Opening up the Line of Control

The problem with bold gestures

If Musharraf has a genuine intention to allow Indian relief workers and ordinary people to cross over into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, he had a strange way of expressing it. In a televised press conference he said ‘any amount of people were welcome to cross over’ to help, if ‘India agrees and we work out the formalities’.

India, of course, agreed immediately, pointing out that the details needed to be worked out. Expect some contentious negotiations of the kind that preceded the bus service.

But why did the General have to conduct such an important piece of diplomacy over television? Hotlines have been set up for some time. Diplomatic channels of communications remain open. Unless Musharraf’s intention was to score points by putting India in a spot, it is hard to explain why he should resort to megaphone diplomacy. Perhaps he was trying to portray himself as the initiator of bold peace initiatives. Perhaps he did it to release the pressure that was mounting on him. But after so many months of the peace-process and confidence-building measures, the least Musharraf could have done is to inform and consult India before making a grand announcement and creating expectations among a despondent people.

India now faces a politically difficult task of insisting on proper travel documents. While it should do everything possible to expedite the movement of relief and aid across the border, it must not compromise on border security. Not when Pakistan-trained terrorists are busy assassinating politicians. Opening the Line of Control should not mean travel without proper documentation. Insisting on passports — given that there are good guys and bad guys of different nationalities in the region — will not be a bad thing to do. But many ordinary people may not have passports, and it may be necessary to use identification papers issued by local authorities. India will be taking significant risks on this one — both of terrorists slipping in, and of a large number of refugees entering Jammu & Kashmir, who if they do not return soon, can upset the already tense demography of the state. The Indian government cannot be faulted for treading carefully.

Dr Manmohan Singh may feel compelled to respond with another ‘bold gesture’ in the interests of peace. Bold gestures certainly attract international applause, but India can ignore hard realities at its own cost.

9 thoughts on “Opening up the Line of Control”

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  3. Nitin:

    The General has a penchant for ‘bold’ tactical moves. Here, he’s certainly trying to score PR points against India by indulging in media diplomacy.

    Of course, he also hopes to advance Pakistani interests in J&K: Notice that he said ‘Kashmiris’ would be allowed to come across the LoC to aid their relatives. He’s trying to undermine India’s (paper) victory in the earlier negotiations over the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus that allowed all Indians, not only Kashmiri-Indians, to take that bus.

    FWIW (which may not be all that much), Navtej Sarna (the Foreign Ministry spokesman)–as well as the General–noted the importance of working out the ‘practical means’ of opening up the LoC. I hope that any such ‘modus vivendi’ is only temporary: Any permanent opening of the LoC should be contingent, obviously, on a genuine renunciation of terrorism by Pakistan.

    On a different matter, an amusing vignette of the Moderate Mirwaiz (as you dubbed him) in action comes from Praveen Swami. Apparently, MM rushed to the earthquake-affected area accompanied by a 9-truck caravan. The survivors weren’t impressed, however, since only one of the nine trucks carried relief supplies. The other eight were full of his “…cheering supporters…” Mr. Swami does add that additional supplies were later sent over by the MM. Still, it does show that in discussing politics and aid, MM knows whereof he speaks!

    Swami’s report, which actually relates the lamentably poorly organized relief effort, is at
    http://www.hindu.com/2005/10/19/stories/2005101905461100.htm

    Kumar

  4. I can’t decide whether the General is trying to paint India into a corner here; or trying to score brownie points with Indian Kashmiris; or just feels that the world needs to hear his dulcet voice from time to time. It just scares me how sure he is of his ability to handle any situation inspite of mountains of evidence to the contrary.

    The proposal is certainly worth considering though. Completely agree on the necessity for travel docs. Establishing a paper trail is important, should the refugees need to be repatriated. More likely than not they’ll integrate and stay for the long term. On balance that’s a good thing. I don’t agree that the demographics should be a consideration. The incremental numbers will not change the situation dramatically. Will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

  5. Not quite sure how much the Americans had a hand in this. Musharraf was probably allowed to do it through the media to keep some cards on him.

