Srinagar, March 8: A sense of foreboding seems to pervade the thinking of separatist Kashmiri leaders. They are worried about India and Pakistan settling the Kashmir issue between them as a boundary dispute. This possibility has forced them to address a question considered blasphemous up to now: Can the division of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir be accepted as a final settlement'
The Kashmiri leaders would not like to be left out of any settlement of the issue between India and Pakistan. And they would also not like the two sides to impose border demarcation as a political settlement. Yet they know that in the India and Pakistan dialogue, formally at least, they have no place at the negotiating table as an equal party.
The significance of the dialogue process even when India continues to fence the Line of Control (LoC) not only in the Jammu sector but also in the northern sector (Kargil and the adjoining hills cannot and do not need to be fenced) is not lost on them. A fenced LoC could become a de facto boundary, with little chance of large-scale uprooting of the fence.
Most Kashmiri leaders reject a solution based on a “realigned” LoC.
However, they seem willing to explore possible solutions if they are consulted. “At this stage the Kashmir leaders are not there in the negotiations. But at a future date they should be involved. Resolution is eternal and may not be possible for a long time. But we should look for a solution and we, Kashmiris, can help find that,” Sajjad Lone, the leader of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, said.
Any solution of the Kashmir problem had to be “democratic” and, therefore, “the two sides must give the Kashmiris a seat at the negotiating table”, Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front argued.
Malik has started a signature campaign demanding this and threatened to launch an intefada if the Kashmiris are left out of the negotiations.
However, Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat, the leader of the Muslim Conference, felt that the Kashmiris were already being involved by the two sides. “We are the principal party to the dispute. That is why Pakistan is talking to the Kashmiri leaders there and India is talking to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference here. In time to come, perhaps others can also join the dialogue. Later, Hurriyat leaders can go across and talk to the Kashmiri leadership there and vice versa. This would make the process productive and positive,” he said.
Some other leaders like Fazal Haq Qureshi, the chairman of the People’s Political Front, argued that because India and Pakistan were discussing Kashmir “in a sense we are already there” in the dialogue.
“Up to the time the broad contours are agreed upon and the disagreements between India and Pakistan sorted out, they will keep us in good humour but not seek our active involvement. But I am sure they will summon us later — perhaps to endorse and discuss the road map for Kashmir,” he said.
While Kashmiri leaders do not want any solution imposed on them, they hinted at showing greater flexibility and pragmatism. Thus the chief of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Molvi Abbas Ansari, while discussing measures to build confidence among the Kashmiri people, said: “Allow the Kashmiris on both sides (of the boundary/LoC) to meet. Make it easy for them to travel across for marriages, social occasions, deaths etc. If people are happy this way then they might prefer to live as they do at present.”
Qureshi was categorical in his rejection of impractical solutions. “I am not for Independent Kashmir. No doubt it is a solution but it is not practical. Within two existing sovereign countries, creating another independent country is not possible,” he said.
About a possible India-Pakistan settlement, Qureshi, however, said: “Suppose we don’t call it a division of Kashmir but a formula which is acceptable to all three — India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Then that is the solution. Calling it a division may not be a good idea in the initial stages. Let us leave the details of the final shape of the solution undefined at this stage.”
However, he immediately clarified: “A solution based on the LoC (as the international border) would mean that the sacrifices we made were useless. Justice would not have been done.”
Bhat also did not reject any solution — including a division of the former princely state between India and Pakistan.
He said: “If a division of Jammu and Kashmir is possible along ethnic, geographical lines and is acceptable to all, we have no problems.” But, he also added: “Let there be no mistake, the LoC drawn cannot be converted into an international border.”
Shabir Shah was a votary of independence and said that he still dreamed of it. “But even then we do not want to rule out any option. Whatever is agreed by the three parties is an acceptable solution. For this, Kashmiris must be involved in the dialogue,” he felt.
What then do the Kashmiri leaders really want' “They need a very long U-turn — without any bumps. They have to explain to the people why 60,000 to 70,000 youngsters died. For what' To convert the LoC into the international border' So the resolution of the issue has to be slow and gradual,” a political observer said.