Plain talk by Indian visitors (Feb 27, 2010)

People to people talk between Pakistan and India — the strained-cousins of the sub-continent — is usually candid. Some times after such interaction I think that if the people are left to solve the issues between the two countries themselves, without the indoctrination of their respective establishments, they would move towards peaceful co-existence at a fast forward pace.

Listening to two Indian intellectuals Ejaz Ahmed and Tapan Bose in Karachi last week strengthened the belief in people-to-people discourse. Ejaz Ahmed, who is a well-known Marxist intellectual and has written many books, view was that the policy regarding Pakistan is made at the South Block in Delhi (foreign office of India) with some inputs from the Indian security forces and both the Congress and BJP leadership follows it with difference of nuances only. He said that the prevailing view among the Indian intellectual circles is that survival of Pakistan is linked with what happens to Afghanistan. “India,” he maintained “is not interested in the break up of Pakistan.” India and Pakistan, he suggested should jointly work in stablising Afghanistan instead of “fighting a proxy war’” there. Coming from an established Marxist this may raise many eyebrows in the neo-left in Pakistan, as Ejaz’s recipe is not much different in content than what the Americans are saying these days.

According to Ejaz Ahmed Indian perception is that Pakistan’s forward strategy is to keep India engaged in Kashmir by supporting the separatist movement and by keeping sleeping militant cells all over the country. And rear strategy is to have a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan. This is not much off the mark. But now under global pressure by and large there is consensus in Pakistan that supporting the Jihadi groups has been counter-productive. How to put the genie back in the bottle is the major headache of our establishment. The genie has turned into a violent monster and is attacking its masters.

Contrary to the belief of some of the Islamic fundamentalist in Pakistan that militancy has internationalized the Kashmir issue, Pakistani and Indian peace activists think that it has weakened the support of the Kashmiris who are struggling for their rights. What was the struggle for more rights of the people in Kashmir was made a communal demand by the Jihadis intervention. They attacked the Hindu population and many had to flee for safety to other cities of India telling their tales of woes. This made the task of Indian peace activists more difficult.

Tapan Bose who is Secretary General of the Indian Chapter of Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) says that the Kashmir issue should not be looked at as a geographic dispute between the two countries, but it should be viewed as an issue of the rights of the Kashmiris who have been suffering for the last six decades. Here credit goes to Pakistan to have changed its historic official stance that plebiscite should be held allowing people of Kashmir to decide whether they want to join Pakistan or stay with India. The Musharraf formula was out of the box. He had made a four point proposal to resolve the long standing Kashmir issue:

  1. First, identify the geographic regions of Kashmir that need resolution. At present the Pakistan part is divided into two regions: Northern areas and Azad Kashmir. The Indian part is divided into three regions: Jammu, Srinagar and Ladakh. Are all these on the table for discussion, or are there ethnic, political and strategic considerations dictating some give and take?
  2. Second, demilitarize the identified region or regions and curb all militant aspects of the struggle for freedom. This will give comfort to the Kashmiris who are fed up with the fighting and killing on both sides.
  3. Third, introduce self governance or self rule in the identified region or regions. Let the Kashmiris have the satisfaction of running their own affairs without having an international character and remaining short of independence.
  4. Fourth, and most important, have joint management mechanism with a membership consisting of Pakistanis, Indians and Kashmiris overseeing self governance and dealing with residual subjects common to all identified regions and those subjects that are beyond the scope of self governance.

It is not a perfect solution and sounds simplistic for a complex problem. But at least these are fresh working points. No doubt India and Pakistan have a huge historical and political baggage that is attached with the issue. The importance of Musharraf’s proposal was that it came from the head of the institution which has the final say on this matter in Pakistan. The establishment in Islamabad is in fact more interested in ensuring the free flow of water in the rivers allocated to it in the Indus Water Treaty, the concern for the Kashmiris is just an emotive packaging. No country wants to sound materialistic; no wars were fought in the name of material interests — all had altruistic or ideological labeling.

Pro-peace activists and writers had always argued that water distribution under the Indus Water Treaty has withstood the strain of two wars and a Kargil battle between the two countries. But ever since India has started making dams on the rivers allocated to Pakistan, the lobby which demands that Kashmir should be given to Pakistan reminds us that Mr. Jinnah has rightly called Kashmir as “a jugular vein of Pakistan.” When I talked to Tapan Bose about the potential threat to peace movement from the water dispute between the two countries, he said that it should be decided in the light of the treaty. He says as an environmentalist he is against big dams in any case. He also pointed out that Kashmiris were not happy about the treaty because they feel India and Pakistan had distributed their rivers water without even discussing it with them. At the same time Indian stance is that building dams on the rivers for producing electricity is permissible under Indus Water Treaty. Pakistan’s Indus Water Commissioner Jamat Ali Shah agrees that India has the right to make run-of-river projects and that it can provide water to the villages at the border for daily use. But he thinks India should not sell electricity produced for Kashmir to Maharashtra. In this atmosphere of trust deficit between the two countries it is easy to build public opinion in Pakistan against India on the sensitive water issue.

Thus the most immediate task for the peace activists is to study the water issue in depth and develop an effective communications campaign. The Indian peace activists should create public opinion that Indus Water Treaty should not be violated. Small dams should be made only for electricity production and not for irrigation of land. And India should compensate Pakistan on mutually agreed terms for the water that is blocked for the storage of a dam. In Pakistan all peace loving forces should not let the jingoist political parties and media zealots to hijack this issue to whip-up hatred against India. Peace activists here have to educate the people effectively about the real position. Just making statements and holding seminars is not enough, a concerted communication strategy is needed. Remember good relations are always built on better communications and understanding of each others interests. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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