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Another season of hope

Print edition : Jul 07, 2001 T+T-

It is a mixed mood in Jammu and Kashmir on Summit eve.

ON the face of it, tour operator Mohammad Yusuf Dar should have no reason for complaint. His business has started off well this summer. Many pilgrims to the Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu have chosen to travel on further to resorts like Gulmarg, and Dar has in recent weeks struggled to cope with the growing demand. But the young businessman is not celebrating. Whenever anyone starts talking about solving the Kashmir problem, he says wryly, things start going horribly wrong. It is hard to miss the whiff of hope carried on the cool, wet breezes blowing through the Kashmir Valley. But as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee prepares to meet Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in Agra, a brooding, pensive mood is just as evident.

Dar's cynicism, and that of others in Jammu and Kashmir, is founded on experience. Each summer since 1999 has started off promising at least something resembling peace. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's bus journey to Lahore that winter was followed up by the largest influx of tourists into Srinagar since the insurgency began in 1988. Then the Kargil war broke out. The following March, many people believed that former United States President Bill Clinton's visit to India would revive the peace efforts. Instead it provoked the Lashkar-e-Toiba to massacre 36 Sikhs at Chittisinghpora. Hopes, and the tourist business, revived when the Hizbul Mujahideen announced a unilateral ceasefire that July. The ceasefire, however, proved short-lived, and the few tourists who were there fled after Lashkar cadre killed a group of pilgrims at Pahalgam.

If people are tense, politicians have their own anxieties. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is bitter about being left out of the loop in the matter of the India-Pakistan dialogue. The organisation had written to both Musharraf and Vajpayee asking to be involved in the summit discussions. India flatly rejected any participation by the APHC, while Musharraf only said that they would be brought in at a later stage. While APHC chief Abdul Ghani Bhat chose to avoid a confrontation, saying that his organisation is hopeful of a positive outcome in the summit and therefore will not pick up a quarrel at this stage, others were less charitable. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Yasin Malik charged Pakistan with letting down the people of Kashmir, and the APHC's New Delhi spokesperson, Abdul Majid Bandey, described the APHC's marginalisation as a setback to the process of finding a solution.

At the other end of the political spectrum, the National Conference (N.C.) appears to be bracing itself for some kind of showdown with the Union government. Union Minister of State and Srinagar MP Omar Abdullah, who has been campaigning in his constituency while his father, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, is on vacation in England, has fired the first shots of what could prove to be a fateful encounter. At one rally Omar Abdullah alleged that the Union government was providing covert funding to the N.C's opponents, notably the People's Democratic Party. The Minister later toned down his rhetoric, but at several campaign rallies dared the National Democratic Alliance to remove him from office. The N.C. fears that it will be left out of any future India-Pakistan deal on Jammu and Kashmir.

What does seem clear is that Pakistan is determined to secure significant concessions on Jammu and Kashmir, concessions which could prove of enormous consequence to all the key players in the State. Pakistan seems increasingly committed to a variant of what its diplomats describe as the Chenab Plan - a partition of Jammu and Kashmir along its communal faultlines. On June 19, The Gulf News newspaper published an outline of what it described as a sensational formula that had gained Musharraf's endorsement. The Gulf News' Islamabad correspondent, Aslam Khan, said that Islamabad would push for an arrangement where the six Muslim-dominated districts of the Kashmir Valley - Srinagar, Budgam, Baramulla, Kupwara, Anantnag and Pulwama - will be granted suzerainty, a near-sovereign status. This near-sovereign status would leave the new entity with power over all areas of governance other than foreign policy.

India will then have to forgo all its claims to Pakistan-held Kashmir, and the Northern Areas of Gilgit and Baltistan. In turn, Khan's report notes, Pakistan would be called on to accept Indian sovereignty over the Hindu-majority Jammu region of the State. The Jammu region is made up of the six districts of Jammu, Doda, Kathua, Udhampur, Rajouri and Poonch. Past variants of the Chenab Plan have called for a further division of Poonch, Doda, and Rajouri, all Muslim-majority areas. Pakistan would also forgo any claim over Ladakh, leaving a decision on the future of the region to be made between India and China at their mutual convenience. This formula, the paper claims quoting diplomatic sources, neatly gives both India and Pakistan the required face-saving space to stave off a possible public outcry and skirt the necessity of a change in the Constitutions of both countries.

The Gulf News is not the only newspaper to have carried similar accounts in the run-up to the Musharraf-Vajpayee summit. A June 22 report by the ANI news agency, again emanating from Islamabad, quoted diplomatic sources as saying that the idea of dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan on the basis of Hindu-majority and Muslim-majority districts is being considered even at the top level. The ANI report noted that under the new plan the Valley will be partially autonomous and there will be major changes on the border line to adjust tehsils and towns surrounding the Valley between India and Pakistan. Pakistan, ANI quoted one of its sources as saying, may consider (the) Doaba, a narrow strip of land between Chenab and Ravi in the suburbs of Shakargarh, stretching up to Chhamb, Dhodha and Rajwari districts as (the) international border.

Schemes for a partitioning of Jammu and Kashmir have been in the air for some years now. During the Kargil war, back-channel negotiators Niaz Naik and R.K. Mishra had been reported to have exchanged papers on the Chenab Plan, documented in a Pakistani proposal, an Indian counter-proposal, and a Pakistani response. Later, Pakistani negotiators demanded of their U.S. interlocutors that a withdrawal from Kargil by Pakistan be premised on Indian reciprocity, in the form of the acceptance of the Chenab Plan. Then, in February 2000, Chief Minister Abdullah and his key Cabinet Ministers held discussions with U.S.-based businessman Farooq Kathwari, and the author of detailed plans to divide Jammu and Kashmir. Kathwari's Kashmir Studies Group had, in a series of reports collectively called "Kashmir: A Way Forward", called for the creation of a new sovereign state but without an international personality.

