New Political Mantra

Let me not talk about Syed Ali Geelani- the octogenarian leader who for his detentions and  ‘steadfastness’ has been compared to   Nelson Mandela by one of his biographers or is criticized by his adversaries  for his ‘stubbornness’. He talks of right to self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir as envisaged in various resolutions passed by the United Nations from 1948 to 1957. He believes that the implementation of the UN resolutions only holds promise for just solution of sixty three year old ‘dispute’ and ending uncertainty in South Asia.    Fifty two years have passed since the last resolution denying a role to the state legislature for deciding future status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir was passed in this international forum.   

I am not here to write a commentary on the failures and successes of this organization in implementing its own resolution in the world. It is true that hundred and forty countries have been added to it since the day first Kashmir resolution was adopted by it.  I am not here to dwell upon the marathon debates and discussion on Kashmir that dominated the deliberations in this highest world body till India and Pakistan decided to resolve the issue through bilateral talks.  I am not here to discuss and debate if over a period of time this resolution had become scraps of paper that now hold no relevance in the eyes of the world. In this write up I will not be debating over the issue whether   Geelani’s struggle is in or out of the sync with the changed geo-strategic priorities in the world.

It is the new political mantra; “ending the status quo” that has caught my imagination. The new political mantra   is the most talked about subject these days in our academic and intellectual circles. The phrase first got currency when former Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf six years back in a statement in Turkey dropped hints about Pakistan changing its stated position on Kashmir and after sometime came up with his four point formula- which was rehash of a formula that was debated in New Delhi in early nineties.

 The formula was debated in seminars, conferences and talk shows. Many international conferences where held on the subjected in Washington, London and Islamabad. Many important opinion makers in New Delhi had seen it as a way forward for ending the political stalemate on Kashmir. Many in Kashmir and Pakistan had seen lots of dark streaks around the formula that portended pushing Kashmir into yet another darker alley wherefrom it could never come out. And many other observers had recorded that the Pakistan General had changed his Kashmir policy in tune with the wishes of the Bush administration in the United States to remain in power.

The mantra, ‘ending status quo’ has again crept into political discourse in Kashmir after newspapers carried reports about New Delhi initiating a dialogue with Kashmir leaders. These reports were authenticated by Home Minister, P. Chidambaram during his visit to Kashmir, when he talked of starting a “quite dialogue” with all shades of opinion in Kashmir including the “separatist” camp. The offer was warmly welcomed by the APHC (M) and the National Conference leadership exhibited more interest in the initiation of dialogue between New Delhi and Srinagar. The National Conference President and three time Chief Minister of the State Dr. Farooq Abdullah who has been a very strong advocate of converting the LoC into permanent border came up one after another statement in support of the ‘quite talks’. Taking cues from the newspaper reports like many others I too am convinced that the ‘quite talks’ are in progress.

The question arises what are the ‘quite talks’ all about.  Taking  members of the Raja Sabha into confidence during discussions on internal security the Home Minister had  said the process of withdrawing troops from Jammu and Kashmir had commenced after holding “quiet talks” with the ‘separatist groups’.   It needs no reading between the lines. It is obvious from the statement of Mr. Chidambaram in the Parliament that a good ground had already been covered in the on-going ‘quite talks’.

Putting a seal of authenticity on the progress made in the ‘quite talks’ he also informed the House that “At the appropriate stage, the contours of the settlement that may emerge would be shared with the members”. Stating that the state government and the central government were ‘on the same page’ on the decision of initiating dialogue sufficiently indicated that the Central government was updating the state government about the progress made and the areas covered were not conflicting with the interests of parties in power.

The talks or dialogue even if held ‘quietly’ away from the media gaze cannot be without an agenda. The question arises what could be the agenda for the ongoing talks or future talks presuming that they had not started. It is more than obvious that the agenda for talks could not be finding ways and means for granting right to self-determination to the people of the state or holding a referendum for ascertaining the ‘aspirations’ of the people- a phrase that more than often finds its way in the handouts of  the State Departments on India-Pakistan relation. It is also obvious the agenda cannot be about granting independence to the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as it stood on 14 August 1947.

I see two documents providing architecture for the ‘quite dialogue’, one the six point  1975 Accord signed by envoys of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Mrs. Gandhi the then Prime Minister of India and Second the four point formula of Pervez Musharraf.
The agreed conclusions   signed by G. Parthasarthi and Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg on November 13, 1974 that on its execution came to be known Kashmir Accord on its execution in February 1975 besides recognizing that the State of Jammu and Kashmir which is a constituent unit of the Union of India, shall, in its relation with the Union, continue to be governed by Article 370 of the Constitution of India had left scope for revisions of the rules extended to the state after 1953 that were believed to have eroded the autonomy of the state. It said that where any provision of the Constitution of India had been applied to the State of Jammu and Kashmir with adaptation and modification, such adaptations and modifications can be altered or repealed by an order of the President under Article 370, each individual proposal in this behalf being considered on its merits; but provisions of the Constitution of India already applied to the State of Jammu and Kashmir without adaptation or modification are unalterable. It had assured the state of having freedom to legislate on matters like welfare measures, cultural matters. The clause six of the Accord read that no agreement was possible on the question of nomenclature of the Governor and the Chief Minister and the matter is therefore remitted to the Principals.

It was in the spirit of this accord that the National Conference during its earlier term in office had passed an autonomy resolution.  Seen in right historical perspective the Kashmir Accord of 1975 with regard to its provision more particularly provision six is yet to be implemented. The enthusiasm about the ‘quite talks’ in the National Conference seems perhaps for the talks  being held within the purview of the 1975 Kashmir Accord that provides basis for restoration of autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.  The implementation of the 1975 Accord broadly caters to the political agenda of yet another regional party the PDP having twenty two members in the legislature.

The question arises that if talks around the 1975 Accord, sending back the state to the pre-1953 constitutional position and restoring the nomenclature of heads of the state as its continued to be till 1964, flying of the state flag instead of tricolor on all national days as was in practice till 1953  could find a favor with the APHC (M). The Hurriyat Conference (M) has believed and believes that the Musharraf formula that provides demilitarization of entire state of Jammu and Kashmir and self-governance is the way forward that promises ultimate solution of the problem. In view of the statements made by highest India and Pakistan leaders that the two countries were about to sign an agreement in 2007 on Kashmir on the lines of four point formula but for situation in Pakistan turning violent and President Musharraf losing power it failed to be inked. The statements even Prime Minister suggested that the formula was largely acceptable to New Delhi and believing that one could trust the grapevine that ‘quite talks’ with the “moderates” were being held in the backdrop of this formula. But the formula by all stretch of imagination involves Pakistan as the important party thus the question that needs to answer is if any bilateral dialogues between New Delhi and Srinagar could be held on or around the ‘formula’- seen as means for ending status quo by some academicians and intellectuals in Kashmir.

The fact remains that as on date there are no takers in Pakistan for Musharraf formula, in the words Shamshad Ahmed an important commentator, Pakistan political leadership believes that “Musharraf’s ‘back-channel’ hurrahs for out-of-the-box Kashmir solutions have completely denuded Pakistan’s principled position on this issue.”

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)