A dismal condition for the Kashmiris for so many years, and so many deaths, thousands of them, in addition to rapes, disappearances of civilians, that a solution to this lingering problem is the key for a lasting peace in the Indian subcontinent. Let's see what the South Asian politicians do in resolving this issue, or whether it would be the same empty promises and decorated maneuverings for their own political gains, will be observed by the international community.
Solving Kashmir requires India to offer up more than cash
Wednesday November 24, 2004
Kashmir will be the elephant in the room when Pakistan's prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, meets his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, in Delhi today.
Both sides know that, without a Kashmir settlement, the peace process launched this year cannot succeed. But neither has a clear idea how to proceed. The temptation is to ignore the elephant.
Mr Aziz is the highest-ranking figure to visit India since Pakistan's leader, Pervez Musharraf, declared that "history has been made" at last January's summit with India's then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Yet much of the optimism generated by the summit, at which the two sides committed themselves to a "composite dialogue" to resolve all bilateral disputes, has since dissipated amid continuing bloodshed and bickering.
Although India says militant activity in Indian-controlled Kashmir is falling, about 1,600 people have died this year in the separatist, Islamist-backed insurgency that it accuses Pakistan of supporting. At least 45,000 people have been killed in the past 15 years.
According to Human Rights Watch, Indian army and police forces "continue their practice of torturing detainees, leading to custodial killings". Alleged rapes by soldiers provoked angry demonstrations in Kashmir this month.
Mr Singh, who replaced Mr Vajpayee after the Indian election last May, has been slow to pursue the dialogue. And while a new round of talks is due next month, Mr Aziz's visit is not about Kashmir or bilateral relations. Officially, he is making a courtesy call as current chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
A Pakistani initiative on Kashmir is nevertheless up for discussion. To surprise in India, and outrage among his opponents at home, General Musharraf appeared last month to drop Pakistan's longstanding demand for a plebiscite on Kashmir's future.
He suggested instead that the region be demilitarised. This would entail the withdrawal of an estimated 500,000 Indian troops, as well as Pakistani forces on Islamabad's side of the unofficial border, known as the Line of Control.
Negotiations to end Kashmir's divisions should follow, Gen Musharraf proposed. The options included joint administration, placing Kashmir under UN control, or some form of autonomy.
"We have come to a stage where options acceptable to Pakistan, India and Kashmiris can be explored," he said. "If both sides continue to stick to their stands, the dispute would persist for 100 years without any solution."
India's initial response was dismissive. On a visit to Srinagar last week, Mr Singh hinted at further troop withdrawals, and said he would meet "anyone and everyone" who renounced violence. But he made clear that India would not countenance territorial adjustments. Jammu and Kashmir must remain an integral part of India.
India has also so far refused to allow leaders of the moderate Kashmir separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, to travel to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to confer with likeminded groups. Hurriyat's talks with India have stalled, potentially boosting hardline groups.
Three-way negotiations were the only way forward if Gen Musharraf's ideas, or anybody else's, were to work, Hurriyat's Mirwaiz Omar Farooq said. "If anybody believes that you can have a bilateral agreement on Kashmir, they are highly mistaken." All Kashmiris must have a say over their future, he said last week.
Mr Singh softened his stance recently. "I think we are willing to look at all options to think about a new chapter and a new beginning." And Mr Aziz is expected to raise Gen Musharraf's proposals in today's talks. But India's leader is untested in the arcane ways of Indo-Pakistan diplomacy. His authority on so sensitive and bitterly divisive an issue is open to question. And so far, he has avoided risks.
The former finance minister suggests there is another way through. Economic development in Kashmir, as for India as a whole, is Mr Singh's answer. In Srinagar he offered no plan, let alone the right to self-determination. Instead, he offered a £2.7bn handout. But the elephant is still in the room.