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A Salami Slicing Solution

Sushant Sareen is Consultant, Pakistan Project, at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • May 03, 2010

    The almost total silence in India, from the government, opposition and strategic community, over disclosures made by former Pakistani foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, on the deal on Jammu and Kashmir that had been worked out in the back-channel between the two countries, is quite unsettling. The fact that neither a denial nor a clarification has been issued by the Indian side is tantamount to an acquiescence to everything that Mr. Kasuri has been saying. Shockingly enough, nobody in the Indian establishment, except perhaps for a tiny clique, seems to have any real idea, much less details, of the purported deal on Kashmir worked out in the back-channel. Tragically, the otherwise hyper-active Indian media is more interested in the salacious and sordid details of the IPL scam rather than about what all India might have conceded in the quest for something as fragile, uncertain, and ephemeral as a peace deal with Pakistan, and that too on Kashmir.

    The broad contours of the deal have been floating around for quite some time. These included, inter alia, demilitarisation of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, a high level of autonomy, soft borders, no redrawing of borders and no dislocation of settled population, and some sort of joint mechanism for management of common resources like forests, water and other such issues. Kasuri not only confirmed a lot of what was being speculated, but also went a step further by revealing that the deal was almost done and was just a ‘signature away’.

    According to Kasuri, the two countries had reached what he calls “the only possible solution to the Kashmir issue”. This involved full demilitarisation of both Indian Kashmir as well as ‘Azad’ Kashmir (a euphemism for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). Both countries had “agreed on a point between complete independence and autonomy” and had worked out “a package of loose autonomy that stopped short of the azadi and self-governance aspirations.” The Line of Control (LoC) would become ‘irrelevant’ and the people of the state could move free across the LoC using only their identity cards.

    In an ideal situation, this would perhaps be an eminently workable, if not ideal, solution. But the simple fact of the matter is that given the state of relations between India and Pakistan – the trust deficit, the unremitting export of terrorism, the Pakistani animus towards India which has now acquired almost civilizational overtones – this solution doesn’t have much chance of working, at least not until relations between the two countries and peoples normalise and a high degree of trust and confidence develops between them. In the current circumstances, however, the solution that appears to have been worked out is neither doable, nor deliverable and, most of all, not desirable.

    Take for instance Mr. Kasuri’s admission that the agreement was “an interim one, and was subject to review after 15 years... during this period its implementation would be monitored by all parties concerned and, in the light of the experience, this arrangement could further be improved.” The Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq endorsed the ‘interim solution’ line of Mr. Kasuri. Indeed, ever since the back channel diplomacy started, Kashmiri leaders like Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have spoken about ‘a series of interim solutions’ leading to the final solution. This is nothing if not shorthand for Pakistan using a salami-slicing approach to extend its control bit by bit over the Indian state.

    Although Mr. Kasuri has not stated this explicitly, it is quite clear that the LoC would not have become the permanent border between India and Pakistan. Quite aside the fact that for India converting the LoC into an international border is a huge concession, even if some government was to ever agree on it, it will find it immensely difficult to deliver on such a deal. For one, there is a unanimous resolution of parliament that emphatically states that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and the only issue that needs to be decided is the modalities of Pakistan's vacation of its illegal occupation of a part of the Indian state. But assuming that the Parliamentary resolution can be side-stepped, the government will have to contend with a ‘basic feature’ of the Indian constitution which states that the territorial unity and integrity of the country cannot be altered. There is, however, a constitutional provision under which borders can be settled but even this involves an elaborate procedure – a two-thirds majority in Parliament followed by two-thirds of the Indian states endorsing such a move – which for the foreseeable future is both undoable and undeliverable.

    In other words, the LoC would have remained a de facto and not a de jure border, something that would keep alive Pakistan's irredentist claims over the Indian state. This in turn means that as and when the Pakistanis felt that the situation was ripe, they could resurrect their revanchist claims. The soft LoC could easily be exploited to create conditions inside Jammu and Kashmir that could, in the future, be used to create enormous political and security problems for India and wrest control over a substantial, if not entire, part of the state.

    As far as the deliverability of the deal is concerned, there is a big question mark as to whether the government in Pakistan can really pull the file off the rack and sign it. Let alone the current government, there are doubts on whether even Musharraf could have actually signed such a deal, and if he had indeed been so brave or stupid to do such a thing, how long such a deal would have lasted once he was no longer on the scene? Mr. Kasuri claims that the current civilian government in Pakistan is fully aware of the deal and is in favour of pushing it through. According to him, all the stake-holders in Pakistan, including the Pakistan Army, had endorsed the deal. Perhaps, the military brass had nodded their heads in agreement to the plan when Musharraf was both Army Chief and President of Pakistan. But no sooner had he doffed his uniform, the Pakistan Army all but repudiated the deal.

    Asif Zardari of course was keen on good relations with India. Shortly after the PPP emerged as the single largest party in the February 2008 general elections, Zardari gave an interview to an Indian channel in which he said that Kashmir must be pushed on to the back-burner and left for future generations to settle. In all likelihood, Zardari at that time was not aware of what had been worked out on the back channel on Kashmir. But the Army Chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who had been the ISI chief when the back channel was on, surely knew what had transpired. Within a few days of Zardari’s interview, Kayani went to PoK and “reaffirmed the army’s commitment to the Kashmir cause in line with the aspirations of the nation”.

    Zardari probably never took the hint and, after he became President, he announced that the nation “would soon hear good news on Kashmir”. At this stage he was probably familiar with the understanding reached in the back-channel. A week later, Kayani went to Siachen and “highlighted the national consensus that exists on the Kashmir issue”. The final straw came after Zardari told an Indian audience that Pakistan would never exercise the first-use option of its nuclear weapons. A week later the 26/11 attacks took place and the India-Pakistan peace process was blown to smithereens. Today, with the Pakistan Army once again calling the shots on high policy and strategic issues and the civilian government reduced to handling municipal matters, the civilian government has been forced to distance itself from plugging for a deal on Kashmir.

    It is a little surprising that a seasoned politician like Mr. Kasuri, who is one of the few people in Pakistan who has always been a votary of good relations with India, could have been so politically naive as to think that the solution that was being discussed on the back channel was doable, much less deliverable. Solutions arrived at in back channels are at worst nothing more than an academic exercise, and at best theoretical constructs of what could or might be. The utility of back channel is not so much in coming up with a big-bang solution but more in working out a step by step approach to create conducive conditions that over the years enable some sort of a deal that both states and their peoples can live with.

    At the end of the day, deliverable deals are possible only through regular diplomatic and political channels, in full public view and with full public approval. By Mr. Kasuri’s own admission, the public opinion needed to be prepared to accept the deal because the solution would have only succeeded if there was public support behind it, which it clearly wasn’t. Under the circumstances, it would have been quite a task to sell the deal on Kashmir to the people of both countries. Therefore, rather than ‘pulling the files from the rack’, these files should be allowed to remain where they are and pulled out only after trust and confidence is built between the two countries and their peoples. Otherwise, instead of settling issues, a deal such as the one being talked about could end up inflaming the public opinion to a point where not only will the deal become untenable and the political future of the dealmakers get jeopardised, but the peace process itself will suffer a terrible setback, one from which it might find it difficult to recover.