Irish lessons for Kashmir

Published : Apr 11, 2003 00:00 IST

NO Irishman should read Irish history, an old saw went, but every Englishman should. So, one might add, should Indians and Pakistanis. Steeped in Irish history, B.R. Ambedkar drew on it extensively in his classic Pakistan or the Partition of India (1946). Had its lessons been heeded, the Partition of India might have been averted. If heeded now, it can help all the parties to the Kashmir dispute - India, Pakistan and the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, in all its regions and communities - to veer away from the strife that has consumed them since the subcontinent became independent.

Irish history is instructive alike on the process for peace as well as on the shape of the product it can yield; provided that Henry Kissinger's warning is kept in mind: History teaches by analogy, not identity. No two cases are identical. After the Good Friday agreement, concluded in Belfast on April 10, 1998, between all the parties - the governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland and most of the parties in Northern Ireland - many thought that at long last peace had broken out. But on March 3 and 4, 2003, the Prime Ministers of the two countries, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, met in Belfast to try to put the accord back on the rails in order to pave the way for Assembly elections on May 29. The talks failed, mainly on the issue of decommissioning of arms by the Sinn Fein.

When the 1998 agreement was concluded, "a senior Indian official" based in London said on April 12 that the principles underlying it "will now have a strong bearing on all international disputes". He remarked: "Other people are getting up and doing what we at present find unthinkable." The former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who had involved himself in both the problems, told an Indian audience on March 2, 2003: "Kashmir can be resolved along the lines the problem in Northern Ireland was sorted."

OF Northern Ireland's population of 1.6 million, just over 50 per cent are Protestants who wish to remain part of the United Kingdom and just under 50 per cent are Roman Catholics who wish to join the predominantly Catholic 3.5 million in the Republic of Ireland. After the Easter rising of 1916, Irish nationalists decided to set up their own state. By the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, Britain recognised it and Parliament enacted the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922. The Northern Ulster province, however, remained part of Britain under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. This partition of Ireland led to a civil war. From 1920, Northern Ireland had its own regional government and also elected Members of Parliament to the British House of Commons.

Grave unrest began in Northern Ireland from 1969 in the wake of a civil rights movement, which campaigned for the removal of grievances of the Catholic minority. It was a procession which triggered the violence that has torn the province apart. In 1973 Britain abolished the regional Parliament in Belfast and began to rule directly from Westminster.

Two significant political developments bear notice. In 1969-70, hardliners split from the Irish Republican Army to form groups bearing the same name with the prefix "Provisional". It has since been dropped. The Sinn Fein is the political arm of the IRA and is led by Gerry Adams. There is the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which was formed in 1973. Its leader is the highly respected John Hume.

At the other end of the spectrum were "loyalist" paramilitary organisations - the Ulster Volunteer Force (1966), first set up in 1912 by the legendary Edward Carson to resist Home Rule for Ireland; the Ulster Freedom Fighters; the Ulster Defence Association, and sundry other groups. The two mainly Protestant political parties are the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) led by David Trimble and the rabid Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which rejected the 1998 accord. The Sinn Fein accepted the accord.

The first three books provide an excellent guide to Irish history and politics. Marc Mulholland briefly recalls history since 1607 when English and Scottish settlers arrived in Ulster, one of the four provinces of Ireland. It had nine counties of which six comprise Northern Ireland. The other three, predominantly Catholic, became part of Ireland on its partition in 1920. "The tenacity of its communal divide" persists, still. His narrative ends in November 2000, missing not a nuance of significance.

`Endgame in England' was an acclaimed television series. The producers, Norma Percy and her team which included Brian Lapping, consulted Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick, and interviewed all who mattered - Clinton, Tony Blair, John Major, Irish Prime Ministers Garret Fitzgerald, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern, and politicians in Northern Ireland. Over 70 key players in all. They uncovered a secret "back-channel" between Major and the IRA. Only a fraction of the massive quantity of material was used for the film. The entire lot is used for the book. Its authors acknowledge their debt to David McVea, author and researcher, and refer to the fuller work by him and McKittrick, also under review.

Majid Siraj's book is mentioned only because it reveals that the Irish precedent is present to some Kashmiri minds. It is pretentious; the logic is weird. It is not worth even a quarter of its exorbitant price.

