech in Jammu on July 15 was a major policy pronouncement, noteworthy for its context, content as well as background. This considered pronouncement conveyed three messages — events in Pakistan will not disrupt the peace process on Kashmir; the PM will address Jammu’s concerns; and India has constructive ideas to consolidate the common ground between the formulations, which both the Indian PM and President Pervez Musharraf have articulated since 2004.
The PM made three points. First, “effective devolution of powers among different regions within the state. The aspirations of all sections of the people in each of the three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh must be taken into account and a common understanding reached on ways of meeting all these aspirations.” The problem has an internal dimension, namely ‘self-rule’ and restoration of J&K’s autonomy. Devolution of power to all its regions must be a part of the deal. This applies also to the POK.
Second, the state’s distinctive character and status are recognised. It can “become a symbol of India-Pakistan cooperation… borders cannot be changed but they can be made irrelevant. There can be no question of divisions or partitions, but the Line of Control can become a line of peace with a freer flow of ideas, goods, services and peace”.
It may be recalled that on March 24, 2006, at Amritsar, the PM had said that borders can be made “just lines on a map”. At Jammu he spelt out the salutary results. De facto, though not de jure, the state of Jammu and Kashmir will be reunited.
Lastly, “the natural resources of the state of Jammu and Kashmir could then be used for the benefit of all its people. They need no longer be points of contention or a source of conflict. We could, for example, use the land and water resources of the region jointly for the benefit of all the people living on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC). Similarly, there are vast opportunities to jointly work together for the mutual benefit of our people.” The PM, in effect, indicated a major remit of "a joint management mechanism” for the state.
All this will be part of an Indo-Pak accord which would ensure the end of violence and full restoration of democracy and autonomy in both parts of J&K. "We are committed to winning the hearts and minds of all… we will also continue our dialogue with Pakistan."
The PM’s speech indicates clearly that the peace process has become irreversible. The consensus between India and Pakistan is widening with each respecting the concerns of the other. While J&K remains part of India, the LoC will not become permanent, either, as Pakistan fears. Its people’s aspirations to unity and democracy will be fulfilled and a joint mechanism will be devised which would make Kashmir “a symbol of India-Pakistan cooperation rather than of conflict”.
The dialogue must continue with speed and direction “despite difficulties”. The accord on Northern Ireland concluded on April 10, 1995. It was preceded by five failed accords over 25 years — the Sunningdale Accord (December 9, 1973), the Agreement on an Inter-governmental Council (November 6, 1981), the Hillsborough Agreement (November 15, 1985), the Joint Declaration (December 15, 1993) and the New Framework for Agreement (February 22, 1995). Each of these, especially the last one, provided bricks to erect the final accord in 1998.
Negotiations between Britain and Ireland were public. British Prime Minister John Major once said it would “turn my stomach” to talk to the IRA. A month later, on November 29, 1993, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, placed in the Library of the House of Commons texts of faxed messages between the government and the IRA from February to November 1983. They are most instructive.
Also at work was an intra-Irish back-channel comprising three persons — former priest Denis Bradley, an MI5 agent still unidentified, and, most effective of all, Father Alex Raid from a monastery. The worldly- wise Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz would be offended if anyone called them priests. This back-channel paved the way to a ceasefire in Ireland and to the final accord, just as a back-channel paved the way for the Hizbul Mujahideen’s ceasefire in Kashmir on July 24, 2000.
After its collapse, Hizb chief Syed Salahuddin told an Indian journal, significantly on September 18, 2000, “Let India and Pakistan start (the talks). They can involve Kashmiris later.” Equally significant is his statement on February 26, 2007, that President Musharraf’s four-point proposal can be a good first step towards a Kashmir settlement. On February 24, LeT chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed had spoken on the phone to Lt. Gen. V.G. Patankar expressing his readiness for talks. A coincidence?
Salahuddin’s call for a ceasefire on August 17 last year was welcomed by all, unionists and separatists.
President Musharraf’s plea for demilitarisation focused attention on the armed forces to the neglect of a related aspect in the second of his four points — “and curb all militant aspects of the struggle for freedom. This will give comfort to the Kashmiris who are fed up with the fighting and killing on both sides”.
A ceasefire in Kashmir will impart strength to the peace process. The time has come for all to look at the post-settlement scenario there. How many of the leaders of today will survive then? Especially if Syed Salahuddin returns to Srinagar and contests the 2008 assembly elections — as he did in 1987?
The leaders, unionists as well as separatists, lead no longer. The unionists — the People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference — are engaged in a bitter, prolonged election campaign and in a childish debate on ‘self-rule’ versus autonomy. The Hurriyat is a total wreck. Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik vie with each other in posturing for recognition as the principal is not indeed the ‘sole leader’. The most respected of them all, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has gone into ideological exile with his extremism and resigned himself to irrelevance. The concrete elements of the current discourse interest none. They shout slogans of yesterday.
There is no Kashmiri input either on the joint mechanism or on self-rule. Least of all on a draft final Presidential Order under Article 370, which wipes out violations of autonomy since 1953, embodies guarantees against their repetition and puts an end to the power the Centre has unconstitutionally used, uniquely in the entire world, to amend the Constitution by executive order. What contribution can one hope at any Round Table from leaders whose concrete contributions to the process remain their only secret?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf met last in Havana on September 16, 2006. It would be a great pity if they do not meet again this year to firm up the progress already registered in the parleys. As before, the next session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September provides a most convenient opportunity. It would be a great pity if this timely opportunity is missed.