Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf proposed a “four point solution” to resolve the Kashmir dispute that includes Indian troop withdrawal, self-governance for Kashmiris, joint supervision by the three sides, and maintaining current borders in exchange for giving up claim to Kashmir. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh politely said that while borders cannot be redrawn, borders can be made irrelevant. Some see Musharraf’s proposal as a radical step forward but most Pakistani observers dismissed it as rehashed proposals in a new package.
Pakistan has consistently wanted Indian troop withdrawal from Kashmir. Reduced Indian defense forces would enable its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to induct more terrorists into the disputed region, redeploy its own offensive forces against Baloach rebels, and to gain tactical advantage. It has also raised this issue in various forums and multiple ways. For instance, it would argue that India has deployed 1 million troops in Kashmir in human rights forums. It would argue the increased Indian troops in Jammu & Kashmir stops progress of peace process with third nations and multi-lateral forums. Islamabad will blame the large presence of “Hindu” troops in Muslim Kashmir in Islamic forums like Organization of Islamic Countries as proof of Muslim repression in India. Therefore, this demand is nothing new. India has consistently denied this demand citing terrorism, law and order, and Pakistani buildup across the border to maintain high troop levels.
Musharraf’s proposal for self-governance is also well known. Starting from the UN resolutions of 1948, the objective was to give the people of Jammu and Kashmir the right to govern themselves and that is why there are special provisions within the Indian Constitution to grant them such special status. However, the creators of these special provisions thought of them as temporary arrangements pending resolution of the dispute with Pakistan. With that dispute not being settled due to deliberate transgression of international agreements by Pakistan, those arrangements became permanent. Moreover, successive elections have seen large turnout of electorate even in the most dangerous neighborhoods in inclement weather and often directly defying terrorist diktats against participation in elections to elect their own representatives to power. Under the special provisions for the state within the Indian Union, only the natives of the state are allowed to compete in elections, own property, or start businesses in that state. Therefore, in essence, there is already self-governance practiced in the state. It may be hard for someone like Musharraf to understand these nuances because he does not really believe in democracy and every poll he has organized so far has been rigged, loaded to his benefit, and negates freedom to dissenters. This is more so for the people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and so-called Northern Areas (NA) where there is not even a pretense of democracy or federalism.
The proposal for joint supervision by three sides is a convenient mechanism adopted by Pakistan for its own benefit. When it feels it has tactical disadvantage or less sure of itself, Pakistan wants Kashmiris to be involved in negotiations, administration, and governance. When it feels it has confident, it brings up the two-nation theory which essentially means that Muslim majority areas need to be part of Pakistan and that would include Jammu & Kashmir. By proposing something that sounds moderate and peaceful but practically impossible to conceive or implement, Pakistan projects itself as a moderate Islamic nation seeking to make peace with a bigger neighbor but the truth is very different from this feel-good proposal. Pakistan is unable to hold on to territory that is supposed to be within its control including the tribal areas of the west, Baloachistan, and Sindh. It is unable to handle economic, social, and humanitarian needs of many provinces. Where is going to be able to handle yet another area infested with terrorists that it had created itself? Besides, with a complete lack of trust between the two nations, where the scope for India to allow joint supervision? Moreover, how different is this proposal from the UN resolution of 1948 which Pakistan agreed to give up when it signed the Simla Agreement of 1972?
By saying that it wants to retain current borders, Pakistan displays that its true intentions is to gain strategic geography. Islamabad has already illegally ceded a part of the Hunza-Gilgit called Raskam and the Shaksgam Valley of Baltistan region to China and Beijing continues to occupy Aksai Chin since 1962. India too had passed a unanimous resolution in the Parliament that Kashmir “was, is, and forever will be and integral part of China.” Hence, even if Musharraf wants to redraw the border, it is virtually impossible to do it. Besides, this is what Islamabad promised while signing the Simla Agreement of 1972 and therefore, there is nothing new in this idea and only part of its international obligations.
The interesting part of his proposal is his disclosure to give up claim to J&K that has to be read along with the Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s conversations with Pakistani journalists. First Musharraf says that both nations are at the “same position as we were since 1948.” Later, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson claiming that “Pakistan does not claim Kashmir” and that it only wants to fulfill “the aspirations of the Kashmiris” in line with the “the UNSC resolutions” are essentially attempting to renege the Simla Agreement of 1972. By saying that Pakistan “hoped” that the Kashmiris would choose to joint it in a following plebiscite, it is clear that Pakistan wants to go back to the 1948 position relying on UN resolutions to resolve the dispute. This again is not a new shift. When confident, Pakistan talks about settlement of Kashmir with integration with itself but when not confident, Islamabad often falls back to the UN resolutions because that is their strength and the Simla Agreement was signed from a position of great weakness.
The important question that policy-makers in India need to ask is why Musharraf chose to disclose the same old formulas when the nations are just about getting ready to talk to each other. The answer is that Musharraf is a man under siege and disliked by most. His non-existent economic plan, crumbling infrastructure, loss of control over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the West, civil war situation in Baloachistan, sectarian violence in Sindh, allegations of supporting terrorism from Afghanistan and India, demands to do more on terror from the West, fragmented political system with growing popularity of rabid right-wingers, and serious doubts on his credibility to drive consensus have essentially trapped Musharraf. From such a position of weakness pushing him by forces beyond his control, Musharraf is relying on time-tested mechanisms that unify Pakistanis and rally them against India. By showing that he cared only for the Kashmiris and demonstrating interest to revitalize the UN resolutions as means for conflict resolution, Musharraf is playing to domestic audience and attempting to gain the high ground in domestic politics.
India has been guarded in its response and rightly so. Contrary to what some over-the-board optimists say that these proposals are closest to Indian positions, these proposals will see gains only for Pakistan. Where is the question of India reducing its defense deployment when infiltration continues unabated, terrorist camps continue to exist in PoK, and terror strikes affect soft targets all over the nation? When the J&K Governor S.K. Sinha diplomatically says that the “The differences with Pakistan on Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir are narrowing,” what he really means is that the wide chasms that kept the two nations battle ready are narrowing but that does not mean that they are narrow enough to make such a leap of faith. However, Sinha goes further talking about a European Union sort of arrangement that could provide “a win-win situation for everyone -- India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir.” But then to get to that point, there needs to be synergy in politics, economy, philosophy, administration, and security. India and Pakistan different drastically on all these scores and it is for Pakistan to change to better their record on all these parameters. Until such time there is a forward movement from Pakistan driven towards peaceful co-development, talk of a common market or political space is meaningless.
Policy makers have to be careful not be dragged into this quagmire. On the one hand, it should remain engaged and built relationships that will outlive Musharraf. Hence, people to people contact, joint seminars, institutional ties, etc must be encouraged but getting down to a questionable deal from a President who lacks credibility at home and abroad is dangerous. Even of the two nations should sign such a deal, it would be vastly repudiated by right-wing forces with Pakistan and hard-line forces in Kashmir. Therefore, the right step forward is to stay engaged, focus on the joint mechanism to fight terrorism, build people to people contacts, and build trust. The road to peace between the two nations is long and unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.