Lt Gen Ashok Joshi (Retd)


President Musharraf’s proposal embracing a new approach to finding a solution to the vexatious Kashmir problem, announced by him on October 25, 2004 in the course of an Iftar Dinner attended by many notables of Pakistan, inter alia, the Prime Minister, and the media persons, seems to have made waves in Pakistan.

The essence of President Musharraf’s proposals can be easily summarized: each of the constituent regions of Jammu and Kashmir is to be identified, gradually demilitarized, and its status is to be changed in agreement with all parties concerned including people of Kashmir. Musharraf feels that experts can decide upon what that status could be. Tentatively, he has floated some options, these being independence, condominium involving joint control, or a UN mandate. The proposals are vague but reveal enough to start a public debate. Ideally, they should be matched by counter proposals.

It is best to focus upon some key words that President Musharraf has used to understand and interpret what he has proposed: ‘Region’ is the first one. He has proposed that Jammu and Kashmir should be looked upon as a conglomerate of seven regions, two of them being in Pak occupied Kashmir, and five on the Indian side of the Line of Control. As Musharraf would have it, two of these regions are contiguous across the Line of Control. He has sketched them for us as follows:

The first region under Indian control is the one that is linked to Azad Kashmir ‘because of its Muslim population and common casts (sic) of residents’. He is obviously referring to Punch and Rarouri region, although the exact boundary of this region is a matter of interpretation.

The second region under Indian control is the one that includes ‘Balti-speaking Shia Muslims and is closed (sic) to the Northern Areas’. He is obviously referring to environs of Kargil.

Jammu is the third region that has Hindu majority.’

‘The fourth region comprised (sic) Kashmir valley that is Srinagar and its surrounding areas.

‘The fifth region under Indian occupation has Budhist majority.’

Pakistan occupied Kashmir comprises two regions, namely, Azad Kashmir, and the Northern Areas.

It is obvious that the scheme that Musharraf has in mind reduces the regions in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir to five because he treats Punch and Rajouri as a natural extension of Azad Kashmir, and the Kargil as an equally natural extension of the Northern Areas. As conceived by Musharraf, the regions are—(1) Ladakh other than areas occupied by Muslims, (2) The Kashmir Valley, (3) Jammu, (4) Azad Kashmir, and (5) the Northern Areas.

Musharraf has indicated that the regions can be identified on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and geography. He has also indicated that all the three factors converge and yield the same results.

Musharraf is well aware that in so far as the Subcontinent is concerned, Islam subsumes geography and ethnicity most of the time. Language, ethnicity, sects, and sub-culture assert themselves in Muslim majority areas of the Subcontinent only in extreme conditions. Such conditions had arisen in East Pakistan in 1971. If geography and ethnicity were to be the dominant factors most of times, Punjab would have remained undivided and possibly there would have been no partition. He seems to have added ethnicity and geography as two additional factors in determining the regions of Jammu and Kashmir merely to make his proposals more palatable to the US and EU who, in current atmosphere, may be put off by the logic of partition—that the predominantly Muslim majority areas of the Subcontinent make up an independent nation state.

Perhaps there is another reason for bringing in ethnicity and geography in identifying regions as advocated by him. The logic advanced by him is intended to ‘extend’ Azad Kashmir, in all probability, up to the Chenab. This may be another way securing the Chenab waters. Similarly, the idea of extending the Northern Areas to include Kargil has strategic content. If this were to happen it would also give depth to the Vale of Kashmir, and effectively cut it off from Ladakh. It must be remembered that the Pundits have already been squeezed out of the Vale of Kashmir, and in the calculation of Pakistan, the Vale is expected to make common cause with Pakistan. Therefore it looks like a good idea to create conditions in which the Vale of Kashmir can be isolated from India while identifying regions.