To compare the two situations, first "as the years of violence dragged on there was a steady convergence of London and Dublin opinions, and of interests", McKittrick and McVea point out, despite disagreement on objectives and policies. Both governments loathed violence, recognised that a dispute existed and sought an accord. Their Prime Ministers became friends. In Kashmir, however, Pakistan launched a war in 1965 and a covert operation in 1989 while India refuses to recognise what is obvious to the whole world - the existence of an international dispute on Kashmir and consequently, the need to negotiate. All United Nations maps mention: "The final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been determined." Yet, even "liberals" spout shibboleths of the kind never heard on territorial disputes in any other part of the world - "Kashmir is only a symptom, not the main cause of Indo-Pak confrontation. Even if Pakistan is given Kashmir on a platter, its hostility will not abate. So, promote trade, cultural exchanges and CBMs etc." Everything save the main cause of discord, which remains frozen. India's intransigence and evasion drove Pakistan to violence repeatedly.

BUT, in all these years one basic feature has been common to both Northern Ireland and Kashmir. As Prof. Richard Rose wrote: "Northern Ireland is an insubordinate part of the United Kingdom - governed without consensus when it is governed at all. That is the Northern Ireland problem." That is also the heart of the Kashmir problem. Prof. Hiren Mukerjee, a highly respected leader of the Communist Party of India, said on February 25, 1994: "Even today, perhaps the best of us do not quite realise the depth of Kashmiri alienation and are unready to ponder ways and means of overcoming it."

Rigged polls were a consistent feature in both places, though the techniques differed. "Gerrymandering ensured that the symbolic unionist integrity of the six counties was maintained. In British eyes at least, a nominal unionist majority in Northern Ireland would be much discounted if Derry City, Fermanagh, and Tyrone fell into nationalist hands." In 1971, Indira Gandhi externed Sheikh Abdullah and Mirza Afzal Beg lest they should contest the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. She feared a pro-independence vote by the Assembly. They were allowed to contest the polls only after the 1975 accord was imposed on them. Mulholland cities figures in support of his charge of gerrymandering.

Affinities should not obscure dissimilarities. A statement by Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on November 9, 1990 greatly impressed the IRA: "The British government has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland, our role is to help, enable and encourage. Britain's purpose... is not to occupy, oppress or exploit, but to ensure democratic debate and free democratic choice." Its main concern was to fulfil its pledge to Northern Ireland's Protestants that they would not be forced into a union with Catholic Ireland. In total contrast, India has legitimate strategic, political, and moral interests in Kashmir. Realistically, secession must be ruled out. Equally realistically, neither India's pledges to the people of Kashmir, to the international community and to Pakistan - to abide by the people's wishes - nor the abiding alienation of the people can be ignored. The challenge to statesmanship lies in reckoning with all three factors - the solemn pledge to all; deep popularisation; and the stark realities, which preclude secession.

It was failure to reckon with the realities of dissent and alienation which led to the partition of Ireland. Neither the Protestants nor the Catholics wanted partition. As Irish nationalists began demanding Home Rule from Britain in the 19th century, the unionists in Ulster took alarm. "The Liberal-Irish nationalist strategy was to force an unequivocal all-Ireland Home Rule Act on Ulster Unionism... Had the Liberals included cast-iron concessions in the original Home Rule bill, it is possible that Ulster Unionist opposition might have been divided, if not internally at least from broad swathes, of sympathetic opinion in Great Britain." (emphasis added, throughout) Had the Congress truly accepted the Cabinet Mission's Plan, India would not have been partitioned. Ulster's first Prime Minister James Craig said: "Ulster might be wooed by sympathetic understanding - she can never be coerced." But such was "southern nationalism's exhaustion with compromise" that it did not care to woo the north.

Ireland did not accept partition. Its Constitution adopted in 1937 said: "The national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial sea" (Article 2). It added (Article 3): "Pending the reintegration of the national territory, and without prejudice to the right of the Parliament and government established by this Constitution to exercise jurisdiction over the whole of that territory, the laws enacted by that Parliament shall have the like area and extent of application... ." Articles 2 and 3 were deleted 60 years later, pursuant to the 1998 accord.

TROUBLE erupted in Northern Ireland in all its fury in 1969 thanks to decades of persisting discrimination against Catholics over jobs, housing, education, almost in every walk of life. As in such situations, the discrimination was not admitted. "In the unionist mind, Catholics had to be prevented from insinuating themselves into the apparatus of the state. Their loyalty would never be anything more than conditional, temporary, and probably insincere. Over one-third of the population was to be regarded as a permanent threat." To this day, the Kashmiri is not trusted even in appointments to Central services in his own State. "Unionist leaders were complicit in rousing sectarian passions by their pointed demonisation of the nationalist and Catholic aspirations." It was precisely such "demonisation" of Sheikh Abdullah by Indian politicians and the media that led to his dismissal from office as Kashmir's Prime Minister and to his imprisonment for 11 years. It fuelled alienation.

