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Musharraf gives India a Kashmir hope

By Sushant Sareen
January 24, 2006 17:51 IST
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India's Kashmir policy -- if at all there is such a thing -- is bizarre.

To the rest of the world, New Delhi never fails to point at the existence of an elected government, but the same government is ignored when it comes to making critical decisions about the state.

India flaunts the elected legislators as representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but ignores these very legislators when it comes to discussing political initiatives in the state.

India knows that the separatist and secessionist elements are opposed to India but it cannot seem to find a political solution in the state that isolates these elements and sends them to their rightful place -- the dustbin of history.

India knows the separatists have no control over the jihadi terrorists, but continues to engage these people in the fond belief that maybe, just maybe, they can play a role in stopping violence in the state.

India professes that it does not want to compromise on either territory or sovereignty and yet it engages Pakistan in a dialogue that will ultimately involve a compromise of either territory or sovereignty or both.

India proclaims Kashmir to be an internal issue and yet it has no hesitation in talking to Pakistan about ways and means to satisfy Kashmiri aspirations, something that emboldens Pakistan to make suggestions like demilitarisation and self-governance, which, in turn, is tantamount to interference in India's internal affairs.

Even stranger is the Indian approach to solving the Kashmir issue.

Ideally, India would like that the political question in Kashmir be solved without involving Pakistan. But this approach has two in-built contradictions.

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One, while this would settle the issue within India, it will mean that relations with Pakistan (which stakes a claim to Kashmir) will remain strained and normalisation of relations will remain a pipedream.

A related contradiction is that India seems to have reached the conclusion that there can be no long-lasting solution to Kashmir without involving Pakistan. But India wants to involve Pakistan without wanting to concede anything to it.

Somewhere in the Indian thinking, the calculation is that the engagement with Pakistan is sufficiently deep and broad-based to make the Kashmir problem recede into the background and cease to be an issue, if not for the Pakistanis then at least for the Kashmiris.

As far as India is concerned, if the Kashmiris on the Indian side reconcile to their future in India, the war over Kashmir would have been won.

Bilateralism: Pakistan's sleight of hand

Notwithstanding the obvious contradictions in the Indian approach, the real problem with India lies in the belief that given New Delhi's capacity to hold on to Kashmir, it will ultimately tire the opposition and force it to sue for peace on India's terms.

In other words, India believes that a policy of masterly inactivity in Kashmir will ultimately lead to a sort of pre-insurgency situation in Kashmir.

This is something that India can live with till eternity, especially since it obviates the need to settle the Kashmir question with Pakistan, something that is beyond India's political and military capacity to achieve.

While there is a lot to be said in favour of this strategy, only the purblind will believe that things will improve in Kashmir the way India wants without any major political initiative in the state to end the alienation of the disaffected people there.

Ironically, General Pervez Musharraf's proposal on self-governance has given India the opening it needed to undertake a major political initiative inside the state. Indeed, the self-governance proposal is one that could allow India to reconcile all the contradictions in its current policy and settle the political question in Kashmir on India's terms.

If India is really serious about making a political breakthrough in Kashmir without involving any third party  -- read Pakistan -- and at the same time isolate the separatists, then it must reopen a debate on internal autonomy in J&K based on the autonomy resolution of the J&K assembly.

This debate will give a voice to the elected representatives of the state and involve them in a political process that will only enhance their credibility among the people of the state.

What is more, a debate, discussion and negotiations on the autonomy report will have a massive impact on the political climate in the state and will send a strong signal to the people of the state that their genuine aspirations are being addressed seriously.

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This will create stakeholders in the political process in the state, something that will only be to India's benefit.

There are of course many in New Delhi who fear the repercussions of any such debate on India's federal structure. But such misgivings and apprehensions are somewhat misplaced.

The situation in J&K is unique and cannot be equated with any other state. Most Indian states are today more interested in attracting investments for faster development rather than in greater autonomy. There are issues of sharing finances with the Centre, but these do not necessarily dovetail with any discussion on autonomy for J&K.

Ever since the end of single-party brute majority at the Centre, most Indian states have been able to breathe easier. Moreover, since the beginning of economic liberalisation, many of the earlier restrictions on states have been lifted, something that has addressed major concerns of most states.

As a result, there are hardly any voices calling for greater autonomy for the rest of the Indian states.

In any case, negotiations over the autonomy proposals do not necessarily mean signing on the dotted line of the autonomy report of the J&K assembly.

Each and every proposal will have to be discussed and compromises will have to be reached over the more contentious issues. This in itself is a process that will take years.

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What is important is not what is finally conceded; rather it is the process of negotiations and the political impact that these have on the political climate in the state.

Therefore, instead of bothering about implications on India's federal structure, what the Indian establishment needs to consider is the benefits of trying to address the political question in Kashmir within India.

If anything, there are more misgivings among the Indian public opinion on discussing Kashmir with Pakistan than there would be if the government were to discuss Kashmir with Kashmiris.

The people of India will be more willing to accept internal autonomy in Kashmir, even if grudgingly, if the only other choice is to share sovereignty or barter territory to Pakistan.

The question now is whether the Indian government is capable of thinking out of the box, a phrase that the current dispensation never tires of parroting.

Lone suggests 'real' solution to Kashmir problem

Musharraf probably floated his self-governance proposal as part of a Pakistani strategy of salami-slicing in Kashmir -- go in for interim and incremental solutions that keep changing the status quo until a point is reached where India will have no feet to stand on in Kashmir.

Alternatively, Musharraf's proposal could be a genuine attempt at finding some middle ground in Kashmir that satisfies India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris.

Whatever the case, he has perhaps inadvertently resurrected the old Indian proposal of 'azadi (freedom) within India'.

The parameters of this 'azadi' need to be discussed under the broad rubric of the J&K assembly's autonomy report.

And perhaps it will be in the fitness of things if a Congress chief minister of the state raises this issue and appoints his alliance partner, Mufti Sayeed, as chief negotiator for J&K.

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