Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why the Hush-Hush Track-II?

Shamshad argues for openess and transparency, but in reality he is resetting Pakistan's official position for the current Pakistani Administration

(Mr. Shamshad Ahamad, 69, did his B.A. (Hons) and Master's in Political Science from the Government College, Lahore. He joined the Foreign Service of Pakistan in 1965 and was Pakistan's Foreign Secretary from 1997-2000.)

Kashmir at Backchannel

Former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri deserves praise for rejuvenating the Kashmir issue. Addressing a recent meeting in Lahore of civil society representatives from India and Pakistan, he revealed that Gen Musharraf’s “backchannel” diplomacy had completed almost 90 per cent of the spadework on the Kashmir issue. “A final Kashmir settlement was just a signature away once India and Pakistan decide to pull the file from the rack,” he told the meeting, which was part of the ongoing “Aman ki Asha” campaign of the Jang Group and The Times of India.

India and Pakistan have agreed to resume their dialogue and will soon be taking stock of where they left and where to start again. But where is the “backchannel” file? Is there a “backchannel” file beyond Musharraf’s pronouncements of unreciprocated unilateral gestures of flexibility? Who will pull it off the rack? No one has any answers. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has categorically denied there is any file in his ministry. And that is what always happens when shady deals are struck at non-institutional levels.

In April 2007, addressing the third roundtable conference on Kashmir in Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had dismissed repeated “wishful” claims in Islamabad that India and Pakistan were nearing an agreement on Kashmir, or even Siachen. “Some public statements in this regard (the Kashmir issue) emanating from Pakistan do not give the correct picture,” he said.

The confusion over the “backchannel” outcome arises only because the whole matter was personally handled by Gen Musharraf, who had deputed his friend and confidant Tariq Aziz, a man of exceptional skills in wheeling and dealing, to negotiate the destiny of the Kashmiri people.

On the other hand, the Indian side was represented at the “backchannel” by Satinder Lambah, a seasoned diplomat who served his country with distinction and whose quiet negotiating skills had earned him respect not only by successive governments in India but also in countries where he served as ambassador, including Pakistan. He was chosen by Manmohan Singh’s government to serve as special envoy in the Prime Minister’s Office, in which capacity he became India’s point man on Kashmir.

The day after Lambah presented his credentials in Islamabad as high commissioner, then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif hosted a lunch for him, in a marked departure from usual Pakistani practice. When Lambah’s tenure ended three years later, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto did him the same honour.

If a Kashmir settlement was only a signature away, the credit must go to Lambah. Without any compromise on his country’s position, he swayed Pakistan’s Kashmir stance which had been a constant of its foreign policy in the context of an unwavering commitment to the cardinal principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter. Tariq Aziz or his boss had no idea what they were doing to their country.

No government in Pakistan, elected or unelected, ever deviated from this fundamental policy, which was rooted in the UN Security Council resolutions adopted on the question of Kashmir. Gen Musharraf’s backchannel produced negative effects on Pakistan’s known position, and he started speaking of options for a Kashmir settlement beyond UN resolutions.

At the end of the day, where are these two “backchannel” pioneers? India’s Satinder Lambah is still serving his country’s interests, and Tariq Aziz has vanished like his friend and boss to places where they have enough wealth to sustain them. The Kashmiri people have every reason to protest to Pakistan for putting their destiny in the hands of wheelers and dealers who played havoc with their own state.

Those were difficult days for Gen Musharraf who, after staging the Kargil debacle and overthrowing an elected government in Pakistan, was struggling for legitimacy and acceptability of his military rule. The September 11 attacks gave him an opportunity to gain relevance in the ensuing “war on terror,” and he did everything to avail himself of that opportunity. As Gen Musharraf wrote in his book In the Line of Fire, 9/11 “came as a thunderbolt” that presented to him acute challenges as well as opportunities.

He was right in claiming that he had to “absorb external pressure and mould domestic opinion” in readjusting Pakistan’s policies to the new global environment. He chose, perhaps rightly, to make Pakistan a vital ally in the US-led anti-terrorism coalition. He found himself walking a fine line. On the one hand, he was under pressure from the US and India to deliver on his commitments to their terrorism-related demands and, on the other, he was involved on multiple domestic fronts, ranging from military operations in Balochistan and Waziristan to the judicial crisis.

Against this backdrop, Musharraf went beyond all limits and crossed the Kashmir Rubicon. How could Musharraf play with the future of the Kashmiri people without going through any institutional process, or even consulting the Kashmiris? He had no mandate. He offered “demilitarisation and self-governance” to the Kashmiri people, something he had denied even to the people of Pakistan. How could the Kashmiris trust him? He did no service to the Kashmiris. And look at the legacy of violence and corruption he has left behind for his own people to suffer.

Yes, since January 2004, some confidence-building measures, including the Kashmir bus service, commercial exchanges and people-to-people contacts were taken by India and Pakistan, but their implementation remains half-hearted. Visa policies on both are still stringent. They need to be relaxed for more people-to-people contacts, so that the prevailing environment of mutual mistrust and apprehension can be addressed.

Incidentally, the Kashmir solution being touted at the “backchannel” was not a solution. It was a Kashmir-related CBM that could have only ameliorated the living conditions of the Kashmiri people. It involved identification of Kashmir in ethnic regions, their demilitarisation, self-governance and a joint mechanism overseeing the self-governance in residual subjects. As a solution, it would have amounted to legalisation of the Line of Control. Any new discussions on this arrangement must address this only as a confidence-building measure, and not a permanent solution.

The present elected government cannot afford to start from where Musharraf left. In any case, on an issue like Kashmir, there can never be a backchannel deal. Any settlement on Kashmir will have to be backed by people on both sides of the Line of Control. It must be acceptable to the Kashmiris, who are the final arbiters of their destiny. Pakistan should never degrade them by leaving their destiny in the hands of wheelers and dealers or at the mercy of dictators.

In the ultimate analysis, no deal lacking the support of the Kashmiri people will bring durable peace between the two neighbours. In Pakistan, we need to build national consensus on our India policy which would require transparency and domestic confidence-building through a genuine national effort for debate. It will only strengthen the government’s hands and reinforce Pakistan’s negotiating position in the dialogue, if and when it is resumed.

In any case, the task ahead is not going to be easy, given the complexity of the issues involved. There will be no quick fixes, and we should be ready for a long-drawn-out process, which must not be interrupted by change of governments or personalities. Nor should it be subjected to the vagaries of domestic politics.

No comments: