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'Softer' LoC: How feasible is it?
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | September 02, 2004 18:31 IST
Three days ahead of the foreign ministers' meeting in Delhi, India on Thursday said it is prepared to make the Line of Control 'softer' to enhance people-to-people contact.
In the past many such trial balloons have been floated, but they burst pretty soon.
For a long time now American experts on Kashmir have been talking about this idea in the seminar circuit, but Indian thinkers feel Pakistan will never agree to it.
"I am sure about India's intentions to go from normalcy to friendship level with Pakistan, but I am not sure of Pakistan's strategic goal," says Gary Saxena, former governor of Jammu and Kashmir and former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing.
He argues that the idea is fine, but India should take into account security considerations and other issues before going ahead.
Most New Delhi-based experts on Pakistan believe that the idea is okay, but the eventual goal should be to convert the LoC into border.
Last month Vice Admiral (retd) Verghese Koithara's book Crafting Peace In Kashmir, Through A Realist Lens, which deals exclusively with this issue, was released.
He strongly argues that converting the LoC into border is the only viable option.
But already the issue of starting a bus service from Kashmir to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is facing roadblocks.
India is not ready to allow Pakistani passengers to travel in Kashmir on Pakistani passports. It is also not open to the idea of having a special travel document.
Six months ago, the Rashtriya Swaymsevak Sangh issued a statement protesting against the bus service.
According to the RSS, if any Indian travelled to PoK by crossing the LoC on a Pakistani visa, it would be an acknowledgement by India of Pakistan's sovereign right over PoK.
The Jamiat Ulama-e-Islami of Pakistan also opposes the service.
Both organisations say that the service should not start before the territorial difference is sorted out.
Sushant Sareen, director of the Pakistan desk in Observer Research Foundation, says, "I wonder how far India is serious about it. India certainly knows that Pakistan will not accept the offer."
Both countries should understand that a softer LoC will not affect their claims over Kashmir, he says.
As of now Indian Kashmiris visit PoK via Lahore or Islamabad and Pakistani Kashmiris visit the Indian side of Kashmir via the Wagah border or other places.
This certainly has not compromised their claims over the whole of Kashmir.
So if now travel across LoC is permitted, it will make no difference.
It will rather help the Kashmiris on both sides, Sareen says.
A Pakistani expert in New Delhi, who has visited Pakistan more than a dozen times, disagrees. "I have many friends in Pakistan, so publicly I do advocate softer border because I don't want to lose my contacts in Pakistan. But I know for sure that interiors of Pakistan have transformed beyond imagination. People over their want more money and secure jobs. They will come here in the thousands, as Bangladeshis have come."
"We believe that softer border will mean porous border. Unless India is equipped to take care of illegal people and ready to keep strict vigil over the LoC to keep away ISI agents", the idea should not be entertained, says a security expert.
Saxena adds, "We should see how and in which direction this peace process goes. We should see the diplomatic nuances and then make our opinion. We should wait."
More reports from Jammu and Kashmir
Read about: The Road to Peace | Kargil Crisis