Indian peace mission due today

09 Aug 2003

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ISLAMABAD, August 8: The three-member Indian Kashmir Committee (IKC) team arrives here on Saturday amid speculation here about its possible role in facilitating a political solution to the Kashmir dispute.

Headed by Ram Jethmalani, the team will comprise M. J. Akbar and Dilip Padgaonkar as its other two members. Jethmalani, who has personal ties with Indian deputy PM L. K. Advani, is a prominent lawyer, who had also served as India’s law minister. Mr Akbar and Mr Padgonkar are newspaper editors.

The Committee was constituted in Aug 2002 and has had regular contact with the Indian government. It was learnt that Jethmalani had wanted to come to Pakistan ever since the committee’s formation.

During its five-day-long stay in Pakistan, the Indian Kashmir Committee (IKC) team will attend a parliamentary conference in Islamabad besides holding talks with Pakistani as well as Kashmiri leaders as part of the track-II diplomacy to normalise bilateral relations.

The IKC has been more active than its Pakistani counterpart body, which was disbanded by President Pervez Musharraf after the Oct 2002 elections.

The IKC is a high-profile body as it includes Rajya Sabha (Indian Parliament’s upper house) members and senior journalists. It has ensured that it remains ‘engaged’ with the Kashmiris. In early 2003 Jethmalani also met in London with Sardar Qayum, the former chairman of the Pakistan Kashmir Committee.

Jethmalani, a member of the Rajya Sabha, is a shrewd and sociable lawyer. With years of experience and a notable role in the Indian history, his chairmanship lends some credibility to the Committee and Delhi’s position that it wants to engage the Kashmiris.

However, this credibility is considered only limited because he is seen as someone who takes symbolically ‘positive’ steps, like visiting the imprisoned Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik in a Delhi hospital, but unable to deliver in more substantive ways.

The IKC, keen to play a role, has only had limited support even within the Indian establishment. This translates into APHC’s limited confidence in it. For Pakistan its value lies in informing Kashmiris and Pakistanis of the flexibility in the Indian position on the Kashmir dispute; such that can help to initiate the dialogue process.

The government of Pakistan’s position is that all the committee members are non-Kashmiris and for that reason alone it does not represent the Kashmiris or their aspirations.

According to a Pakistani official, “It has no locus standi to talk on behalf of the Indian government or people of Indian Occupied Kashmir and it does not represent the wishes of the Kashmiri people.” But the IKC is working on India’s Kashmir policy. It does not claim to be representing Kashmiris.

Personally Jethmalani has given conflicting signals. Last year in November speaking at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies he said the chapter of the Kashmir accession to Pakistan was closed. “The US should also make it clear to Pakistan that it cannot win through negotiations what it failed to win through war,” Jethmalani went on to say. These statements contradicted the views he expressed in an article titled: “Wooden-headed approach”. The article, which appeared in the Hindustan Times daily earlier, argued that India should show flexibility on the Kashmir issue, favour the UN involvement and not reject third party mediation.

However sharpness of mind, close relationship with BJP and a warm personality, Jethmalani’s strengths, are insufficient to take forward the process of political solution to the Kashmir issue. Only a sincere commitment by New Delhi, Kashmiris and Islamabad to work out a principled and honourable solution will produce results.