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Kashmir remains the stumbling block in Indo-Pak Relations
By Ravi Prasad
Global Beat Syndicate
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—Diplomacy is riding piggyback on cricket in South Asia. Over the weekend Pakistani President General Parvez Musharraf flew to New Delhi to watch the final match of the India-Pakistan cricket series. While the Pakistani cricket team won the match and the trophy, General Musharraf walked away with a much bigger trophy.
After 57 years, India finally conceded that Kashmir is a dispute. That was a major achievement for General Musharraf, who, in return, acknowledged that the Kashmir issue cannot be solved overnight. Since 1947, when the two countries were created, New Delhi had maintained that there was no “Kashmir dispute” and that it was an integral part of India.
Now, India has abandoned its ostrich attitude on Kashmir, finally acknowledging that Kashmir has been a recurring bleeding wound for the Indian army, and a permanent barrier to good relations with Pakistan. India’s official concession, and Musharraf’s acknowledgement that the process will be long and difficult, prompts optimists to say the way is now open for significant progress via small, incremental steps.
Ten of thousands of people have died in the last 18 years of insurgency fighting in Indian-administered northern Jammu and Kashmir province. Kashmiri Muslims demand the right to self-determination, which New Delhi does not accept.
Throughout the conflict, India has held Pakistan responsible for the violence and insurgency, charging that most militant organizations active in Kashmir operate from Pakistan or Pakistan-occupied parts of Kashmir. Pakistan’s leaders have consistently said that Islamabad merely gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris.
During the weekend of “cricket diplomacy” talks between General Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Indian leader again expressed concern over Islamist militants operating from bases in Pakistan. Musharraf, who has survived two assassination attempts in recent times, portrayed himself as also being a victim of militancy, saying they must deal jointly with the problem.
Recognizing that Kashmir is a dispute that cannot be resolved overnight is not going to solve the problem. It involves several stakeholders—not least that group so often ignored: the Kashmiris, who have lived in the shadow of violence, and who in many cases now want independence from both sides.
Pakistan wants the Kashmiris involved in the negotiations, but a key question is whether the Kashmiris are willing to play ball with these two leaders.
Some separatist groups have accused Musharraf of softening his stand on Kashmir. Sajjad Lone, leader of the Kashmir People’s Conference, fears that the voice of Kashmiris will get lost in the excitement over this renewed bilateral engagement.
Complicating matters further are the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus who have fled the Kashmir valley. They have neither a political party nor a leader to represent them at the talks. Until now, New Delhi has only engaged Kashmiri Muslim groups in any negotiations; critics see any solution incomplete without the Hindu emigrants.
Indo-Pakistani relations are now moving into uncharted waters. The two countries, which have fought three wars over Kashmir and until recently had troops massed along the border, are now considering troop reductions, a joint business council, and looser border controls to allow more cross-border traffic. Both sides also recognize the need to demilitarize the disputed Siachin glacier, and the two leaders have agreed to let their diplomats and bureaucrats negotiate troop withdrawals.
Demilitarizing Siachin will not easy. Hawks in the Pakistani military, which has ruled Pakistan or played a central political role since 1947, do not trust India, and could stall negotiations. In fact, every previous high-level bilateral meeting has generated a lot of frenzy and media hype in both countries, but there has rarely been a concrete outcome. Even this carefully choreographed visit of Musharraf ended with lots of assurances and decisions to meet again at various levels, but with little done so far.
Is General Musharraf sincere about resolving the disputes, or is he trying to keep the eastern border of Pakistan peaceful while he battles the Islamists on his western border and the hardliners within his own country? He will need to demonstrate to skeptical Indians his commitment to peace. Many Indians also wonder aloud whether a change of regime in Pakistan will derail the peace process he has started.
Pakistani’s are equally suspicious of India, doubtful about progress, and question India’s motives. Media frenzies aside, their half century of bitter history urges caution.