The Musharraf formula

Print edition : November 19, 2004

President Pervez Musharraf's new proposal on Kashmir is a clever one. But apparently it is a logical consequence of the pressures that Pakistan has come under in the aftermath of 9/11.

in Islamabad

President Pervez Musharraf.-REUTERS

ON October 29, four days after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf aired his `radical' plan for the resolution of the Kashmir issue at an Iftar party in Islamabad, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry put out a statement that Gen. Musharraf had not given any proposal for resolving the Kashmir issue but had merely asked the media to conduct a debate on the issue to elicit public opinion. The Foreign Ministry's decision to `clarify' the matter is intriguing on several counts. Who said it was a proposal? India did not even react. The only response it made was that it would not be prudent to hold talks on Kashmir through the media. The international community had merely taken note of the willingness of Musharraf to engage India on Kashmir.

Of course, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made some noises about the "proposals of Gen. Musharraf" being "totally unacceptable". But very few took note of them. The entire furore was actually in Pakistan. Most of the political parties, religious groups, jehadis and right-wing intellectuals accused Musharraf of doing a U-turn on Kashmir.

Obviously, the Foreign Ministry statement was essentially aimed at the ruffled feathers within Pakistan. But why the Foreign Office spoke on behalf of the President is difficult to comprehend. Well, one explanation could be that Kashmir is an international dispute and therefore it is very much within the jurisdiction of the Foreign Ministry.

Significantly, the statement said that Musharraf had asked the media to carry out a debate to elicit public opinion, which, if conducted in the broad parameters spelt out by him, would bring out "dozens of options, reflecting various shades of public opinion". Are there no better ways of stirring a debate, particularly when in theory there is an elected government, Parliament and other public forums in Pakistan?

Musharraf could not have been unaware of the reaction his comments would generate within the country. Like a commando, he was taking a calculated risk and testing waters. That Musharraf and his managers had gone by a carefully worked-out script was evident from what followed the morning after he aired his comments.

Pakistan Observer, the Islamabad-based pro-Musharraf daily, published on October 27 a front-page regret on the report it carried on the `new' Kashmir proposal of the President. The two-paragraph report gave an insight into the thinking of the managers of Musharraf on the latest Kashmir `formula'. The regret said:

"Secretary to the President, Maj. Gen. Shafaat Ullah, pointed out yesterday some discrepancies in the lead story of Pakistan Observer published on Tuesday about Gen. Musharraf's address at the Iftar dinner.

"The Editor-in-Chief of Pakistan Observer was present at the reception as a guest but as no correspondent of the paper was invited for coverage, the story was woven from the versions of four different news agencies and therefore it got jumbled up. Some expressions conveyed the impression as if [the] President has deviated from the national stand of Pakistan on [the] Kashmir issue. We regret this misrepresentation of the President's views on such a sensitive subject."

The very fact that a military officer of the rank of Major General should call up the management of a friendly news daily and seek a clarification that Musharraf had not deviated from the "national stand of Pakistan on Kashmir" is amazing, to say the least. It is Musharraf who has been voicing, for almost a year now, the need for India and Pakistan to move away from their "maximalist and rigid" postures on Kashmir. He presented his new formula as a "food for thought" to the editors of major dailies as a demonstration of Pakistan's willingness to show flexibility.

Barring the ruling combine propped up by the military, political parties of all hues and civil society see the new formula as a U-turn on the traditional Kashmir policy. A small minority has actually hailed it as a response to the changed ground realities. A mere glance at the proposal is enough to label it as completely new thinking on the part of the Pakistani establishment vis--vis its Kashmir policy since 1947. The stated position of Pakistan has been that United Nations' resolutions on Kashmir should be implemented and that Kashmiris should be given an opportunity to decide whether they would like to be part of India or Pakistan.

In contrast, the plan unveiled by Musharraf envisages the treatment of Jammu and Kashmir as seven distinct regions. According to him, two of these are under the control of Pakistan (the Northern Areas and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), which is referred to as Azad Kashmir in Pakistan) while the remaining five are with India.

The so-called proposal of Musharraf is full of holes and contradictions. The widely held view is that the Jammu and Kashmir territory held by India has three provinces: Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. But Musharraf seems to base his calculation on religious, ethnic and geographical terms - Ladakh (the Islamic part between the Himalayas and the Indus), Kargil/Dras (Muslim), Poonch (Muslim, contiguous with Azad Kashmir), Jammu (Muslim-majority districts) and the Valley (Muslim).

