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Pakistan has chosen the moderates in J&K at last
September 21, 2005
The ground reality in Kashmir suggests that, in the given circumstances, the Indo-Pakistan peace process can go in one direction only -- forward. It might slow down for one reason or the other but there is no going back -- for Pakistan or India. The politico-psychological impact of the fragile peace process carries too high stakes for both to retract easily.
Unlike in the past, this phase of the peace process has generated a reasonable hope about some breakthrough. It is because for the first time nearly everyone is onboard and there is a perceptible movement in one direction. The ice has been broken with both, India and Pakistan having subtly moved from their respective stated positions on the Kashmir issue. Their attitude towards 'accreditation' of the Hurriyat Conference shows it.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent meeting with the Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi was preceded by their visit across the Line of Control and consultations with Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf.
It is now confirmed that the advice given to the Mirwaiz camp in Pakistan was to play ball with Delhi and simultaneously strive to create political space for themselves on the ground in Kashmir. The Mirwaiz camp had been unsure of itself till then.
Its response to Delhi's dialogue offer was vague or evasive. That was largely because Pakistan had not accredited the moderate Hurriyat while its government-controlled mass media projected the Geelani faction as the 'real' Hurriyat. The positions changed drastically with the visit of the Mirwaiz group to Pakistan administered Kashmir and Pakistan last June.
This development makes the Mirwaiz Hurriyat as the commonly acceptable prop for pushing the peace process, which is unprecedented in the history of Indo-Pak peace moves. It certainly does not amount to acknowledging the Mirwaiz Hurriyat as the sole representative for dialogue or ignoring the basic fact that this outfit is at best an entity confined to the Kashmir valley only. Never before have India and Pakistan backed the same horse in pushing the process.
Corresponding to this development, Musharraf for the first time publicly acknowledged the representative character of the political forces operating within the Indian constitutional framework in Kashmir. The untouchability of this class of 'puppets' (as Pakistan establishment used to describe them) has vanished, for the time being at least.
This is the second major development flowing out of the peace process, again for the first time. Whether Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, National Conference President Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party Chief Mehbooba Mufti eventually travel across the LoC and visit Pakistan is not so important as the fact that this proposition is being debated within the realm of possibility at all in Pakistan.
Not so long ago, it would have been patently foolish to even entertain any such idea. One's darling invariably used be the other's villain and vice versa. Writing a common script might take some time, but drafting a common cast is already there.
While these developments have generated dynamics of their own to propel the peace process forward, to sustain its tempo and thereby its credibility as well it is necessary to effect concrete measures on the ground. More so to ease the harshness and indignity of life in Kashmir. Cessation of hostilities by the major contending forces, over ground as well as under ground, reduction of troop levels and abrogation of draconian laws is the minimum requirement to consolidate the gains for India.
Merely co-opting 'acceptable' Kashmiri representatives in the peace process will sound hollow to the people until the ground situation is relaxed and they realise its benefit physically.
The logic of the course of events suggests the probability of the Pakistan-based United Jehad Council also being brought onboard by Musharraf once he has something to show back home. Troop reduction is obviously the starting point.
The UJC is a key factor in the under ground line-up. For understandable tactical reasons, the UJC's present position makes it an ally of the Geelani-led Hurriyat. If and when it is brought on board, the UJC has the potential to tilt the balance of forces on the ground.
To achieve that, some concrete action by India is called for, if only to enable Pakistan to make its next move. Till then, I am afraid, the level of violence might not come down. Pakistan's internal political situation being what it is, Musharraf cannot risk his own survival by conceding inch after inch without having anything to show in return concretely.
Simple common sense suggests that a visible, timely reciprocity is a high-returns investment. Popular goodwill generated by the recent confidence building measures can sustain only with some positive action. Any setback to the process or its credibility is unthinkable considering the dividends it has been paying and promises to pay in future.