May 18, 2004
A new government led by the Congress is expected to form the government. Congress is also a partner of the PDP-led government in Jammu and Kashmir. Nothing much has been achieved since the Islamabad summit, either between India and Pakistan or between New Delhi and Srinagar on Kashmir. What could a Congress government’s game plan be on J&K?
Going by the Simla agreement, it would appear that the Congress would be willing to convert the Line of Control into an international border. Unfortunately, for Pakistan, this is unacceptable. Such a conversion means accepting the status quo, while all its efforts in Kashmir were focused on reversing this status quo. Second, Pakistan believes that there is nothing to gain from such a compromise, as it already possesses what India might be willing to concede. Third, the Pakistani government, whether democratic or military, fears that accepting the status quo would result in a popular backlash.
Thanks to the systematic build up of hate campaign vis-à-vis India through every possible means, the public opinion in Pakistan is hardened. A majority might be willing to live in peace with India, but only after settling the Kashmir issue in their favour.
What would be acceptable to Pakistan in Kashmir? Pakistan has been hinting that it would be agreeable to three compromises. First, the alteration of the LoC in Pakistan’s favour. It believes that the Muslim majority Valley should naturally go them. Their argument is that the whole of J&K is a disputed area and by staking claim only to Kashmir, Pakistan is granting India a huge concession. If this is not acceptable to India, Pakistan would be willing for the second compromise based on dividing the Valley on what came to be known as the “Chenab” formula.
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If this second “compromise” is also not acceptable to India, Pakistan would be magnanimous enough for a third and last compromise: This compromise aims at creating an independent Kashmir. The underlying obsession among a majority in Pakistan is that if Kashmir doesn’t go with Pakistan, it should not remain with India.
It is clear, then, that there is not much bargaining space for the new government on J&K. What other options does it have? While the space between India and Pakistan is narrow, there is adequate space between New Delhi and Srinagar, which could be exploited to the mutual benefit of everyone. Given a chance, Kashmiris on both sides of the border would like to remain independent of India and Pakistan. However many in Kashmir, even inside the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), are aware that an independent Kashmir is a dream and it would never be acceptable to either India or Pakistan. Or even China. Their compromise would be based on softening the current border with maximum autonomy. Thus there exists a space, though narrow, which the Congress could pursue.
The new Congress government should follow twin strategies. First, New Delhi should work on what Kashmiris would consider as a maximum compromise: Autonomy. The new government should initiate a debate at two levels — one with the Kashmiris and the other, a national debate both inside and outside Parliament, on the quantum of autonomy to be granted.
A starting point could be made either with Article 370 or with the resolution passed by the J&K legislative assembly under Farooq Abdullah as the starting point. As a confidence building measure, India could grant some of the measures mentioned in the resolution unilaterally, which have symbolic significance. Also India could institute a joint commission to work further on these proposals and let insaniyat be the limit for these discussions. Let India also make it clear, it is not against making the LoC a soft border. Since PDP and Congress are a part of the same coalition in Kashmir, this process could yield batter results, provided New Delhi is serious.
Converging on the meeting point between New Delhi and Srinagar and utilising it would serve two purposes. It would enable New Delhi and Srinagar to come closer to a mutually acceptable compromise, while exerting adequate pressure on Pakistan, by increasing its political stakes. The second strategy for the new government would be to engage Pakistan exclusively on Kashmir. If Pakistan wants to focus mainly on Kashmir, let the Congress welcome it and constitute an exclusive joint commission, instead of harping only on the Simla agreement. Let India start with a promise that it would never disengage with Pakistan whatever be the outcome of the meetings in the short run, and also extract the same from the latter. Any progress or success on the first engagement with Kashmir would have a positive impact on the second.
Once Pakistan realises that its political stake in Kashmir is shaken, it would either step up its support to terrorist outfits or understand, finally, that it should compromise further. While India has the political and military strength to deal with the first strategy, the second would lessen the distance of the meeting point. Let us pressurise Pakistan by engaging Kashmiris politically and fighting terrorism militarily. The fact that the Congress and PDP share the same platform may help the process. The road to Islamabad lies through Srinagar and perhaps Muzaffarabad.
The writer is assistant director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi
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