Musharraf’s Kashmir Policy: An Appraisal

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Tayyab Siddiqui[*]

Kashmir has been a festering sore and primary cause of friction and conflict between India and Pakistan. Accordingly, it has been a priority on the foreign policy agenda of each government but has defied resolution and even led to two wars between the two states. It was, therefore, not surprising that in his address to the nation, on October 12 1999, General Musharraf pledged to resolve “the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir” and reiterated “unflinching moral, material and diplomatic support to our Kashmiri brethren in their struggle to achieve their right of self-determination”. He urged India “to honour the UN resolutions and its commitments to the people of Kashmir. It must also end its repression of the Kashmiri people and respect their fundamental human rights”.

General Musharraf has completed 8 years of his rule with unbridled powers. It is time to take stock of the situation; how has his government faired and how resolute has he been in achieving his objectives. His first major foray in this direction was the Agra Summit in July 2001. It proved a major diplomatic disaster.

Prior to proceeding to India for a summit on Kashmir, Musharraf did not hold any preparatory meeting nor did he take the Foreign Office into confidence or considered any other policy formulation institution worthy of consultation. In short, there was no official briefing and no effort to put the issue in historical perspective. To compound the issue, he preferred public diplomacy and used Indian media at a breakfast meeting to articulate his views in a most undiplomatic manner, causing anger and embarrassment to his host, thereby, sealing the fate of the Agra Summit.

Giving a brief account of this “sad and ridiculous episode” Musharraf, in his biography – “In the Line of Fire”, bitterly accused the Indian Establishment for the humiliation and disappointment he suffered. He was not allowed to hold a press conference on departure – a rare diplomatic snub. The debacle led to recriminations. Prime Minister Vajpai, addressing Indian parliament on July 24, laid the blame on Pakistan’s insistence on the settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir issue as a pre-condition for the normalization of relations. On August 15th he stated that Musharraf “came here with a single point agenda – to make India accept Pakistan’s terms on Kashmir.”

The freeze in bilateral relations continued until 2003. In April 2003, under US pressure, Pakistan announced the initiation of confidence building measures. These included resumption of bus and train service, restoration of air links between India and Pakistan, immediate release of all Indian fishermen and resumption of sports ties. The process was carried forward with President Musharraf’s offer to India for a sustained dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute and to observe jointly a complete ceasefire along the LOC. To further improve the climate, Pakistan on Nov 24 unilaterally announced 10 CBMs which included observance of a ceasefire by Pakistan forces along the LOC effective November 26. To accelerate the process President Musharraf also announced Pakistan’s agreement to resume air links effective 18 January 2004. Prime Minister Vajpai’s willingness to attend the SAARC summit in Islamabad was credited to the improved political climate generated by the CBMs. On 31 December 2003 India proposed its own CBMs related to working of diplomatic missions and bus service between Muzzafarbad and Srinagar and Khokhrapar and Morabao.

Prime Minister Vajpai visited Islamabad to participate in the SAARC summit (January 4 – January 6 2004). He also held a bilateral meeting with Musharraf, their first after the Agra fiasco. The two leaders, in a joint declaration on 6 January 2004, agreed “to carry the process of normalization forward” and to commence the process of composite dialogue in February 2004. They expressed confidence that the “resumption of composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues including Jammu and Kashmir to the satisfaction of both sides”. Pakistan agreed that it would not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner.

The Islamabad Declaration thus become the basic document to negotiate a basket of eight outstanding issues with “Peace and Security” including CBMs getting priority and Kashmir placed as number two in the catalogue of contentious issues to be dealt with at the Foreign Secretaries level, assisted by working groups at appropriate levels to address all these issues in an integrated manner.

Since then there have been four rounds of talks under the composite dialogue framework, alternating between Delhi and Islamabad. There have also been four summit level meetings between Musharraf and Manmohan Singh in New York (24 September 2004), Delhi (18 April 2005), New York (14 September 2005) and Havana (16 September 2006). The joint statements issued after these talks have routinely expressed satisfaction at the progress made and reaffirmed their commitment to move forward the peace process in a meaningful way. Despite such up-beat assessments, no tangible progress has been made on substantive issues such as Kashmir and the CBM’s have become an end in themselves.

Failure to register any progress on Kashmir during the last four years is due to an inconsistent and feeble Kashmir policy borne out of Musharraf’s diplomatic inexperience and enthusiasm to placate India and the West. Critics maintain that Musharraf, in his keenness to find a resolution either on his own or under US pressure, has allowed Pakistan’s traditional stand on UN resolutions to erode. Kashmir is no longer the core issue. Reference to UNSC resolutions, the bedrock of any solution, is not invoked anymore.

