(Mr. Zafar Choudhary, 35, was born in Rehan village of Rajouri district. He received his post graduate degree in Journalism from the University of Jammu. Mr. Choudhary is a Journalist and Policy Analyst based at Jammu (Jammu and Kashmir, India). He is founder Editor of Epilogue Magazine and Honorary Director of Indus Research Foundation (IRF), a think tank, research and resource centre on issues of historical and contemporary importance within and around the region of Jammu and Kashmir. A non-political, non-governmental Trust, IRF promotes the entire region of undivided Jammu and Kashmir as a bridge between India and Pakistan and essential link between Central and South Asia. Zafar is regularly engaged in tracks of peace processes on Kashmir and he writes a popular weekly column known as 'This, That & The Other' appearing every Friday in Srinagar based English daily 'Rising Kashmir'.)
Don’t Let The Last CBM Die
The trade and travel across the Line of Control is arguably one and the only Confidence Building Measure initiated by India and Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir that has worked. However, some recent developments–both impulsive and characteristic–point to fragility and vulnerability to failure of the last evidence of shared vision that guided a march into a peaceful and prosperous future by putting the painful, unpleasant and distrustful past behind.
Idea of opening LoC
Two South Asian giants, market destinations and strategic attraction for the world powers, India and Pakistan are passing through political tumult. For Pakistan the political tumult is just the synonym, India is also in no lesser a chaos. While Pakistan’s very survival is threatened for a variety of domestic and international reasons, in India an unprecedented menace of corruption, decline in public accountability, serious economic and security concerns and subversion of democratic institutions to meet the political expediency are some of the contemporary challenges the country is negotiating with constantly. In the face of challenges like these expecting New Delhi and Islamabad to attend to Kashmir on a regular basis would rather be naive. Though for a section of natives and a large and still growing tribe of activists scholars and experts–often collectively referred to as students and practitioners of Kashmir studies–Kashmir is and should be the core issue between India and Pakistan. But in practical reality Kashmir is one of the many issues primarily before and then between New Delhi and Islamabad. Having acknowledged the fact as it stands out today, it is important to remind the stakeholders that relegating Kashmir to need and time based is not as simple as that, particularly in long and arduous background of external influences. The strategic analysts are already talking about possibilities of idle destructive energies fanning out and landing in Kashmir as US prepares to pull out from Afghanistan. This has happened earlier also when Russia pulled out and this feared for 2014 as well. When fears like this keep looming, may be once in a quarter century, the time in between is utilised to transform the conflict and engage stakeholders as partners in peace and prosperity. Historic in its own rights, the opening of the Line of Control, first for travel in 2005 and then for trade in 2008, significantly changed the dynamics of Kashmir issue at least in two contexts: first, in calling bluff of the propaganda and second, addressing the issue of divided families.
Following the recent tragic fire incident at the shrine of Dastgeer Sahab, dozens of social media outlets and many vernacular newspapers in Pakistan and the Pak administered Kashmir have been flashing pictures from the situation of 2008 and 2010 disturbances in the Valley to propagandise the latest happenings. With loss of a highly revered Sufi shrine in mind anyone seeing a picture showing armed cops chasing hundreds of unarmed Kashmiris would certainly think of contributing his bit towards ‘liberation’. Before not long ago, a majority of people in Pakistan administered Kashmir and in Pakistan would know strange stories about people in Jammu and Kashmir. For example, restrictions on practising Islam, military running peoples’ daily affairs, complete absence of civil liberties and constant threat to the dignity of womenfolk were the commonplace notions. Though limited and restricted, the travel across LoC since 2005 and some intra-Kashmir interactions beginning around the same time effectively called the bluff of this propaganda. Coupled with fast changing geostrategic scenario, it is the dawning of reality upon the ingredients and infrastructures of violence and not only the much romanticised dictum of iron hand velvet glove that brought militancy to near end. The opening of LoC not only killed the propaganda but also gave life to the hopes of millions of people who suffered a division in 1947, in 1965 and many times later for whom lasting resolution of Kashmir issue meant an opportunity of reunion with their loved ones. If Kashmir has remained a national debate between India and Pakistan since 1947, the Line of Control (known as ceasefire line until 1972) has always been a key question for millions of people within Jammu and Kashmir, particularly those who suffered division of blood relations, division of culture and language. As Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh and Presidents Musharraf and Zardari talked about rendered the boundaries irrelevant without the need of redrawing, the travel and trade across LoC seemed paving way for an emotional settlement of an issue that couldn’t match any solution in decades. However, neither India nor Pakistan seem serious in taking their CBM forward which has essentially been sustained by the people.
A forgotten CBM
Few weeks ago a habitually routine breach of ceasefire along the Line of Control in Poonch sector erupted into a longstanding tension, perhaps one of the longest since India and Pakistan agreed upon the ceasefire. This resulted into complete halt of trade and travel. Travellers got stranded on either side while traders suffered substantially not only in terms of loss of business of days but also losing perishable goods. If this happens a couple of times of more, any trader would like to for an alternate option rather than risking on an uncertain LoC. A flag meeting between officers of both Armies on the ground has resolved the issue but with no guarantee that it will not recur. Though an impulsive event but this raises questions about the whole business of revolving peace along the LoC. The characteristic problem that betrays LoC is far more serious. The whole concept of LoC interactions has long been seen in Pakistan and among the Kashmiri separatists as New Delhi’s big brotherly ploy to divert attention from what they call as the ‘core political issue’. The dilemma in New Delhi is that if elements of dissidence are not getting on board the LoC bus then it is not meant for PR hobbyists sitting around the capital. There has to be a taker even for a PR exercise. In July last year, the External Affairs Minister SM Krishna had a high flying meeting with his visiting Pakistani counterpart Hinna Rabbani Khar. The most significant decision they ended up with was a joint statement of agreement on a slew of fresh measures on LoC travel, trade, facilitating meetings between business chambers and further opening the divide for religious and cultural tourism. Ironically, both countries have not moved even an inch on any point of the agreement. As argued earlier, India and Pakistan and caught in many bigger challenges to spare daily attention to Jammu and Kashmir but it would be important for both to have a central authority to deal with Cross-LoC affairs with a spirit that the Line of Control eventually becomes the Line of Concorde.