CURIOUSLY, these ideas dovetail with new thinking that seems to be emerging within the Bharatiya Janata Party. While the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has long called for the division of Jammu and Kashmir into three separate states, freeing the provinces of Jammu and Ladakh from the supposed tyranny of Muslim-majority Kashmir, the BJP has formally rejected this demand. But at a June 24 function in Jammu, held to commemorate the death of right-wing ideologue Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, party president Jana Krishnamurthy supported regional BJP leaders who have been demanding a partitioning of the State. Krishnamurthy asserted that the stand of party MLAs advocating the trifurcation was justified. These, he argued, are the voices of the people which are being disseminated by their elected representatives. The MLAs are bound to promote the interests of their electorate.

Krishnamurthy's comments came a fortnight after a BJP delegation met the Union government's official Jammu and Kashmir envoy, K.C. Pant. The delegation had submitted a memorandum which, in defiance of their party's stated national position, sought separate statehood for Jammu. Asked about the issue at a press conference in Jammu, Krishnamurthy attempted to obfuscate the issues. The BJP did not meet Pant at the organisational level, he argued; the party legislators simply presented the popular opinion prevailing in the region. Generating even more ambiguity over the BJP's stand on dividing the State, Krishnamurthy added that it is not only in Jammu where a popular opinion for a separate State has emerged. The same sentiments can be witnessed in the Telengana and Vidarbha regions.

The BJP is not the only major political force flirting with the option of partition. In 1999, the N.C. government itself had put out a report calling for the division of Jammu and Kashmir into new provinces, several of them on expressly communal lines. The Report of the Regional Autonomy Committee called for the existing province of Ladakh to be split into two provinces of Kargil and Leh, each made up of just one district! The Muslim-majority district of Doda was to be merged with the single Muslim-majority tehsil of neighbouring Udhampur district, and constituted into the Chenab province. The Muslim-majority districts of Rajouri and Poonch, for their part, were to be separated from the Hindu-majority areas of Jammu, Udhampur and Kathua, with the two blocs each forming a province. Abdullah later backtracked on the Report, but it has not been withdrawn.

Finally, elements within the secessionist formations have at various points endorsed the idea of partition. The Hizbul Mujahideen's chosen mediator for its August 2000 ceasefire, Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi, gave a fairly fleshed out idea of what its vision of a negotiated settlement to violence in Jammu and Kashmir might constitute. In a September 1, 2000 note Qureshi said he had submitted to the Union government formal plans for a quasi-independent Jammu and Kashmir. The model, Qureshi said, envisages semi-sovereign status for Jammu and Kashmir, with joint control exercised by both India and Pakistan. On May 9 that year, then APHC chief and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani had announced that his organisation was not for the division of the State, (but) if in the talks the parties reach a consensus to divide the State, "we will accept that".

MUSHARRAF'S desperation for a deal is only too transparent. Should he leave Agra without at least appearing to have secured some meaningful gains on Jammu and Kashmir, he could face serious consequences. In an editorial in the June 2001 issue of the Lashkar-e-Toiba's journal, Voice of Islam, the organisation's leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed argued that Pakistan should not hasten to respond to the invitation extended by India for talks. "It is after the disappointment of so many years that now we are marching in the right direction," Saeed wrote, "and we all acknowledge that in this jehad has played a major role. So in this concern our first priority should be that the cause of jehad is not harmed and what's more, the mutual confidence remains intact." This was followed by a warning: Allah's grip is tight and it does not discriminate between military and civil governments, Saeed concluded.

Within the Hizbul Mujahideen there appears to be considerable uncertainty on which way the organisation ought to go. In a series of interviews to Doordarshan and Srinagar-based news agencies, the architect of the Hizb's August 2000 ceasefire, Abdul Majid Dar, said that the organisation would be willing to end hostilities should the Agra summit have meaningful results. The tone of the Muzaffarabad-based Hizbul Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah, better known by his nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, has been markedly different. On June 27, the Hizbul Mujahideen leadership rejected the proposal by Jamiat-Ulema-Islam chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman for a ceasefire between India and the Kashmiri militants. A spokesperson said on behalf of Salahuddin that the organisation would only respond positively if India gives up its "obsessions".

Geelani, for his part, seems to be positioning himself for an eventual collapse of the peace process. On June 10 a spokesperson for the APHC announced that it had postponed a scheduled agitational programme, on the grounds that it would help create a conducive atmosphere for the Agra summit. Two days later, Geelani disassociated himself from the announcement. Geelani argued that any halt to agitation was impossible, given the rise in the level of state terrorism. The Jamaat-e-Islami leader also made clear his conviction that New Delhi was not sincere about dialogue. On one side Vajpayee invites Musharraf to New Delhi, he said at a June 27 press conference, and on the other security forces have resorted to genocide. New Delhi is talking of peace for international consumption but Kashmiris are being killed and maimed.

Can the Union government then stitch together some kind of deal that would keep the Far Right at bay? At least some observers believe that the BJP can placate its core constituency by securing Jammu's and Ladakh's greater integration within the Union of India, while at once giving wide autonomy to the Muslim-majority Valley. Musharraf's new proposals, if media reports are correct, would also allow the BJP to project quasi-independence for the Valley as autonomy of the kind the N.C. has long been demanding. But even if the party did manage to sell some kind of deal on these lines, it is far from clear whether peace would arrive in Jammu and Kashmir. No one is certain if Musharraf can in fact wind up the operations of groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, whose political ambitions transcend Kashmir. More important, the bloodbath that partition would most certainly unleash could prove far worse than decade of awful conflict it is intended to address.