The second key word is ‘demilitarization’. The meaning is clear enough that all the military and paramilitary forces should be moved out of these regions, that is, out of the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. It is interesting to note that Musharraf has not said that the regions are to be rendered free of all arms and armed men who have the capacity to coerce the population. It is well known and understood that Pakistan has pumped into Jammu and Kashmir trained and motivated personnel with arms and explosives on a scale that Pakistan would have a substantive but ‘plausibly deniable’ military presence in Jammu and Kashmir after ‘demilitarization’. It will be recalled that one of the reasons that the proposal for Plebiscite had foundered in the past was that no agreement could be reached between both the countries as to who should withdraw forces and who should fill the vacuum. Even then the stand taken by Pakistan was that they would persuade the tribesmen to withdraw but they could not guarantee. In the present situation, even if Pak were to be credited with will to do so, it does not have the capacity. Demilitarization, by itself would be a decade long exercise with the best will in the world. Pulling out of armed forces would be disastrous. UN or any other agency cannot govern in Jammu and Kashmir.   

The third key word is ‘status’, presumably that of the identified regions as political entities. Musharraf has talked about how control is to be exercised and by whom, but not at all about the nature of polity that is to emerge. This is to be determined by the experts. Will these regions become nation states, that is, building blocks of the international system? It would be appear that such an option is open in his scheme of things, but on the basis of what has been said, the regions could be states or provinces of India or Pakistan, or they could be subjected to dual control, or become UN mandates. This is as vague as it can be. What would it look like if the Vale of Kashmir were to remain under dual control and the Azad Kashmir were to declare itself to be an independent nation? Would armed forces of Pakistan and India be defending the Vale against the freedom fighters pouring in from Azad Kashmir? More Bizarre scenarios can be thought of.

One can speculate and make a good guess that, in all likelihood, all that Musharraf is saying is that he is willing to settle for parts of Jammu and Kashmir beyond the Line of Control. His demand is for (i) region up to the Chenab, (ii) for Shia areas of Ladakh, and (iii) for a controlling interest in the Vale of Kashmir through some international agency. He is also asserting that he will not settle for the Line of Control. In the eyes of his countrymen, even this revised demand is a come down, no matter how preposterous it is in Indian eyes. Musharraf has drawn fire from all political parties in opposition and he is accused of betrayal of the cause by all and sundry in Pakistan. This should alert people in India to the way the political elites in Pak and Azad Kashmir have created an atmosphere in Pakistan and in Kashmir occupied by it. Any proposal other than that of merger of the whole of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan looks and sounds like a betrayal of their cause to the people of Pakistan. Apart from finding a via media, preparation of the public opinion for a compromise has to be undertaken by the leadership in both the countries. This major exercise might have to be undertaken and spread over a decade. This will prove to be a great test of statesmanship.

In comparison with Pakistan, the reaction in India has been mild not because the issue does not give rise to emotions but because India chose formally to concentrate on form rather than substance.

India side-stepped the issue by saying that these proposals should not have been publicized, and ‘thrown’ to the media, so to say, and Pakistan ought to have made them during one of the many bilateral meetings that are already scheduled.

That argument is beside the point and skirts the main issue. In point of fact, whatever the motive President Musharraf has in taking recourse to media, India could have pointed out flaws in the proposal. Excessive secrecy surrounding the positions taken by either country during negotiating on J & K has not been of any great help in the past. What happened during talks that the late Bhutto had with the late Swarn Singh remains largely buried in files; so also, the unsuccessful parleys on Siachin. Considering that the preparation of public opinion for the acceptance of an unavoidable compromise, irrespective of its content, is a common concern of all the disputants, one would have thought that President’s public pronouncement was a rather positive aspect of the whole matter. It is the debate in media that will prepare public opinion and decision making in public glare is one of the less agreeable aspects of our times, but it cannot be avoided. In any case, secret parleys can always supplement what is publicly voiced.

President Musharraf has made it clear once again that the existing de-facto division of Jammu and Kashmir is unacceptable to Pakistan. He is quite certain in his mind, and so are many opinion and decision makers in Pakistan, that India had never asked for more even during the Simla Talks, in the wake of 1971 when India was in a position to force its way, and in changed circumstances since then, India would cede more. It would appear that Musharraf has possibly indicated what Pak is reconciled to retreating   from its maximal position of claiming the whole of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of a state-wide plebiscite as originally conceived.