DISPUTES are all tragic in more than one ways. The Indo-Pakistan disputes — Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek — are also tragic in that they could be addressed with innovative and out-of-the-box solutions which could transform them from arenas of conflict into areas of cooperation. Efforts made to that end in 2005-06 remained inconclusive. Let me explain.
Take Siachen. The early efforts in 1989 and 1993 based on the idea of establishing a jointly managed zone of disengagement covering the body of the glacier stalled for a long time on Indian insistence to authenticate the Line of Actual Control before disengagement. In 2005, Pakistan suggested the idea of annexing the schedule of disengagement with the agreement.
In a remarkably detailed account in his book, How India Sees the World, former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran writes that by 2006, he had worked out the structure of a possible agreement with the Pakistan Foreign Office and had expected its approval at a high-level Cabinet Committee on Security meeting to be chaired by prime minister Manmohan Singh. To Saran’s surprise, at the CCS meeting, the then Indian national security adviser M.K. Narayanan “launched into a bitter offensive” to oppose the proposal saying that “Pakistan could not be trusted”, and that there would be “political and public opposition”.
Army chief J.J. Singh who had “happily gone along with the proposal in its earlier iterations” decided to join Narayanan. Manmohan Singh “chose to keep silent”. According to Saran, an “opportunity” was lost. Pakistan pursued the matter, emphasising that a solution to Siachen could be a game-changer, and that we could consider any monitoring mechanism to assuage Indian concerns. But the Indians remained evasive and later hinted that Siachen could be resolved after Kashmir.
To seize the opportunity and to nurture its benefits would have required rare courage and statesmanship.
Now Kashmir. The effort to address Kashmir during 2005-06 was the most substantive since UN Security Council deliberations in the early years post-independence. It was two-pronged: first, confidence-building measures across the Line of Control, which led to the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service and limited commerce in local goods; and second, an attempt through a discreet back channel for an interim solution which could ensure optimum benefit for the Kashmiris while protecting the essential interests of Pakistan and India.
For the first time, the two countries reduced understandings to black and white in what is commonly known as the four-point formula. Kashmir was to be structured in self-governing sub-regions on both sides of the LoC similar to the approach recommended by Owen Dixon for subregional plebiscites. The subregions could have had their own administration, police, security and legislator. The Kashmiris could freely move and engage in local commerce across subregions, and in that sense, the LoC would have lost relevance for them. These aspects were fully articulated. Some further work was needed on demilitarisation and a joint mechanism to handle issues, in which, besides the Kashmiris, the two countries also had an interest.
With the exception of Syed Ali Gilani, the other leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, who were twice briefed by president Musharraf, were positively inclined and wanted to be kept in the loop as the negotiations proceeded. The effort, however, stalled in early 2007, with the judicial crisis in Pakistan which unsettled Musharraf. My guess is that it would have come to a head if the two sides had continued with the same momentum for another one year. Later in November 2008, the Mumbai terror attacks dealt a fatal blow to the effort.
Sir Creek also saw progress in 2005-06. The survey of the creek, that was needed to determine depths, remained in limbo for over one decade because of disagreement over the configuration of the mouth of the creek. The topography had significantly changed since the 1914 mapping which was the basis for the respective positions. The problem was overcome by Pakistan’s suggestion to survey the area within arbitrarily selected coordinates that included the water body of the creek. The survey was carried out during the winter season of 2006-07, and maps exchanged, delineating for the first time the area in dispute which is about 74 square kilometres of the creek and about 1,000 sq km of a sliver of triangle of exclusive economic zone drawn on the water surface of the Arabian Sea. The next step was to work out a formula for division, including an option for keeping the creek as a jointly managed sanctuary for fish and waterfowl.
Thus all three political disputes were responsive to solutions, underpinned by cooperation instead of a straitjacket application of the principle of sovereignty. They could have marked a new 21st-century paradigm for resolution of inter-state disputes. To seize such an opportunity and to sustain and nurture its benefits would have required rare courage, vision and statesmanship.
The back-channel effort was revived in 2010, but it did not take off. Pakistan was keen on the restoration of a formal dialogue first, and wanted to see movement on Siachen to build trust. The effort was lost in the miasma created by the Mumbai attacks, hard-line inertia and an undefined, unquestioned mutual distrust. By 2013, the opportunity was as good as lost with the start of the election cycle in India and later the advent of the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With last year’s Aug 5 measures, India has removed Indian-occupied Kashmir from the agenda of the bilateral dialogue process as conceived in the Shimla Accords. Pakistan’s diplomatic option is now limited to approaching the international community and to knocking at the door of international forums.
Why this recounting of initiatives which did not materialise? Why this requiem? First, history remains relevant. Second, Aug 5 is not the end of the story. Pakistan and the international community cannot remain insensitive to the appalling Kashmiri predicament and Kashmiri alienation under the Indian occupation, which will again erupt into a widespread insurgency, as soon as the draconian lockdown crumbles, which it must. Then the focus is likely to turn to the immutable parameters of self-governance and self-determination, the primary goal of the long Kashmiri quest for freedom and preservation of the Kashmiri identity.
The writer is an author and a former foreign secretary.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020