Back in Karachi after an eventful visit to Lahore for the Aman ki Asha ‘A Common Destiny’ conference that started on April 22, with a closed door discussion between distinguished Indians and Pakistanis deliberating on issues of strategic importance and the need for peace between the two countries. They agreed on this joint statement at the end of the day.
The following day, at a televised panel discussion, conducted by Iftikhar Ahmad of Geo TV, former foreign minister Khursheed Kasuri elaborated on something he has hinted at before – that Pakistan and India had been a hair’s breadth away from a settlement on Kashmir. What stymied the agreement was instability within Pakistan and Musharraf’s ouster of the Chief Justice which led to a nation-wide movement. Following the panel discussion, he talked in more detail to some of the journalists present, including the Times of India’s senior editor Ranjan Roy, and Babar Dogar of The News. Their detailed stories, merged and published the following day with a joint byline, are available at this link. In brief:
“We agreed on a point between complete independence and autonomy”. All that was left to do was to sign on the dotted lines.All that remained to be done was the formal signature of all the three parties to the issue – Pakistan, India and representatives of Kashmir. “All India and Pakistan now need is to defreeze the process. The entire paper-work has been done. The copies of related documents are safe with some friendly countries as well”.
Negotiators from Islamabad and New Delhi had quietly toiled for three years, talking to each other and Kashmiri representatives from the Indian side as well as Kashmiris settled overseas to reach what he described as the “only possible solution to the Kashmir issue”.
The agreement included full demilitarisation of Indian Kashmir as well as Azad Kashmir, keeping “a nominal chunk of forces would be kept back in the strategically important areas of liberated Kashmir for sometime’’. It also included loose autonomy that stopped short of the azadi and self-governance aspirations, to be introduced on both sides of the disputed frontier.
The only Kashmiri leader to refuse the deal was the hardliner Sayeed Ali Shah Gilani who “would accept nothing but merger with Pakistan, which ironically is something we too wanted but knew wasn’t practical. I once had a seven-to-eight hour meeting with him and even Musharraf met him but he refused to budge.’’
The Line of Control (LoC) was to be made `irrelevant’ so that the Kashmiris could be allowed to move freely across the Valley, using their ID cards.
President Pervez Musharraf had a possible signal from the Manmohan Singh government in early 2006 to formalise the almost reached solution in August 2006. Or, if delay was inevitable, the announcement to this effect could be made by March 2007. However, Kasuri suggested that President Musharraf put the process on hold for a while as the media, the opposition, the people, especially the civil society and the lawyer community were agitating against the former president in the aftermath of the judicial crisis, and any initiative by the government would be eyed with suspicion.
Each side had agreed not to present the agreement as their victory. To soften public opinion before making this breakthrough public, India and Pakistan decided to resolve the Sir Creek issue. Indian PM Manmohan Singh was scheduled to come to Pakistan in 2006 for signing the settlement of the Sir Creek issue. However, the Indian government postponed the meeting in view of general elections in India the same year. The Sir Creek matter was put ahead of the already agreed agenda on Kashmir with the purpose to give more credibility to Indo-Pak endeavours. “There was a usual perception that Pakistan and India just couldn’t resolve any mutual dispute through bilateral engagements”.
By then, Pakistan and India had already held over 15 informal meetings for chalking out a feasible plan to settle the dispute. In the latter part of the deliberations, both countries realised the need to involving the crucial party to the conflict, the Kashmiris, in the ongoing negotiations. Apart from Indo-Pak meetings during the process, India and Pakistan held talks at various levels with the Kashmiri leadership. “I had held covert meetings with the Kashmiri leadership even in other countries,” said Kasuri.
“The media can make the difference at this point in time. If more credible media groups joined the cause, wonders could be done in near future. I hope these two media giants kept the momentum up for sometime till the respective audience realised the significance of peace in the region.’’