Invisible hand

With its activism failing to get India and Pakistan anywhere near a solution, the US, through back channels, is pushing the two countries for an amicable solution to Kashmir problem. Iftikhar Gilani reports.

The US Ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer, is not an ardent cricket fan, like most of his countrymen. Realizing political contours of cricket in the sub-continent, Ambassador wanted to travel to Mohali to cheer Indian and Pakistani teams at the high-voltage semi-final clash last month. He was, however, politely told to stay back, lest TV cameras flashing American envoy in the company of prime ministers of India and Pakistan may set speculations of a US meddling in their affairs.

In a cable, he had sent to his headquarters in Washington last year, Roemer himself had warned against any hint of active US activism in Kashmir. The cable now part of WikiLeaks stated that the activism even with helpful intentions would prove counterproductive. The attitude explains much of the ambassador’s mind and the complexities of US involvement in India and Pakistan. During his recent tour to Srinagar, Roemer preferred to interact only with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, even ignoring the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and even snubbing the separatists to avoid raising hackles in Delhi.

President Barrack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke (who died recently) told a select group of experts in Washington a few months ago, that unlike in the past his country was pushing India and Pakistan through back channels for an acceptable and amicable solution to Kashmir problem. “The activism has failed to get the countries to get anywhere near solution. We are pursuing them through various channels to stabilise the region by settling the issue of Kashmir,” sources privy to this meeting told Kashmir Life.

Ecoheing his words, American envoy also told Washington that activism, would prove counterproductive. “Any hint of USG (United States Government) activism in Kashmir, however helpful the intentions behind it, will prove counterproductive because of the Government of India (GOI) ‘s hypersensitivity to third party involvement in Kashmir. In order for the GOI’s efforts to restore sustainable peace and stability in Kashmir to succeed, its engagement with the separatists and with the Kashmiri people must be free of any perception of outside influence,” he wrote.

Reporting that Kashmir was clearly a high priority for the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and for Sonia Gandhi, the cable says, the US interference would make their task difficult. Reeling under the pressures of opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as within his own party, the Congress, Dr. Singh had invited his Pakistani counterpart Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani to Mohali even without consulting Ministry of External Affairs.

India and Pakistan have a packed calendar of official and political engagements till July, which may culminate into the visit of Prime Minister Singh to Islamabad. The foreign ministers of the two countries will review official engagements in July. Prior to this foreign secretaries will meet in Islamabad in June to discuss peace and security as well as issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

Other meetings lined up are revival of defence secretaries talks on Siachen and Sir Creek on 22 April and the meeting of the commerce secretaries in Islamabad on 27-28 April. The meetings come on the heels of talks between the home secretaries of the two countries here in March. Formal and structured talks between the two countries were suspended after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. An agreement on Sir Creek, a strip of water between Gujarat (Kutch region) and the Pakistani province of Sindh (Thatta region), had become possible after a joint survey by hydrographers of both countries in January 2007. The hydrographers exchanged their maps in March 2008, with both sides agreeing to draw a line in the middle of the creek.

On Siachen, India had agreed to demilitarise the icy battlefield, provided Pakistan agrees to ‘authenticate’ the relative troop positions along the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), the undelineated stretch between the last marked grid reference point NJ-9842 on the Line of Control and the Karakoram Pass.

The American cable originating from its embassy in New Delhi makes it clear that India-Pakistan be allowed to travel path of peace and progress without any noticeable Western involvement. The cable asks Washington to understand the complicated, multi-faceted problem being faced by the GOI in Kashmir as it moves forward on what is clearly a high priority for the Prime Minister, Chidambaran and Sonia Gandhi.

“The GOI is fully aware of these and other steps it could take and is carefully picking and choosing what is politically possible for it today,” it said.
The cable mentions that India was not waiting for the Delhi-Islamabad composite dialogue process to resume. It has unveiled further steps to strengthen its reconciliation efforts in Kashmir. Hailing Chidambaram for publicly shifting the GOI’s focus from a security/military solution to a political one, proposing a reorientation of the state’s security apparatus, the cable writes that the GOI is taking advantage of a favorable political and security environment.

The cable also mentions an illustrative rather than exhaustive list of confidence building measures that the GOI should play within its Kashmir initiative:
Ensure that dialogue with separatists achieves results.

Continue generous development spending

Conduct panchayat (village council) elections at the earliest; the record turnout in the assembly and parliamentary elections shows that Kashmiris want to participate in the democratic process.

Release selected prisoners who are not hardcore militants, do not today pose any serious threat, but have been incarcerated for years

Release prisoners who have been incarcerated longer than the court-directed sentences

Discontinue the practice of re-arresting accused militants who have been released by courts (Note: this practice has become less common but still occurs)

Stop the misuse of the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows the government to detain anyone for two years without trial (Note: Over the years, the record of the security forces has improved, but the practice has not been eliminated — for example, the PSA was used extensively during the Amarnath unrest and separatist Shabir Shah spent almost over an year in detention before he was released this week)

Repeal, selectively repeal or be more judicious in use of Armed Forces Special Power Act and the Disturbed Areas Act, which gives the Army almost unchecked powers over the local population in the valley

Prosecute transparently and publicly security force personnel involved in human rights violations

Relocate security forces camps out of public facilities (Note: there has been some progress on this, but more needs to be done in evicting security forces from schools and other public facilities)

More judicious use of house searches and road blockades by security forces

Demilitarization: gradual pullback and pullout of the paramilitary and Army from visibility in the day to day life of Kashmiris; replacement of the paramilitary and Army by the J&K police

Empower the state Human Rights Commission so that it can make transparent inquiries and achieve some tangible results; this will help inculcate an environment in which people feel encouraged to approach the commission because they see it as an effective body.

Stop the continued harassment of released/surrendered militants and their families even when these former militants no longer pose any threat

Loosen further travel controls on separatist leaders; they could be given passports and exit permission that are less time and country specific.

Make the bus links across the line of control more traveller friendly.

Ease travel restrictions on cross border travel, increase the number of transit points.

Open telephone lines across the LOC between Azad Kashmir, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Encourage separatists to participate in future elections by providing them incentives – funding, security, press coverage.

Strengthen civil society by making it easier for NGOs to operate.

(The author is a senior staffer at Tehelka.com)

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