SUCCESS, however limited, of the recent meeting of foreign ministers of Pakistan and India in Islamabad last month obscured statements of far-reaching import which the hosts made to visiting Indian journalists.
Foremost among them are the remarks which Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar made in an interview to Iftikhar Gilani of the Daily News and Analysis, which the Indian daily published on Sept 8. They were widely taken note of especially in Kashmir, not least because Iftikhar Gilani is highly respected for his objectivity and integrity.
The foreign minister did not miss the disappointment in Gilani’s very first question and confidently assured him, a Kashmiri, that there will be movement "beyond the lens of the past", adding "we have missed opportunities in the past. We should not miss them in future". These generalities were a prelude to the minister’s specific remarks on the Kashmir dispute which she rightly characterised as "a core and central issue".
Sixty-five years after the dispute arose, on Oct 26, 1947, that characterisation is a rebuke to all its three parties: India, Pakistan and Kashmir. Over half a century ago, on July 20, 1950, India’s deputy prime minister Vallabhbhai Patel told Sir Owen Dixon, the UN mediator, "many of us think that it is rather disgraceful and does no credit to India that this matter should have dragged on … so long".
The foreign minister’s interview shows that she is prepared to move forward realistically beyond the stated positions, without compromising on the fundamentals of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir. This is what she said: "Jammu and Kashmir for us remains a core and central issue. What we have to see is that have our efforts and the way we adopted in the past led us to the resolution of the dispute. Now the question is, will the attitude and formulation we adopted over the past 60 years, if we continue sticking to it … give us a resolution even in the next 65 years? The answer to that is a resounding no.
"We did not succeed in that. …Now without compromising on the centrality of the issue, we need to move forward. Let me first clarify, movements on other issues should not be misinterpreted. The issue has centrality, it concerns the rights of the Kashmiri people … [We] need a re-look. Not at the nature of dispute, but the nature of strategies. If it has to be resolved on the dialogue table, we need to do some homework for that."
The foreign minister was alluding clearly to the ‘homework’ that remains to be done on the India-Pakistan consensus reached so far so that a draft agreement can be prepared for signature by the leaders. That consensus is represented in the famous four points agreed between the former president Gen Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Both sides moved beyond their stated positions and ruled out extreme proposals of old.
The former prime minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani specifically referred to it in an interview to an Indian TV channel. "There had been some formula earlier which was decided between Gen Musharraf and the Indian government. But there had been some loopholes which we wanted to tighten, [and we were working on them] when there was a change of the government here in Pakistan." Tightening the loose ends would be a more accurate description of that constructive exercise than filling the "loopholes".
There are three tests for, and four limits to, any accord on Kashmir: the Red Fort, Mochi Gate and Lal Chowk tests – acceptability to the people on all three sides – must be fulfilled. It will necessarily be a compromise.
All three will have to accept the four grim realities which time has cruelly created: (1) no government of India can concede plebiscite or J&K’s secession and survive (2) No government of Pakistan can accept the LoC as an international boundary and survive, either (3) Kashmiris will never acquiesce in the partition of their beloved land, and (4) Kashmiris will not acquiesce in the continued denial of self-rule and human rights.
The four points meet the three tests as well as the four limits. First, the LoC becomes, as Dr Manmohan Singh said, "a line on a map". De facto the state of Jammu and Kashmir is reunited after 65 years. Second, both sides are already agreed on the quantum of self-rule which their respective parts will enjoy; this time under an international agreement. Third, there will be a joint mechanism of Kashmiri leaders to coordinate policies on matters of common interest. Fourth, there will be agreed withdrawal of troops on both sides.
It requires little imagination to visualise the sea change this will introduce within Kashmir; politically, economically, socially and in the lives of its people. Syed Salahuddin, for example, will be able to return to his ancestral home and contest elections to the assembly. Political life as a whole will change. There will be strong impetus to revive cultural and intellectual exchanges. The entire scenario will undergo a radical change. These are not gains to be sniffed at, still less squandered away by raising hackneyed slogans for petty gains. Some on both sides feel uneasy at the very thought of a de-freeze of the impasse. The status quo is familiar and they feel very comfortable in it.
It will be ‘a non-territorial solution’, as Dr Manmohan Singh pointed out on May 2, 2008; an ad hoc arrangement reviewable after 10 or 15 years. Without undermining the agreed basic structure of the four-point formula, some improvements can be considered. For instance an all-Jammu & Kashmir consultative assembly comprising elected legislatures from all the regions of Jammu & Kashmir, meeting alternately in Muzaffarabad and Srinagar. It will have no legislative powers but the very existence of such a forum will fortify the sense of Kashmiriat.
So much for the gains in Kashmir. The peace dividend which India and Pakistan will reap and the prestige their statesmanship will acquire internationally will be incalculable.