A discussion at the India International Centre here on Wednesday, centered on BG Verghese’s A J&K Primer: From Myth to Reality, threw up several clues as to which way the Indo-Pakistan dialogue on the Kashmir issue was going.
Last week, after holding talks with his Indian counterpart Shivshankar Menon, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Ahmed Khan made a remarkable claim. He said in the last three years of the peace process, “there had never been such focused discussions on Kashmir” as the one that had taken place in the “in the last two days [of the talks]”.
Some hint of the intense, though confidential, processes at work were already visible in the September 16 joint statement of President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Havana: While the two sides agreed to “continue the joint search for mutually acceptable options [on J&K]”, they stressed “a need to build on convergences and narrow down divergences”.
Just what some of them were became clear at the discussion chaired by NN Vohra, the union government’s pointman for J&K, and attended by former foreign secretary Shyam Saran and two leading Kashmiri politicians — National Conference’s (NC) Farooq Abdullah and People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) Muzaffar Beigh.
According to Beigh, the difference between the words “autonomy” propagated by the NC, “self rule” advocated by the PDP, or “self governance” mooted by Musharraf was semantic. “We and the NC are on the same track,” he said.
Beigh wanted a directly elected governor for the state, even while retaining the Union election commission and constitutional provisions relating to human rights guarantees. He said Article 2 of the Constitution allowed Parliament flexibility to make special provisions for J&K, or any other state of the union. NC backs the State Autonomy Report of 1999 that seeks to roll back the constitutional developments to 1953, the year Sheikh Abdullah was arrested.
A common strand was the insistence by all the speakers that provisions for self-governance should also be implemented in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Verghese’s primer has pointed out the constitutional “no man’s land” that these regions currently occupy. According to Saran, only after self-governance became a reality in PoK could there be “cross-LoC consultative (but not joint control or management) mechanisms…to address shared challenges such as water management, safeguarding of the environment, promotion of local cultures.”