Bus opens new possibilities over Kashmir

Tuesday 12 April 2005, by Imtiaz ALAM

A great beginning has been made. For the first time, a
process of reconciliation has been initiated over the
most divisive issue of Kashmir, with the reunion of
divided Kashmiri families after five long decades.

The tremendous welcome that the lucky passengers of the
Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service received on both
sides of the Line of Control (LoC) defied the
militants’ desperate reaction a day earlier. It shows
an extreme gulf between an overwhelming majority of
Kashmiris who want to give peace a chance and a
handful of isolated militants still clinging to guns
in isolation. Can the bus and gun go together? And can
a path of reconciliation process really deliver in the
end?

India and Pakistan reached an agreement to start a bus
service across the LoC due to flexibility they both
showed, especially India who agreed to accept the
local permit, instead of passport and visa, as a valid
travel document. For its part, Pakistan had to drop
its insistence on the UN papers. The agreement in fact
showed, for the first time, an outside the box
thinking that corresponds neither to India’s stated
position nor to Pakistan’s traditional stand. Minor
concessions by both, such as allowing Indians to cross
over or allowing access to Northern Areas, are of no
practical consequence. However, without prejudice to
their respective stands, the two governments made an
initial breakthrough over the deadlock on the most
important Kashmir-specific CBM. This is, of course,
not the end, but the beginning of the process.

Seeing the response of the people to the bus service,
the Indian and Pakistani leaderships have shown their
willingness to open all other routes as well. Running
a fortnightly bus across a still hazardous route will
not serve the purpose of reuniting hundreds of
thousands of Kashmiris across an otherwise inhuman
dividing line. The bus can become an easy prey to the
ambush of terrorists.

In fact, all traditional routes between the adjoining
districts should be opened for travel on foot or/and
bus leaving little room for the extremists to turn the
"bus into the coffin" of innocent Kashmiris. Free
movement of the Kashmiris across an arbitrary dividing
line will not only provide interim relief to the
divided families, but also bring them at the
centre-stage of the solution to the problem. This
cannot be possible without silencing the gun. The gun
and the bus are incompatible.

To silence the gun, it is imperative that the militant
outfits are convinced about the participation of the
Kashmiris in the negotiation process and brought into
the mainstream after granting amnesty to those who are
willing to bid farewell to arms. On the other hand,
both Pakistan and India must together take measures to
stop violence — be it by militant outfit or security
forces. For militants to take a back seat, it is
necessary that the political leadership of various
regions of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir is
brought forward and engaged in the dialogue process.
Unfortunately, the men with guns had rendered the
political leadership ineffective. Now is the time for
them to capture the centre-stage.

With more confidence building measures focusing Jammu
and Kashmir, a situation will be created to further
soften the LoC, allowing Kashmiris to interact among
themselves and weigh the different options that serve
their aspirations without offending New Delhi and
Islamabad. Such a situation will provide a unique
opportunity to India and Pakistan to take the process
of reconciliation forward. Such a process,
uninterrupted by violence, can eventually produce a
solution that is acceptable to all the three parties
to the conflict.

Immediately after the buses arrived at their
destination, Mr. Natwar Singh, External Affairs
Minister of India, showed readiness to consider all
options on Kashmir except ’redrawing the map of India’
and having a ’second partition’. Since turning the LoC
into a permanent international border is not
acceptable to Pakistan or to the Kashmiris, a middle
course can be found through an innovative approach.
There are various successful examples and proposals
that can be studied to find a solution to the Kashmir
dispute that is satisfactory for both India and
Pakistan and, above all, the people of Jammu and
Kashmir.

Indeed, what Pakistan should appreciate is that India
cannot afford nor tolerate a division of J&K on
religious lines. Given a new emphasis on the will of
the Kashmiri people in Pakistan’s new moderate
position, a solution that permanently divides the
people of the former princely state will not be
acceptable to most people in all the distinct regions
of J&K. Therefore, the efforts to find a solution
should be focused on such solutions and plans
elsewhere that have successfully tackled such
conflicts. And there is more than one example of such
options. But for that to happen, India will have to be
ready to rethink its position. It will be quite
difficult for a status quo power, but essential for
peace and friendly coexistence in the subcontinent.

There are, at least, half a dozen models that can be
examined and creatively adopted to the situation of
J&K. If the solution to the Territory of Trieste, over
which Yugoslavia and Italy shared sovereign rights,
may appear to be a ’communal division’ to Indians,
then they can consider Andorra, a principality claimed
by Spain and France, as a model. If New Delhi does not
accept that, since it may ultimately give the J&K an
almost independent status, it could consider the
solution found to the South Tryol dispute between
Italy and Austria. Now South Tryol has got highest
degree of autonomy that India can concede (since it
claims that only sky is the limit to autonomy) to its
part of semi-sovereign J&K that should, in turn, be
allowed to freely interact with the Pakistani side of
Kashmir and Northern Areas, including the formation of
joint federating councils and other administrative
institutions.

Other solutions can be partly mixed with existing
models, such as Aaland Island, a disputed territory
between Sweden and Finland, and Sami Parliamentary
Assembly, a joint platform of regional parliaments of
the Sami people spread across the northern regions of
Norway, Sweden and Finland. The Basque leader Jose
Ibarretxe’s proposal for ’shared sovereignty and free
association’ can also be suitably adopted without
formally compromising Indian and Pakistani territorial
claims over J&K. The Good Friday Agreement to resolve
the Northern Island’s status can be yet another model
to explore a solution to the dispute over Kashmir.

The real issue is that India and Pakistan must think
out of the box and adopt an innovative approach to
tackle the Kashmir problem. If that happens, not only
will a grand mass of people of India and Pakistan
benefit, but also the hapless Kashmiris. But, most
importantly, let the process continue, be patient and
let the Kashmiris create a new ground reality across a
softened LoC.

The window that the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service
has opened should be expanded to all other routes
allowing the people of adjoining districts and regions
to mix freely. They should also be allowed to have
trade and consultative bodies for the development of
their areas. Meanwhile, as the peace process further
consolidates, India and Pakistan should take more
confidence building measures to improve the security
and human rights situation in J&K and engage the
Kashmiris in the dialogue process.

There is no quick-fix solution. It can, however, be
found through the process that should tackle both
Indo-Pak bilateral issues and also find solutions to
the Kashmir dispute. If both get out of their
straitjackets of ideological bellicosity, it is not
difficult to find a solution. Let the bus go on in all
directions and stop the gun whoever is holding it
against the people of Kashmir. Let Musharraf and
Manmohan set the direction, at least, and make it
irreversible.


The writer is the Editor

Current Affairs of The News.
The news: April 11, 2005

À propos de Imtiaz ALAM

The author is the The News International’s Editor.

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