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Goodbye, Kashmir!
Kanchan Gupta
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February 21, 2005
Bend a little. Make some concessions. Do a compromise deal. Don't be stuck up on sovereignty. Stop repeating that Jammu and Kashmir [Images] is an integral part of India. Or else.

All this, and more, has been the recurring theme of unequivocal, blunt messages flashed by pushy US State Department officials in Washington and their smirking lackey in khaki in Islamabad to spineless wonders who occupy South Block in New Delhi and have a fetish for 'thinking out of the box.'

Of course, the Government of India, run from a bungalow located at 10 Janpath in Lutyen's Delhi, has refused to bend, make concessions or strike a compromise deal.

Instead, the Government of India has chosen to crawl.

On February 16, in the guise of promoting people-to-people contacts across the Line of Control that separates Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by starting a Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus service on Pakistan's terms, the Government of India has virtually abdicated India's sovereignty and sovereign rights.

The so-called 'most significant confidence-building measure' between India and Pakistan is a deal that is heavily loaded against India's national interests. It is a sellout in which the Congress-led UPA government is a complicit partner.

National Conference president Omar Abdullah, in many ways more cunning than other Kashmiri politicians, has made the most apt comment that sums up what India has lost on account of Pakistan's steadfast obstinacy and American arm-twisting.

'This step has really reinforced the fact that Jammu and Kashmir has a special status in this country,' says Omar Abdullah, 'I see a big change in the foreign policy of India, which hitherto was based on "Kashmir-is-an-integral-part-of-India" rhetoric. There has been a climb-down.'

As recently as the first week of December, senior officials in the ministry of external affairs were holding special briefings for journalists in Delhi and telling them how India will not budge an inch from its position that passports must be made a mandatory requirement for those wishing to avail of the proposed Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus service.

Bus service a political compulsion

What has transpired between then and now to merit such a dramatic climb-down by the UPA government from its stated position? Why have we agreed to open our doors to Jihad Incorporated?

Consider the modalities that have been agreed upon for the bus service slated to begin from April 7. Those who wish to cross the LoC will have to fill in a form that seeks details which can be easily fudged: name, father's name, date and place of birth, address (present and permanent), places to be visited, addresses during stay, telephone contact (if any) and duration of visit. Attach a photograph and put your right thumb impression, the form is complete.

Details on that form will be verified by the designated authority on either side of the LoC -- the Regional Passport Office in Srinagar [Images], the deputy commissioners of Muzaffarabad and Mirpur in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Now, on what basis will the Regional Passport Office in Srinagar decide whether the details are true or false?

The pawns without a vote

This brings us to the next step: issuance of 'entry permits' -- those issued from Srinagar will carry the stamp of the Government of India; those issued across the LoC will carry the stamp of the 'Government of Azad Kashmir' -- with which people crossing over from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir can enter Jammu and Kashmir and if they choose to, disappear into other parts of India.

If passports and restricted, time-bound visas could not prevent Pakistanis from overstaying and then just 'disappearing' or joining the jihadis in Jammu and Kashmir -- Masood Azhar came to India with a passport and a visa -- then those reposing faith in 'entry permits' are truly living in a fool's paradise.

Those who sold India cheap in Pakistan on February 16 are crowing over the alleged concession made by Pakistan: the LoC route will be open to all Indians and not restricted to Kashmiris. For instance, it has been claimed, a resident of Chennai can ride the bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad.

There is no doubt that the Government of India, eager to please Washington and Islamabad, and in keeping with its liberal visa regime, will issue 'entry permits' to jihadis trained in terror schools run by Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Hizb-ul Mujahideen, masquerading as residents of Karachi, Lahore [Images], Rawalpindi, Quetta and Peshawar. But it is unlikely that 'entry permits' will be issued by Pakistan to anybody apart from Muslim residents of Kashmir valley.

The rocky road to Muzaffarabad

The Government of India's liberal visa policy -- and this has been in place through successive regimes, the BJP-led NDA regime included -- has seen the Indian mission in Islamabad issuing hundreds of visas to Pakistanis every day. The numbers have increased ever since the UPA came to power last summer. Such magnanimity, of course, has not been matched by the Pakistani mission in New Delhi.

The disastrous consequences of India's liberal visa policy have been detailed by the Task Force on Internal Security, set up in the wake of Pakistan's treacherous incursion into Kargil in 1999:

'The asymmetry in the visa regimes of India and Pakistan poses an internal security threat which the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) needs to review urgently. The ISI has been exploiting our unilaterally liberal visa policy and the inadequacy of our systems to ensure Pakistani visitors do not stay beyond the period allowed in the visa, disappear and become untraceable.

It may be recalled that the Pakistani nationals who had perpetrated the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar had entered India on valid visas, overstayed and carried out activities which culminated in the hijacking.

As per information supplied to us by MHA, the cumulative number of Pak nationals who had overstayed till 1999 was 11,433; of these 8,873 were overstaying and 2,560 had gone underground.

MHA has no means of knowing how many, if not all, of those who are untraceable could possibly be engaged in espionage, sabotage and subversion and further extending ISI's networks in the country.'

We can now look forward to the number of 'untraceable' Pakistanis increasing with each passing day once the bus service is launched. Little wonder that General Pervez Musharraf [Images] is delighted by the turn of events this week. He and his men in the ISI no longer have to think up devious ways and means of smuggling their boys into India through Nepal and Bangladesh. They can now take the bus across the LoC.

Meanwhile, the sovereign Government of India, which till now has been claiming sovereign rights over all of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed at the time of the princely state's accession, has been reduced to cravenly conceding the legitimacy of a patently illegitimate and bogus institution called the 'Government of Azad Kashmir.'

Jammu and Kashmir Congress President Mirzada Mohammad Sayeed has gushingly described the February 16 sellout as 'a victory for (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi [Images].' Long years ago, when Jawaharlal Nehru unilaterally announced his decision to take Jammu and Kashmir to the United Nations and promised a plebiscite, a stunned Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had sorrowfully muttered, 'Jawahar pachhtaayega (Jawaharlal will regret this).'

It is doubtful whether Nehru ever regretted his decision for which India and Indians continue to pay a heavy price. What is known is that the Congress saw it -- and continues to see it -- as Nehru's victory. Similarly, while India and Indians will live to regret this shocking compromise resulting in India's tragic defeat on the chequer board of diplomacy, the Congress will paint it as 'Sonia Gandhi's victory.'

On India's roads, it is a common sight to come across 'OK. Tata. ByeBye.' painted on the rear of buses and trucks. When the first bus takes off from Muzaffarabad with jubilant Pakistanis headed for Srinagar, we can recall that highway legend with a minor modification: 'OK. Tata. Bye Bye Kashmir.'

The next stop shall be what will remain of India.

More reports from Jammu and Kashmir

Kanchan Gupta

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