Militancy sustains itself on alienation as well as illusion. "The fantasy of militarism itself being sufficient to weary Britain of its commitment to Ulster's unionists" had its counterpart in the fantasy of some militants in 1989 that New Delhi could be made to quit Kashmir.

In both cases, militancy spawned repressive laws, torture, terrorism - the militants' and also the state's - and the state's recourse to informers and to dirty tricks. "The use of undercover operatives, in a shady semi-legal world, gave rise to a stream of lurid `dirty war' allegations. British state involvement was alleged in two car bombs that exploded in Dublin on December 1, 1972, killing two civilians, as the Dublin Parliament was deliberating on anti-terrorist legislation... loyalist paramilitaries exploded car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan, killing 33 civilians. The Irish police seeming to catch wind of the involvement of perhaps rogue elements of British security, quickly wound up the inconclusive investigation."

Irish militants were much more sophisticated and far better armed than militants in Kashmir, Punjab or northeastern India. Nonetheless, preventive detention (internment) was used only briefly from August 9, 1971 to December 5, 1975. There was a host of judicial inquiries into the safeguards in special laws. In 1974 the Gardiner Committee was asked to consider, in the context of civil liberties and human rights measures to deal with terrorism." In 1983 Lord Jellicoe "found that some of those powers most likely to infringe civil liberties are also the least valuable and the least used".

Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch were granted easy access to Northern Ireland. They were never allowed in Kashmir; nor were the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and the U.N. Working Group on Disappearances. Even Myanmar allowed a visit by AI from January 30 to February 8, 2003. Irish militants were hugely funded by Irish Americans. In the early days of militancy, Prof. Richard Rose records, "Officials of the Dublin government began assisting Northern Catholic groups to gain arms training in the south and to buy arms... with government funds. Two members of the Cabinet of Jack Lynch were forced to resign and were indicted for participating in arms deals, along with military intelligence officers. The individuals charged were tried and acquitted in 1970. The evidence made clear that the Dublin government had given military aid to Northern Catholics but left unclear which individuals had been responsible for such action." The help ceased altogether. Indeed, Dublin clamped down on the IRA firmly.

Libya gave the IRA formidable weapons such as Semtex, the plastic explosive, heavy machine-guns, firing armour-piercing rounds, which could pierce protected police vehicles, "Sam-7 missiles and anti-aircraft guns capable of downing helicopters and planes, even flame-throwers". The IRA stepped up its violence in Northern Ireland and England itself. Yet, secret parleys continued with this deadly group.

Intelligence agencies were used, as in Kashmir, to conduct a dialogue with militants. In 1976, for instance, a "truce had been secretly negotiated by the MI6" while "early in 1985 the two governments entered into secret negotiations." As in New Delhi, there were repeated claims in London that "victory was around the corner" - as if a military solution can remove popular alienation.

But in contrast to New Delhi, there was in London the will to settle. Endgame in Ireland traces the negotiations from 1984 to 1998 and reveals the play of the back channel. British policy was based on a national consensus. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives exploited the issue for partisan gains. When in power, each forged rapport with its Dublin counterpart. Behind the 1998 accord lay several such accords spread over 25 years. An agreed communique was issued at Sunningdale on December 9, 1973 after four days of discussions between the two Prime Ministers and the political parties of Northern Ireland. In November the ruling UUP, the moderate Irish nationals led by John Hume of the SDLP and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI) had already agreed to form a power-sharing executive. There was to be a Council of Ireland on which both Irish governments were to be represented equally with "executive and harmonising" functions in specific areas and a Consultative Assembly of 30 members from the Irish Parliament (Dail) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The new coalition took office but unionist rejection of the Council eventually wrecked the accord. Their slogan was: "Dublin is only a Sunningdale away". The accord recorded acceptance of the basic principle that the people's will was decisive. "The Irish government fully accepted and solemnly declared that there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland desired a change in that status. The British government solemnly declared that it was, and would remain, their policy to support the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. The present status of Northern Ireland is that it is part of the United Kingdom. If in the future the majority of the people of Northern Ireland should indicate a wish to become part of a United Ireland, the British government would support that wish." On this fundamental rests the 1998 accord.