Does President Musharraf simply want contiguous Muslim areas to fall to Pakistan or is he thinking in military terms, based on a General's view of terrain? Then again, is his mind focussed on the future of India-Pakistan relations when river waters become scarce and water treaties come under pressure? Does he want a line drawn along the Chenab river, making Pakistan safe against any future Indian trespass into waters that belong to Pakistan under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty? It may not be accidental that the five "parts" or "regions" he has presumably specified are located along the Chenab. But the famous Chenab Formula was the subject of discussion at the "track-two" level talks between the governments of Nawaz Sharif and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999.

The Chenab Formula seeks to divide Kashmir along the river Chenab, which flows down from Kashmir into Punjab, separating the Muslim-majority areas from the Hindu and Buddhist-dominated ones. The river flows through the mountainous areas of Doda, Ramban, Surukot, Salat, Reasi and Akhnoor and enters Punjab (Pakistan) at Head Marala. India has built the Salal dam on it under the Indus Water Treaty. The Kashmir Valley has a 98 per cent Muslim population; out of the six districts of Jammu province almost three Muslim-majority districts fall on the right bank of the Chenab and will fall to Pakistan if the river is made the new boundary. According to some Pakistani experts, if the Chenab Formula is accepted, 80 per cent of the territory of the original State, including POK and the Northern Areas, will become part of Pakistan.

The formula falls flat on just one fundamental count. The division of Jammu and Kashmir is anathema to the people of the State on either side. No Kashmiri group - within or outside the pale of parliamentary politics - has ever advocated the concept. In fact, various groups have called for the re-unification of the erstwhile princely state.

Musharraf did make it a point to mention that India was not ready to accept a religion-based solution and sought to sell his formula "in geographical terms". However, as he himself said, it all amounted to the same. "The beauty of these regions is such that they are still religion-based even if we consider them geographically," he maintained.

Curiously, there was no reference by Musharraf to the huge part of Kashmir conceded by Pakistan to China. In the run-up to the Agra Summit, Musharraf had said that as and when the Kashmir issue was to be settled, the territory under the control of China would also be considered a part of the deal.

Musharraf's contention that India has refused to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir as per U.N. resolutions and that Pakistan was not ready to accept the Line of Control (LoC) as a permanent border are not entirely correct. The Indian position has been that Pakistan did not fulfil the terms specified in the U.N. resolutions to create conditions for ascertaining the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and that over the years the U.N. resolutions had become irrelevant. Even as he talked about seven "regions" in Jammu and Kashmir, Musharraf listed three specific steps that India and Pakistan should take. First, identify the region at stake. Second, demilitarise it. Third, change its status. The General suggested that there were many options that could then be considered, and legal experts on both sides could then look at the pros and cons of ideas for joint control, U.N. mandates, condominiums, and so on.

Musharraf said Pakistan had proposed the `demilitarisation' of Kashmir and if India asked Pakistan to do likewise in POK, it would oblige. However he skipped a fundamental issue raised by former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral during his recent visit to Pakistan. In response to questions on the presence of security forces in Kashmir, Gujral said: "You should ask as to why in the first place India has mobilised forces. The forces in Kashmir are certainly not having a picnic."

What did prompt Musharraf to go public with his proposal at a juncture when dialogue with India was in progress? The new proposal seems to be a logical consequence of the fallout of 9/11. Musharraf was forced to do a U-turn on Afghanistan and abandon the Taliban after the twin towers in New York came down crashing on September 11, 2001. The challenges Pakistan faced from forces opposed to joining the so-called United States-led coalition against terrorism have triggered a debate within Pakistan on the need for a re-think vis--vis Kashmir.

Mainstream political forces and a section of civil society are apprehensive of the damage that fundamentalist forces - which were used in Afghanistan in the past and are being used in Kashmir by the state apparatus - can cause to Pakistani society itself. However, it is still not clear if the military has taken note of this. After all, if the Kashmir issue were resolved tomorrow, would the Pakistan Army continue to have monopoly on all matters involving the country?

However, scholars such as Hasan Askar Rizvi say that the Pakistan military has over the years acquired tremendous stakes in the economy of the country. Enmity with India no longer suits its business interests. There is little doubt that the military's grip on all aspects of public and private activity in the country has grown tremendously strong in the last five years that Musharraf has been in charge.

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