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Within the ambit of humanity: on Kashmir issue

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By Radha Kumar

With tensions between India and Pakistan not easing, and the situation in Kashmir continuing to inflict terrible suffering on its people, is there an end in sight? In Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir, historian and policy analyst Radha Kumar argues that the challenge for both mainland Indians and Kashmiris is to get their conflicting internal actors on the same page. She looks forward to the day when the Central and State governments shoulder this challenge together, like they did from 2002 to 2007. An excerpt:


The largely free and fair 2002 election put in place a coalition led by a relatively new political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP announced a ‘healing touch policy’ which combined human rights, such as the release of political prisoners, with efforts to jump-start the economy through reviving tourism. It came to power in coalition with the Congress party. With the Vajpayee-led BJP at the Centre, this was the first time the two national parties cooperated on Kashmir.

And the Indian government appointed a respected former Cabinet and Home Secretary, N.N. Vohra, as interlocutor for talks with Kashmiri dissidents. The stage appeared to be set for a new peace process to begin within the troubled State, but Pakistan remained sceptical and it took close on another year to achieve a breakthrough.

In April 2003, Vajpayee called again for peace with Pakistan (his third and last try, he said), from Kashmir’s capital Srinagar. When asked by a reporter whether his call for talks with the Hurriyat, made in the same breath, would be within “the ambit of the Indian Constitution”, he famously dismissed the question, saying talks would be within the ambit of humanity (“insaniyat ke daire mein”). Five days later, he told members of the Lok Sabha, “I assured the people of Jammu and Kashmir that we wish to resolve all issues, both domestic and external, through talks. I stressed that the gun can solve no problem, brotherhood can. Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by the three principles of Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat aur Kashmiriyat (humanity, democracy and Kashmiri oneness)”.

The lyrical phrase “insaniyat ke daire mein” electrified Kashmir. It avoided the sour and contentious issue of the Constitution which had divided the Valley with electoral parties seeking autonomy within the Indian Constitution and independence groups arguing that Article 370, which bound Kashmir to the Indian union, was invalid. The divide was artificial and politically constructed; the Indian Constitution had been amended over a hundred times and any peace settlement would inevitably have required its amendment, even if it were to only change Article 370 from temporary to permanent. But the issue had caused conflict for five decades. By avoiding it, Vajpayee allowed for a sour history to be put aside. He also allowed a cover for the Hurriyat to enter talks.

Vajpayee’s offer was made possible, at least in part, by quiet feelers from Pakistan over the first three months of the year. A delegation of Pakistani MPs in March 2003 bore a message from Pervez Musharraf that his government would no longer aid cross-border infiltration, and would not attempt to prevent or impede Indian counter-insurgency efforts, including border fencing and surveillance. “The Indian Government can complete its border fencing,” the Pakistani MPs assured a small group of Indian diplomats and analysts that I was part of, at a closed-door meeting. “We will look the other way.”

In late April, following Vajpayee’s statement in Srinagar, Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali called Vajpayee to discuss reopening talks. In July, R&AW director C. D. Sahay went to Pakistan on an under-the-radar mission to discuss Musharraf’s offer of a ceasefire. In November, Pakistan announced a ceasefire on the Line of Control, which India reciprocated, following which there was a decline in cross-border movement of guerrillas.

As before, the Pakistani government was subsequently ambiguous about its pledge. The Pakistan Army did not attempt to disrupt India’s border fencing militarily, but the Pakistani government protested it at the UN and tried unsuccessfully to draw a parallel between India’s fencing and the Israeli wall that was being constructed in the West Bank.

Yet, the ceasefire held and paved the way for dramatic breakthroughs at the SAARC summit at Islamabad in early January 2004. These included a pledge by the seven member states to implement a South Asian Free Trade Agreement by January 2006, alongside a Social Charter to share expertise on development goals. All seven leaders also pledged to work together to end support for terrorist groups and/or activities.

Out of the public glare, there was considerable behind-the-scenes work to achieve the results in Islamabad. Starting in spring 2003, Brajesh Mishra, then India’s NSA and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, and Pakistan’s special secretary to the president, Tariq Aziz, opened backchannel talks. The two countries began to move simultaneously on a number of confidence-building measures. On Kashmir, Musharraf declared his willingness to “leave the UN resolutions [on a plebiscite] behind” if India agreed to talks. His formula for talks was to (a) consider the range of solutions on offer; (b) weed through the ones that were unacceptable to India or Pakistan or the Kashmiris (though who would represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir was left ambiguous); and (c) begin to work on solutions that might be acceptable.
(The Hindu)