On November 6, 1981, the U.K. and Ireland set up an Inter-governmental Council. An agreement signed by Margaret Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald at Hillsborough on November 15, 1985 took this process further. It set up "within the framework of that Council", an Inter-governmental Conference concerned with Northern Ireland and with relations between the two parts of the "Island of Ireland" to deal on "a regular basis" with political, security and legal matters and to foster `cross-border cooperation'. U.K.'s sovereignty was not affected by recognition of Dublin's locus standi to" put forward views and proposals on matters relating" to Northern Ireland.

In this formal Agreement registered with the U.N., the parties recognised the need "for the accommodation of the rights and identities of the two traditions which exist" in Northern Ireland and, implicitly, for power-sharing between the communities. Recognition of Ireland's unity went hand-in-hand with acceptance of its participation which, in turn, hinged on power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Much earlier a "Three Strands" formula had emerged - Anglo-Irish relations, intra-Irish relations and the internal set up in Northern Ireland. This is an apt model to emulate: Indo-Pakistan cooperation, Srinagar-Muzaffarabad relations, and a mutually guaranteed democratic set up in Kashmir as well as in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

On July 6, 1992, for the first time since 1920, the two governments and the major political parties met to discuss the political future of Northern Ireland. There was no objection to "tripartite" parleys. In a Joint Declaration on December 15, 1993, Prime Ministers John Major and Albert Reynolds reiterated the principle of popular consent on Ireland's unification. They adopted "A New Framework for Agreement" on February 22, 1995, which defined the Three Strands in detail. The U.K. published its own framework for Northern Ireland. Later, on November 28, 1995, the Prime Ministers launched a `twin-track' process.

One track was "to invite the parties to intensive preparatory talks with a remit to reach widespread agreement on the basis, participation, structure, format and agenda to bring all parties together for substantive negotiations aimed at a political settlement based on consent". The other concerned the decommissioning of arms. The two governments established an International Body to provide an independent assessment of the decommissioning issue to see all arms removed from Irish politics. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell headed this body. Its other members were General John De Chastelain of Canada and Harri Holkeri of Finland. Their report of January 22, 1996, propounded six principles based on the reality that no insurgent outfit will surrender arms before a final political accord. It recommended, in effect, decommissioning in parallel with talks. This was accepted by almost all.

The Accord of 1998 rests on the fundamentals agreed earlier in the Three Strands. Ireland gave up its claims to Ulster and agreed to delete Articles 2 and 3 of its Constitution. Decommissioning of arms was agreed. A North-South Ministerial Council as also a British-Irish Council were set up besides the British-Irish Inter-governmental Conference. Power-sharing arrangements rule out majoritarian rule in Northern Ireland. Key decisions will be taken "on a cross-community basis".

The process that yielded this product was complex and chequered. John Hume forged an understanding with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. He drafted, on October 6, 1991, a draft joint declaration for use by the Prime Ministers. Both snubbed him. Hume is said to be the author of the Three Strands formula and is universally respected. Untouchability was banished especially after the July 1992 Conference. In September a UUP delegation went to Dublin to discuss inter-Irish relations (Strand II). John Hume briefed the Irish Prime Minister on the agreement he had reached with Gerry Adams. The two Prime Ministers insisted that they themselves were the principal interlocutors. Adams himself preferred direct talks with London.

The Irish peace process has lessons of enduring relevance on two crucial issues. One is the linkage between a ceasefire and negotiations. The other is elections as a step towards negotiations. There are gross misconceptions on both; and not among Indians alone. No militant group has ever agreed to a ceasefire unless it is linked firmly to serious talks. No government will agree to talk except after a ceasefire. A via media has emerged internationally. Through mediators or domestic intelligence agencies, militants are contacted and promised talks in earnest. They declare a ceasefire. The talks follow. Witness: the Sri Lanka model. Both sides must recognise, in Adams' words: "There was no military solution; there had to be a political solution as this was not a military problem, it was a political problem."

Adams supported the IRA's brutal recourse to violence as "necessary and morally correct". He was secretly a member of its Army Council. Finton O'Toole of the Irish Times holds that his ambiguity itself "was one of the great assets of the peace process". He persuaded the IRA to decline a ceasefire; but is unable or unwilling - or both - to make it abide by the 1998 accord. If it persists the accord will collapse. Using its cover, the IRA operated a spy ring in Belfast. Hence the withdrawal of devolution of power to Northern Ireland last October.

John Major once said that talking to the IRA would "turn my stomach. We will not do it." Only a month later, on November 28, 1993, Eamonn Mallie disclosed in The Observer that London had been in secret contact with the IRA. The next day the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Patrick Mayhew, confirmed that and placed in the Library of the House of Commons the texts of the messages exchanged from February to November 1983. They are most instructive.

