Fifteen trucks crossed the Line of Control Wednesday. While India and Pakistan have to go a long way towards normalising, the recent troubles in Kashmir being just one example of how much more needs be done, there is no gainsaying that the two sides have come a long way forward too.
Old mindsets still persist. There are also problems of internal politics. India is preparing for its next round of general election in mid-2009; Pakistan is grappling with its own political woes. It will take some optimism to think that either side, notwithstanding the expressions of good will and the recent meeting between the National Security Advisors, will do something really radical to push the process forward.
Yet, there is more than mere symbolism in the trucks crossing the LoC. There is also a personal dimension in this for me. This is how it goes.
I was part of the first group of Pakistani journalists to go to Jammu and Srinagar under the aegis of SAFMA. It was October 2004. That trip afforded me, as it did my companions, a closer, on-the-ground view of the situation. It was immensely useful. I ended up writing a series of articles, the last of which appeared in this newspaper on November 1, 2004. It was titled “Kashmir: creating ‘compulsions’ through geography”.
Its appearance also dovetailed, coincidentally, with our group’s meeting with General-President Pervez Musharraf. He was interested in what I had written. I had some other occasions to talk to relevant people about the idea. Below, I reproduce the latter part of that article (the full article is available at http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_1-11-2004_pg3_5).
“As the peace process between Pakistan and India pushes ahead, Pakistan is seriously thinking about the possible, and viable, options it can put on the table to interest India. General Pervez Musharraf’s recent formulation on Kashmir may have come at an Iftar-dinner, an unlikely forum to talk about the core issue between the two sides, but the manner in which he articulated his view shows the extent and depth of the exercise that is being carried out. It also evinces an admirable attempt to try and break new ground…
“The most important factor is geographic contiguity. Kashmir is contiguous to Pakistan, not India. The Jammu-Srinagar Road our [SAFMA] delegation travelled on is an unnatural route and depends on the Banihal Pass. Close down the pass and there is no link between the two areas. India has for long been trying to develop the Leh-Manali route but the project remains dicey. Forget Jammu-Srinagar; take instead the Atari-Jammu route. It takes nearly seven to eight hours to reach Jammu and longer, on a good day, to travel from Jammu to Srinagar.
“Now consider the option of travelling from Lahore to Sialkot to Jammu. The Suchaitgarh border checkpoint is less than nine kilometres from Sialkot cantonment: two-and-half hours to Sialkot and another 45 minutes to an hour to the heart of Jammu city. If the Jammu-Sialkot border is opened up and an Indian is allowed to travel to Amritsar from Jammu via Pakistan, he would reach his destination in less than half the time it would take him if he were to travel to Amritsar through Indian territory! And one thing was very clear in Jammu. Everyone wants the route to open up. If Pakistan were to propose this, its support would come from Jammu.
“The same holds true for Muzzaffarabad-Srinagar Road and other traditional points from where travel took place before Partition. Kashmiris want these routes to open up. It is no coincidence that trade was conducted through the natural routes; it always is because of reduced costs. Neither was it a coincidence that before Partition Lahore’s hinterland extended up to Srinagar in the north and Delhi in the east.
“When visitors from East Punjab — all the three states carved out of that one state — talk about removing the ‘line’ — the border — they point to this very fact. We get upset unnecessarily in trying to put a literalist spin on this figurative formulation. Interestingly, in doing so, we forget that the Quaid-e-Azam was opposed to the division of the Punjab and Bengal!
“How does this fact of geography work into the process of normalisation? It’s somewhat simple. A ‘way-out’ must respect, on the basis of ground realities, the sentiments of all the three parties involved in this problem: Pakistan, Kashmiris and India. Musharraf identified the factor of geography correctly but moved from that premise to a formulation that may not interest India and certainly is not acceptable to the Kashmiris. However, were the issue of ‘control’ to be fudged — and it’s important to fudge it — the only way to go about it would be to allow the natural routes to open up and let the dynamics of economic integration come into play on the basis of geography.
“If a trader were to send apples to New Delhi and Rawalpindi and if the costs were Rs100 and Rs40 respectively, which destination would he prefer? Ijaz Nabi, an eminent Pakistani economist at the World Bank, did a remarkable study of trade between India and Pakistan and also focussed on the natural trade linkages between the two Punjabs. It would be great to get someone like him to also study the trade patterns and direction of trade from and into Kashmir if the old routes were to be opened up. It is a project worth undertaking.
“Of course, taking steps to allow geography to determine the course of events and linkages needs to be supplemented with other measures. One very important issue relates to giving Kashmiris their life and dignity back. India would be required to stop its internal security operations under the Disturbed Areas Act. The excess military and paramilitary troops would need to be withdrawn. Right now, India has three corps — Kargil, division-minus; Srinagar, division-plus and Jammu, a regular corps — in the region. The paramilitary troops and police include J&K Police, BSF, CRPF, RR (army but performing IS duties) and even elements from ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police). Other elements — STF and intelligence — are in addition to this strength.
“This state of affairs is completely unacceptable and is a major hindrance to the process of normalisation. The recent suggestion by a group of former Indian army chiefs that a separate force be raised to man the LoC is even more lethal to the process. As part of the process of normalisation, India has to introduce confidence-building measures within Kashmir. Once this is done and the process is in an advanced stage, the two sides could even talk about joint border patrolling.
“Since this is an evolving mechanism, there is no need for the two sides to talk about any final settlement. Modalities can be worked out not just for travel across the LoC but also for allowing Indians from the region to visit Indian Punjab through Pakistan.
“This is by no means a detailed proposal. Pakistan needs to study this option very carefully before deciding in favour of or against it. However, it does seem to me as viable enough, given the seven assumptions, to at least merit serious thought. The idea is to create ‘compulsions’ on the basis of geography and economic linkages for an ultimate solution without emphasising the issue of control at this stage. And geography works to Pakistan’s advantage.”
This is what I wrote nearly four years ago. Geography indeed works to Pakistan’s advantage. But normalisation is about everyone’s advantage. Most importantly it must benefit the Kashmiris whose recent uprising shows the degree of alienation they feel from India.
Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Daily Times, 24/10/2008