    I tend to half agree with libertarian. Kashmiris will mainly tend to leave the mountains now (short term), and they would all rush for the valley and finally to the rest of big Indian cities, including the Pakistani Kashmiris (once the Line of control is opened). This may (cautious) help integrating the two people and ultimately lead the whole ‘peace process’ to an unknown place suddenly. Similar to what happened during the fall of Berlin wall. Might not be a bad idea.

    But looking at it from the longer term, it will also bring in people (ultimately filtering to the rest of India) who might prove a burden on the economy and security of the general public, not unlike what displaced Afghanistanis brought to Pakistan. No fault of theirs, but really a nightmare in practical terms. West Germany is still not recuperated. Germany is now coming out of a recession. Not to mention the huge security threat.

    The good thing is, Kashmiris are forward looking people (They are just caught in a time warp not entirely created and sustained by them). And Indian economy is doing good. It might also lead to somethng like the European Union, and we have more commonalities between eachother than the europeans.

    But really depends on how things go in the next few days that will really decide where the region is heading.

  6. I actually like the MEA’s response (http://meaindia.nic.in/pressbriefing/2005/10/18pb02.htm). While welcoming the statements, it keeps pointing out that these came from ‘news reports’ and also emphasizes that Pakistan has to get back on how it proposes to put things in practice.

    Travel documents will be an issue for sure. I think the compromise would be to use whatever travel documents were used for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus. But the inherent problem is that people’ve lost their property and potentially the documents as well. Should ID cards be issued on the spot along with Pakistan providing some sort of security deposit? 🙂

  7. “The good thing is, Kashmiris are forward looking people (They are just caught in a time warp not entirely created and sustained by them). And Indian economy is doing good. It might also lead to somethng like the European Union, and we have more commonalities between eachother than the europeans.”

    Sachin,
    For the Kashmiri it is pehale azaadi fir economy. I hope at least now they realise azaadi will not take them anywhere.

  8. I take it everyone has seen Musharraf’s “clarification” on this:

    http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=56914&headline=Kashmiris~yes,~Indians~no:~Musharraf

    Actually even a glance at the URL tells the story; the ideological consistency is notable: earthquake or no earthquake, Musharraf (and the military) are not about to do anything that might even contain a whiff of undermining the two-nation theory. So Kashmiris can of course cross over, since these are really Pakistanis (or at the very least non-Indians) in waiting.

    None of this is particularly surprising (and is perhaps even understandable; after all I wouldn’t want the Indian PM to compromise on bedrock/core principles of Indian statehood), but I highlight it here to reinforce the point that unless the different and competing ideologies are addressed, any peace process is bound to be fragile. I am all for people-to-people contacts, ease of travel to both countries, etc. (it benefits me personally since I travel to, and have family in, both India and Pakistan), but I also fear a lot of people-to-people diappointment– a house of peace ought not to be built on sand.

  9. “But why did the General have to conduct such an important piece of diplomacy over television? Hotlines have been set up for some time. Diplomatic channels of communications remain open. Unless Musharraf’s intention was to score points by putting India in a spot, it is hard to explain why he should resort to megaphone diplomacy. Perhaps he was trying to portray himself as the initiator of bold peace initiatives. Perhaps he did it to release the pressure that was mounting on him. But after so many months of the peace-process and confidence-building measures, the least Musharraf could have done is to inform and consult India before making a grand announcement and creating expectations among a despondent people.”

    Simple answer is foot in the mouth disease which Musharraf suffers from. He has the habit of talking without thinking of the consequences. He wouldnot care about the consequences as well, as he is answerable to none. You have seen this in the WashingtonPost intervew as well. I have written an imaginative diary entry of him at http://globalindians.blogspot.com/2005/10/musharrafs-diary-private-and.html Have a look if you are interested.

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