Kashmir Center-Stage
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

Pakistan's stance that Kashmir is the core issue between itself and India has been vindicated by the Indian government's finally allowing the Hurriyat leadership to travel to AJK across the LoC. The Hurriyat leadership's visit to Pakistan and meetings with Pakistani leaders and members of civil society has also bolstered Pakistan's position that the Kashmir issue has to be decided in accordance with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.
For Pakistani civil society, it is important to hear from the Hurriyat leaders themselves that the LoC is not acceptable as a permanent border. After intensive propaganda targeting Pakistani civil society and aimed at undermining Pakistan's principled position on this issue, the Hurriyat leaders' position on the LoC should be an eye-opener to the elitist, doubting Thomases within our midst, blinded by Indian atmospherics and short-term lures from our eastern neighbor.
It is equally important to listen to the Kashmiri leaders when they state that they are not weary of their struggle against the continuing presence of 700,000 Indian troops in Occupied Kashmir. This is by itself a testimony to the Kashmiris' commitment to rid themselves of Indian occupation. A Pakistani journalist, writing for foreign publications and a harsh critic of Pakistan on most issues including Kashmir, paid a visit to Srinagar last month and was visibly shaken by the troop concentration – which he had always assumed was just Pakistani propaganda. It made him realize that the struggle continues, and has a strong indigenous base.
Of course, some point out that the visit of the Hurriyat leaders has exposed the splits within the Kashmiri leadership, especially with Syed Ali Geelani and Shabbir Shah staying behind in Occupied Kashmir. Some of the Hurriyat leaders are strongly critical of Geelani and Shah, but much of this seems to be based on internal political rivalries. There are differences amongst those present here also, reflected in the separate meetings Yasin Malik had with the Pakistani leadership.
The tone and tenor of Mir Waiz and Yasin Malik should make it clear that while differences do exist between these leaders, they also realize the need to move beyond these and present a larger consensus. After all, the sacrifices made by Geelani and Shah cannot simply be written off or ignored – nor can their support within Occupied Kashmir be dismissed. Their position on the LoC is grounded in certain rational principles that also need to be respected. Also, the fact that Mir Waiz and Yasin Malik met with Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin on Sunday, 5 June, reflected the legitimacy these Hurriyat leaders accord to the freedom fighters.
In fact, in reality the major political Kashmiri leaders are Yasin Malik, Shabbir Shah, Syed Ali Geelani and Mir Waiz. Seeing Yasin Malik is like seeing the suffering and commitment of the Kashmiris to rid themselves of Indian occupation. Nor can the central place of the freedom fighters, especially the Hizbul Mujahideen be denied. Some say the Hurriyat leaders met with Syed Salahuddin to get his endorsement, or even his compromise vis-a-vis the Indian state. But the major result has been to reaffirm a linkage between the political leadership and the indigenous military struggle, which on the one hand, continues to compel the Indian state to keep its occupation forces in Kashmir and, on the other, gives a lie to any Indian assertion that the Kashmiris are prepared to live within the Indian Union.
Another interesting fact was the coincidence of Mr Advani's presence at the time of the Hurriyat visit. Advani himself seems to have adapted to realpolitik ground realities regarding the Pakistan-India relationship – much to the consternation of his rabid support base back in India. He declared that "Jammu and Kashmir is very diverse and any eventual solution to the issue will have to be acceptable to all the diverse communities in the state and all sections of opinion within Kashmir." This seems to be completely in sync with the suggestions floated for discussion by President Musharraf in October 2004, focusing on looking towards a solution of Kashmir by seeing it as seven different ethno-geographical sub-regions and then separately ascertaining the views of the people living in these regions.
Finally, what does this all boil down to? Clearly, all the proposals at the tactical level of seeking the views of the Kashmiris reflect some form of a referendum or plebiscite. Again, a vindication of Pakistan's principled stand on the issue, that some have sought to undermine as unacceptable or unreal given the prevailing ground realities. Yet, this seems to be the only possible approach towards a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue.
The visiting Hurriyat leaders don't seem to have brought any specific roadmaps but their very visit is a beginning, and it is in this context that we need to see the developments relating to Kashmir. We should not be in a hurry – which the Indians clearly are given their moves to seek permanent membership of the UNSC, which may well come to a head even as early as the end of June. So one should expect the Indians to make much of their "flexibility" on Kashmir, which allowed them to permit the Hurriyat leaders to travel to AJK and onwards. But if they are hoping that these leaders will persuade Pakistan to make hasty compromises which would undermine Pakistan's own stakes and commitment to the Kashmiri people's struggle for self-determination, then they should reconsider. In reality the Indians had to allow the Kashmiri leaders to travel to AJK and Pakistan because their earlier obduracy was becoming untenable internationally and domestically – especially in the face of the ongoing peace process and Kashmir-related CBMs.
Atmospherics aside, Pakistan has to 'make haste' slowly and carefully on Kashmir – and there is no need to reveal our minimalist positions either. The Hurriyat leaders' visit is a tactical development and needs to be seen as such. Hopefully Syed Geelani and Shabbir Shah will also visit and Pakistan should try and develop some common understanding between the main political leaders from Occupied Kashmir. Their differences do not seem to be irreconcilable, despite Indian efforts to aggravate them.
As for Pakistan, it now has to have a very clear Kashmir policy and this includes being clear on what constitutes the state of Jammu and Kashmir. So far we have chosen to be ambivalent but it is time to be more specific. Here it would be worthwhile to recall the Amritsar Treaty of 1837 whereby the British sold the State of Jammu and Kashmir, along with its people, for Rs. 7.5 million to Maharaja Ghulab Singh; or the rebellion by the Gilgit Scouts against the ruling Maharaja, after Pakistan's creation in 1947. In addition, we need to formulate a roadmap in keeping with ground realities as well as our long-term national interests. The peace roadmap is certainly irreversible; but we need to make clear that unless the Indians are prepared to move substantively on the core issue, the process can certainly be stalled. So let the Hurriyat leaders' visit be a first step -- not an end in itself.
(The writer is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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