US report explores options for Pakistan-India talks

WASHINGTON: The Indian government’s insistence on Kashmir being a purely domestic issue is “a fiction maintained only by a large security presence”, says a report released by the US Institute of Peace.

The report by the Washington-based think tank, which is funded by the US Congress, argues that New Delhi’s claim will “be sorely tested by the disaffection that has intensified” among Kashmiris since Aug 5 last year when India illegally annexed the disputed territory.

“New Delhi will increasingly find it hard to manage its narrative about constitutional and political changes ushering in peace to Kashmir. Most indicators of violence in Kashmir have been on the rise since the August 2019 decision,” the report adds.

Arguing that “this untenable situation” will motivate all sides to come to the negotiating table, the report suggests a fresh look at a solution arrived at in 2004-07 by back-channel interlocutors appointed by president Pervez Musharraf and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh.

The report claims that the four-point formula proposed by president Musharraf and fine-tuned during the subsequent back-channel negotiations, is the best available solution to the Kashmir conflict.

Claims formula proposed by Musharraf is the best available solution to the Kashmir issue

The report then reviews all four points to see if those are still applicable. Self-gove­r­nance was the first point in this formula, which required both regional and territorial integrity, as was agreed in the Musharraf-Manmohan deal, and special status.

The report acknowledges that India’s Aug 5 decision has undone this option.

But the report claims that demilitarisation of Kashmir, the second main point of the 2004-07 deal, is still possible if both India and Pakistan agree to do so. This would require India to persuade Kashmiris not to take up arms against the Indian state and Pakistan “to curb militant activities along the Line of Control (LoC)”.

The report suggests starting with pilot programmes in some territorial pockets. If those prove successful, demilitarisation could be extended to other parts of Kashmir.

But the report warns that even if Pakistan were “to control militancy on its side, Kashmir might still suffer from attacks launched by indigenous militants”. And widespread disaffection in Kashmir “could play the role of a spoiler for long enough to wreck plans for demilitarisation”, the report adds.

The report also notes that before Aug 5, 2019, some steps were already taken to implement the third element of this formula — allowing the free movement of people and trade between India, Pakistan, and the two Kashmirs.

In February 2005, the two sides formally announced that a bus service would run between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad; the service began in April that year.

A second service, from Poonch to Rawalakot, started just over a year later, in June 2006. This dialogue process eventually led to the beginning, in October 2008, of trade across the LoC; duty-free barter trade for 21 items produced on either side of the divide was allowed.

The report notes that in August 2019 India announced the illegal annexation and now “any future talks based on that formula will be harder to begin”.

The fourth element of the Kashmir formula is the creation of mechanisms to oversee certain less sensitive sectors, such as the environment, on both sides of the LoC.

“Like progress toward the goal of making borders irrelevant, movement toward this objective is also possible if there is political will on both sides,” the report argues.

As the first step, the report suggests setting up working groups between India, Pakistan, and the two Kashmirs to manage common interests and tackle common issues such as trade, tourism, and river waters.

“The third and fourth points of the formula are interrelated; progress toward one would facilitate progress toward the other,” the report adds.

Although the four-point Kashmir formula is far from an ideal basis for resolving the Kashmir conflict, the report argues, “it is, nonetheless, the best available basis” for future talks.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2020