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It's a slow road to peace
October 26, 2005
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to host a dinner on September 14 in New York for Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf made headlines, but the event did not provide the same visible boost for the peace process as their 2004 meeting.
However, their dialogue is still moving ahead.
The most encouraging development in the past six months is the start of discussions between Kashmiris and the governments of both India and Pakistan. There has been modest progress on the rest of the India-Pakistan agenda. These developments provide a backdrop for quiet diplomacy. A few missteps along the way are inevitable, but the two national leaders are learning about one another's sensitivities and taking the process seriously.
The much-heralded April 7 start of the bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, the capitals of the two sides of Kashmir, was nearly disastrous. Faced with threats to the bus, the authorities in Srinagar gathered the passengers at a tourist center the night before, only to see militants attack the tourist center.
The buses did roll, however, and have continued to do so, with little fanfare, every two weeks since then. Not only Kashmiris but other Indians and Pakistanis have traveled to the other side. The number of travelers, about 20 to 30 from each side at the outset, has grown; on one recent occasion, over 80 traveled to the Indian side and 50 to the Pakistani side.
Musharraf's April 16–18 visit to Delhi began somewhat strained. Some Indians felt they had been publicly embarrassed into issuing an invitation; some Pakistanis worried that Musharraf's eagerness for the visit had put him in a weaker position. But in the end the summit served both sides well. Musharraf and Singh made clear their determination not to be deterred by terrorist threats. They announced new measures, including preparing for truck traffic and trade between the two sides of Kashmir and for a new train route between India and Pakistan. Their statement that the peace process had become "irreversible" should be read as an expression of their intentions.
Since Musharraf's visit to Delhi, several leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an umbrella group of political figures from the Kashmir valley, have taken the first steps toward a three-pronged dialogue on Kashmir. In early June, they met with the leadership in Pakistan. The visit to Pakistan was a breakthrough, since the Indian government's unwillingness to allow a similar visit in January 2001 caused considerable ill will and contributed to the demise of an earlier peace initiative.
This time, the Hurriyat leaders spent a couple of days in Azad Kashmir and another 10 to 12 days in Pakistan. They had well-publicized meetings with Musharraf and other senior figures from Pakistan as well as from Azad Kashmir. The main message both from them and from their Pakistani hosts was the importance of including Kashmiris in the peacemaking process.
In July, an APHC group met with a group of Kashmiri Pandits, the Hindu community that has been largely driven out of the Kashmir Valley by violence. Although this meeting was boycotted by several Pandit organizations, it represented a first step in establishing contact between Pandits and the Kashmiri separatists. APHC personalities plan additional discussions with people from Jammu and Ladakh, areas that are part of the old princely state of Jammu and Kashmir but outside the Kashmir Valley.
On September 5, an APHC group had its first face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Singh. Both sides called for an end to all forms of violence; the APHC stressed human rights in Kashmir. The date for the next meeting has not been set, but there was agreement that the meeting was effective in creating a cooperative relationship.
The formal India-Pakistan dialogue remains bilateral, but these three meetings taken together have started to create a supplementary process through which Kashmiris can engage with both countries. The APHC's claim to represent the Kashmiris is of course contested. Their representatives include only Kashmir Valley Muslims, and even within this group they include neither militant organizations nor the elected state government. The most stoutly pro-Pakistan elements, such as Syed Ali Geelani, as well as some major pro-independence figures like Yasin Malik, have kept aloof from parts of this dialogue. However, there is now greater space for Kashmiri dissidents to participate in the political debate.
The pace of contacts across the Line of Control between different Kashmiri groups may also accelerate. The chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir plans to visit Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. The former president of Azad Kashmir has just been in Delhi. Trade delegations from the Kashmir Valley plan to visit Azad Kashmir to explore exports of both manufactured and horticultural products.
(Former US deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia Teresita Schaffer wrote this for the October 1, 2005, edition of South Asia Monitor, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.)