The Islamabad Declaration is indeed the beginning of the erosion of our Kashmir stance. The UNSC resolution 1172 of 6 June 1998 was an extremely important development. It was after 5 November 1965 that the UNSC took cognizance of the Kashmir issue and urged “India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue between them and on all outstanding issues including Kashmir”. Pakistan failed to use this resolution to revive and internationalize the issue again. Furthermore, the Islamabad Declaration did not make any reference to the Lahore Declaration (21 February 1999), Simla Agreement 1965 or the UN charter. Diplomatically speaking this has been a major blunder. Kashmir is now only a bilateral irritant. Kashmir has lost the primacy, having been made subservient to the issue of terrorism, and in this context Pakistan’s unilateral commitment not to allow its territory to be used to support terrorism in any manner is regarded by diplomatic observers as a great set back.

This commitment amounted to acknowledgement of Pakistan’s interventionist role in Indian Occupied Kashmir and also an admission of guilt. What made it worse was that this unilateral commitment was without any reciprocal Indian obligation with regard to its policy of human rights violations and withdrawal of 700,000 Indian troops. The formulation reflected Musharraf’s inexperience in the realm of diplomacy and bilateral negotiations.

Unfazed by such diplomatic blunders, Musharraf persevered in his mission to seek out a solution, however inadequate and incomplete, and succeed where his predecessors, both civil and military have failed.

In typical military bravado President Musharraf, in an informal dinner for journalists in October 2004, articulated “off the cuff” remarks as a part of “out of box” solution to the Kashmir problem. His proposals included:

  • Identify seven regions, demilitarize them, and change their status before looking for possible options to resolve the dispute.
  • The status quo in Kashmir is unacceptable and the LOC cannot be a solution to the lingering dispute
  • As a starting point for a step-by-step approach on the option of demilitarization, the regions on both sides of the LOC need to be analyzed for local culture and demographic composition. After identifying these regions, there could be gradual demilitarization following which the two sides could discuss who should control these areas.
  • Pakistan and India could also have joint control of these areas or the United Nations could be asked to play a role.

The Islamabad Declaration and the sterile talks that have followed have been brilliantly finessed by India. It has gained time to explore an internal solution and succeeded in eroding Pakistan’s position beyond relief or repair. Equally damaging has been Musharraf’s penchant for publicity and media projection and his half-baked out of the box solutions which have failed to satisfy any party or advance the peace process in any meaningful manner. In an interview to NDTV (5 December 2000) Musharraf outlined a four point solution, that contradicted Pakistan’s principled stand and also violated its commitment to the UN resolutions. Musharraf’s proposals recommended:

  1. Kashmir will have the same borders but people will be allowed to move freely back and forth in the region;
  2. The region will have self governance or autonomy but not independence;
  3. Troops will be withdrawn in a phased manner
  4. A joint supervision mechanism will be set up with India, Pakistan and Kashmir represented in it.

A perceptive analyst (Ershad Mahmoud – Policy Perspectives Vol. 4 No 2) wisely summarized the implications of the formula; “The proposals offered by Musharraf sent a clear signal that a) Pakistan was ready to compromise its traditional stance that the people of Kashmir will decide their destiny through free an fair plebiscite; b) Indian and Pakistani sovereignty would remain as it currently was at the end of the day; c) The LOC would be irrelevant except as a line on a map to demarcate both parts of the state; d) Self-governance or self rule would be granted to both parts of Kashmir and joint management established.”

Abandoning the right of self-determination has done tremendous damage to Pakistan and to the cause of Kashmir. It is not the LOC that has become irrelevant but the Kashmir issue itself in the overall context of bilateral relations. The announcement elicited serious reaction in Pakistan and was condemned as a sell out. The proposals were made without reference to any policy-making institution, like the Parliament, Cabinet or National Security Council. Despite Government disclaimers that there has been no paradigm shift the crude reality is that Pakistan has altered its historic position and is now open to “new ideas” and “out of box” solutions.

The fundamental shift in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy is primarily based on Musharraf’s appeasement policy with India. The gradual but steady silence on Indian atrocities in IHK and a lukewarm projection of Kashmir in the UNGA bears testimony to this change of policy. References from President Musharraf’s address to the world body, during the last 5 years (2002-2006), reveals this tragic slide in our position.