The IRA's first and oral message of February 22 candidly said: "The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close. We wish to have an unannounced ceasefire in order to hold dialogue leading to peace. We cannot announce such a move as it will lead to confusion for the volunteers because the press will misrepresent it as surrender." It offered "renunciation of violence privately as long as we were sure that we were not being tricked."

The British government did not mount a high horse. It reciprocated its spirit: "We wish to take it seriously." The IRA nominated two delegates for talks and demanded precise details of the agenda. London insisted on a ceasefire and "an inclusive political process". Finally, on November 2 the IRA angrily asked: "In plain language please tell us through the link as a matter of urgency when you will open dialogue in the event of a total end to the hostilities." The identity of the link is revealed in Endgame: Denis Bradley, a one-time priest, Father Alex Reid from a monastery, and MI5 agent "Fred"; unidentified still. London spelt out the sequence in a "Procedural Annex" - IRA's private assurances; U.K.'s announcement of talks, IRA's public confirmation. As it happened, the IRA declared a ceasefire on August 31, 1984; but called it off on February 9, 1996, "as a year and a half had gone by without political negotiations".

CONTRAST this with the ineptitude of the BJP government in responding to the Hizbul Mujahideen's public declaration of ceasefire on July 24, 2000. The Hizb expected political talks in response. Home Ministry officials presented surrender terms at the very first meeting in Srinagar on August 3. The Hizb would be given protection as renegade militants. The Hizb wanted an assurance that Pakistan would be included in the talks. This was brusquely rejected.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's ceasefire on November 19, 2000 collapsed for the same reason. He had nothing at all to offer to his ally Farooq Abdullah, let alone the militants. Agra (July 2001) showed he had nothing to offer to Pakistan, either. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani made that even more explicit on March 16. He still harps on redressing the "legitimate grievances" and on "devolution of power" to Jammu and Kashmir; not even autonomy. The people on the other hand want a decision on the future of Jammu and Kashmir through an agreement between all the parties, including Pakistan, which assures them of real peace. This is something alien to the BJP government's thinking.

Its offer of fair elections in Kashmir was not intended as a step towards a final settlement since, in its view, there was nothing to settle. It was indeed intended to legitimise and freeze the status quo. The polls were not to promote a peace process but to abort it. The Election Commission held a free poll in 2002. Polls were rigged in the past to conceal popular alienation. The relatively free poll exposed it.

Full texts of three Reports - by the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi entitled "Fair Elections: Under the Shadow of Fear" by the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehra Dun, entitled "Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Elections: 2002. How free and fair..."; and by the Coalition of Civil Society, Srinagar, and Civil Society Initiatives, New Delhi entitled "Independent Election Observers Team Report" - fully expose the falsity of official claims. Popular indifference to the polls was as palpable as the use of duress in many parts. (vide the writer's article `A fractured Verdict', Frontline, November 8, 2002).

Elections were peripheral to the Irish peace process. Throughout the 1970s, the Sinn Fein refused to contest elections except occasionally at the local level. Since 1981 it fought all the elections in Northern Ireland, including the U.K. general elections, but maintained an abstentionist policy with regard to the seats it won, unlike the SDLP which it sought to supplant as the representative. Its strategy was "a ballot box in one hand and the Armalite (rifle) in the other".

When elections were mooted in 1996 as part of the peace process it cried foul. But the 1996 polls were held not to elect a legislature but a platform for negotiations - the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. After the ceasefire, Dublin had set up in October 1994 this Forum in which the Sinn Fein could meet constitutional nationalists. A year later, on November 28, 1995, the U.K. and Ireland launched the "twin track" process. Elections were not an integral part of the exercise; for among the matters to be resolved was "whether and how an elected body could play a part". The Northern Ireland Assembly did not figure at all. The Prime Ministers met again on February 28, 1996, demanded restoration of the ceasefire and indicated that they would go ahead, all the same. Their Joint Communique said, "an elective process would offer a viable, direct and speedy route to all-party negotiations." Northern Ireland parties would be consulted on an "acceptable elective process leading directly and without precondition to all-party negotiations on June 10". This was totally different from polls to a legislature.

THE British government issued on April 16, 1996, "Ground Rules for Substantive All-Party Negotiations". It is a document of cardinal importance. "The elective process" would "determine which parties will participate in the negotiations... all parties with an electoral mandate will be able to participate in all-party negotiations" (paragraphs 7-9).

The Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Act, 1996, enacted on April 29, was a unique law. Unlike all statutes, it was not divided into sections but into topics. As its title hints, its object was to enforce the ground rules. The Act said: "Elections shall be held in Northern Ireland for the purpose of providing delegates from among whom participants in negotiations may be drawn." The U.K. would "invite the nominating representatives of each party for which delegates have been returned... to nominate, from among those delegates a team, to participate in the negotiations".

Parties were free to substitute one nominee for another from among the delegates. The elections were to be "on the basis of lists" of candidates submitted by the parties. Five delegates were to be elected by each of the parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland and 20 for Northern Ireland as a whole. Each voter had "one vote to be cast for a party named on the ballot paper for the constituency" not for a candidate, as he did in the Assembly polls.

Party delegates so elected "shall constitute a forum for the discussion of issues relevant for promoting dialogue... the functions of the forum shall be deliberative only... the forum shall not have any legislative, executive or administrative functions, or any power to determine the conduct, course or outcome for the negotiations".

Thus, elections were held only to provide a mandate for talks. In the Assembly elections, voters might opt for a candidate for his individual qualities. In a list system they vote for the party. This Act is of great relevance to India since we face similar situations. It also empowered the holding of a referendum. One was held after the accord in order to ratify it.

After the 1998 accord, the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act was enacted for elections to the Northern Ireland "Assembly", the legislature. For the Forum polls on May 30, the party list system was used. For the Assembly, it was individual candidates. John Major made plain "the separation of the forum and the negotiators. The negotiators, in essence, are masters of their own process".

In the elections to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, held on May 30, 1996, the UUP won 30 seats, the DUP 24 seats, the SDLP 21 seats, the APNI 7 seats, and the United Kingdom Unionist Party (UKUP) 3 seats. Sinn Fein won 17 seats (15.5 per cent of the vote). It was excluded when the Forum opened on June 10, 1996, but was let in after the IRA restored the ceasefire on July 20, 1997. It was this procedure that led to the 1998 accord.

Since Senator George Mitchell presided over the Forum as well as the international body, his account is authoritative. "The unionists wanted an election to an institution, to be called a Forum where delegates could debate issues, and they got it. The nationalists wanted inclusive negotiations by a certain date, and they got this. The nationalists were opposed to a Forum; but if one was to be created, they did not want to have any control over the negotiations. They got that assurance. Each party was to nominate its delegates to the negotiations from among those elected to the Forum, but there was to be no other formal relationship."

How is this at all different from the stand taken by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference on elections? Its chairman Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat told this writer in an interview in July 2000 that they were "prepared to contest elections... for a specific purpose; namely the future dispensation of Jammu and Kashmir. If this is agreed, we are prepared for it". (Vide the writer's article `A Report on Kashmir', Frontline, September 1, 2000).

Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly were held in June 1998 but under the 1998 accord; very much as in Punjab, Assam and Mizoram after accords on each of them. The Mizo accord provided for elections after "normalcy has returned and conditions are conducive to holding of free and fair elections".

Referenda in both parts of Ireland endorsed the Accord. The institutions it set up were formally established; including the Assembly and the Executive in which Sinn Fein was represented. Devolution was suspended in October 2002 after an IRA spy ring was detected at Stormont. Disagreement on certain issues persists; especially on decommissioning. The "Real" IRA tried to sabotage the process.

But the 1998 Accord has established a durable framework. This was made possible only because each side was bent on compromise and tried to address the concerns of the rest. London knew that Catholics in Northern Ireland must share power; that even if the IRA was crushed, Catholic alienation would remain. The IRA knew that there was no military solution. Dublin and the Sinn Fein accepted that the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland could not be forced into a union with the South. Most important of all, London realised that while a union was out, the yearning for Irish unity had to be met and met in a manner which satisfied Dublin and Sinn Fein.

Therein lies its relevance to Kashmir. India must reckon with popular alienation in the State as well as with Pakistan's legitimate interests as party to the dispute, even while ruling out a plebiscite. Pakistan has been an interlocutor since 1947. But Kashmiris have become more assertive since 1989 in their claim to be a party in their own right.

A format for the dialogue will have to be devised and all the three stands put in place - power sharing in all the regions of Kashmir; India-Pakistan accord; and, in such a context, links between both parts of the State.

What is necessary, above all, is a leadership in India and Pakistan which is durable, creative and competent to forge national consensus for a compromise acceptable to the people in both countries and to the people of Kashmir.

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