The UNGA is the most distinguished forum used annually by world leaders to explain their country’s policies before the international community; seeking its understanding and support to their problems. The statements by these heads of state/government constitute basic documents to gauge the foreign policy direction and their nuances for appropriate response by concerned quarters. Ever since Pakistan joined the UN, the Kashmir issue has been the dominant theme of its statements, reflecting the depth of concern and importance Pakistan attaches to the issue.

– On 12 September 2002, President Musharraf told the UNGA that the “struggle of the Kashmiri people for their right to self-determination continues unabated despite the brutal repression and state terrorism by India. In the recent past India has embarked on a sinister campaign to malign the Kashmiri freedom struggle by trying to link it with international terrorism. This canard must be rejected. The Kashmir struggle can not be delegitimized by such false claims”. Musharraf also drew a link between Palestine and Kashmir where “people have been deprived of their most fundamental rights of freedom and dignity” for more than half a century.

– On 24 September 2003, Musharraf, in his address to the UNGA’s 58th Session, recalled “the brutal suppression of the Kashmiri’s demand for self-determination and freedom from Indian occupation” and invited the International Community’s attention to the Indian policy “to suppress the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people to exercise their right to self-determination in accordance with the UNSC resolutions.” He also castigated India for seeking to exploit the International anti-terrorist sentiment after 9/11 to delegitimize the Kashmiri freedom struggle and held India responsible for “refusing to implement the UNSC resolutions and perpetrating gross and consistent violations of human rights in Kashmir.”

– Since 2004 there has been a complete turn around. There has been no mention of Kashmir being “the most dangerous place in the world”, no mention of the right of self-determination, no denunciation of the Indian atrocities and no reference to the UNSC resolutions and certainly no reference to the indigenous freedom struggle of the Kashmiri people.

– Speaking to the September 2004 session of the UNGA, President Musharraf studiously avoided all such expressions and sang to “aspirations of peace both in India and Pakistan” and Pakistan’s firm commitment “to resolving all disputes with India peacefully, including the Kashmir dispute” expressing the hope that “India shows the same sincerity, flexibility and boldness that Pakistan will demonstrate”.

– On 15 September 2005 President Musharraf addressed the 60th UNGA Summit Session. In his survey of global problems he disposed off the Kashmir issue in just one sentence. “It is essential to find a just solution of the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir acceptable to Pakistan, India and above all to the people of Kashmir”.

– In 2006 President Musharraf’s reference to the Kashmir issue in his UNGA address was more puerile and commonplace. “Pakistan desires a peaceful environment in the region. We have been engaged in a peace process with India aimed at confidence building and resolving issues including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, which have been a source of tension and conflict between the two countries in the past.”

In 2007 President Musharraf did not attend the UNGA due to internal political crisis. Pakistan’s delegation was led by the Foreign Secretary.

These statements tragically illustrate how Pakistan has gradually compromised its national issue for no visible gain. It is particularly depressing that a President who, in the Agra summit, took the honourable position of not accepting violence in Jammu and Kashmir as terrorism but as the struggle of Kashmiris for freedom took a U-turn and failed in his commitment made in the first address to the nation; to support Kashmiris in their struggle to achieve their right of self-determination.

A cursory glance at the contemporary political landscape should leave one in no doubt that current constellation of forces and factors are adverse to the early realization of the aspirations of Kashmiris. Since 9/11 it is no longer a legitimate armed struggle against foreign domination or alien occupation. It is seen only through the prism of terrorism and the verdict is that freedom fighters are terrorists and deserve the destined fate. Accordingly, the Indian claim that the Kashmir struggle is in reality an act of subversion and insurgency fomented and financed by Pakistan has been accepted by the West.

Musharraf’s Kashmir policy has remained desultory even contradictory. Spate of proposals have emanated from Pakistan and none has created any positive response or resonance. Being half baked and ill advised, they have led to serious attrition to our historical stand on the issue. These proposals have also encouraged others to further misconstrue the matter. There is discussion on a variety of models – the Ireland formula, the Swiss model and the Economic Union proposals. Instead of tabling these ideas on the negotiating table in a serious and formal manner, they have become an issue of public discourse, and in ultimate analysis harmed the cause of Kashmir.

The history of negotiations with India clearly brings out the fact that it has been a bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan, both sides arrogating the right to represent and interpret the wishes and aspirations of Kashmiri people.

The joint communiqué following Vajpayee’s meeting with Musharraf on 6 January 2004 also spoke of a solution “acceptable both to India and Pakistan”. There was no mention of the people whose future is at stake and at the heart of the problem. There has been no discussion on the modalities of Kashmiri leaders participation either, let alone a meeting of minds between the leaders of India and Pakistan. It has been stated that once the talks on Kashmir reach a substantive state, the Kashmiri representatives would be consulted. However, no efforts have been made to explain or ascertain who will represent the Kashmiris- the APHC, National Conference, or others. These organizations are poles apart in their outlook and maintain conflicting and contradictory positions on the final resolution of the issue, thereby, defying any hope of reconciliation or a unified approach.

Kashmir, in the present context of international turmoil and turbulence, requires a consistent and realistic policy. Our unilateral concession to India complicated the solution rather than facilitate it. India continues to maintain an arrogant and intransigent policy and interprets Pakistan’s concession as a weakness to be adroitly exploited. The views expressed by Mir Waiz during his last visit to Islamabad would further encourage India to seek a solution “within the Constitution of India”, leaving Kashmiris vulnerable and divided. The sad fact is that Kashmir as “core” issue has lost its urgency and primacy as the determinant of peace and security in the region. The world focus is no longer on this issue. India has succeeded in preserving all its positions and has shifted focus from its unlawful occupation of Kashmir to the overall objective of advancing the peace process.

The course of negotiation, during last couple of years has confirmed this. While our unilateral CBMs did lower the temperature between Delhi and Islamabad and had partial success in creating limited public contacts and interaction on trade and commerce; these CBMs have been manipulated to create the façade of a new dawn of hope and friendship between the estranged neighbours without any significant advance on the settlement of Kashmir issue.

What is worse is that capitalizing on West phobia about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, the Indian propaganda machinery has subtly but effectively exploited this fear and equated the Kashmiris struggle for self-determination to a terrorist activity, supported and sustained by Pakistan. The well orchestrated campaign has narrowed the parameters of Kashmir issue to “cross-border terrorism” and Pakistan has been blamed for violation of its solemn commitment in January 6, 2004 Joint Communiqué that “Pakistan’s soil would not be allowed to be used for any terrorist activity”.

The haste and impatience to seek any solution has led to compromising our principled stand without any corresponding gain. Similarly the tendency to offer ‘out of box’ solution needs to be curbed. During last 7 years there has been no full dress debate on our foreign policy in the parliament, nor any authentic and authoritative effort to seek consensus on the Kashmir issue, in the context of changing international situation and geo-strategic interests. In the absence of a policy democratically debated and duly endorsed by public representatives, our initiatives would fail to mark any impact, or advance the resolution of Kashmir issue.

The tragedy becomes grimmer when seen in the context of Indian policies. India has defied demands to reduce the level of Indian forces stationed in IHK and the atrocities against hapless Kashmiris continue unabated. According to official statistics based on the reports of Amnesty International and Asia Watch, since 1989 to May 2004, 88,942 people have been killed, 104,678 houses and shops burnt, 106,166 children made orphans, 9526 women molested and 2200 women made widows. Yet there has hardly been a protest by Pakistan at the continuing killings in IHK, creating an impression that Pakistan has left Kashmiri’s alone, denying them diplomatic and moral support.

The pace and proceedings of the peace process over the last four years have firmly proved the sterility of the process. It is time to take a pause and retrieve the situation, before it’s too late. True that there is no military solution to the problem and negotiations are the only options. However, we should also consider that no movement has occurred on any of the issues under negotiations. Realistically there is no hope of a break through, let alone a solution. The process should either deliver or be abandoned. We should wait for a more positive set of circumstances and not rush for a solution which, given our current domestic situation and international standing, can not protect our interests.

There is an immediate need for course correction. Vajpai made a pertinent observation that “if Musharraf had been willing to accept our position in 2000 which he did in January 2004, the Agra summit would have been successful and three subsequent years may have proved very valuable to take the initiative forward”. Musharraf stands before the bar of history. His sincerity in seeking a solution is not doubted. But as the saying goes “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

India is stalling any meaningful dialogue or a result orientated approach because the status quo serves their interest. President Musharraf has endorsed the Indian position that trade and commerce and people to people contact take priority. Kashmir the so called core issue has been put aside and is effectively no longer an impediment to the normalization of relations. The political government must expose the sterile nature of the composite dialogue and peace process and serve notice to the international community that Pakistan will be a negotiating partner only if the process has a time line and specific and tangible proposals are seriously and purposefully pursued for conflict resolution.

[*] Tayyab Siddiqui is a former ambassador.