Indo-Pak peace plan offered

By Haider Ghaznavi

In a landmark development in Indo-Pak ties, which have been strained since December 2001, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee offered peace talks to Pakistan at a rally in Srinagar, in Occupied Kashmir. Behind a bulletproof screen, he nervously addressed the crowd of curious people who had turned up to listen to the first Indian prime minister in sixteen years who gathered the courage to venture deep into the heart of Occupied Kashmir to address a rally. However vocal he may be in Delhi about employing all means necessary to quash the indigenous freedom struggle in Kashmir, he was careful to avoid discussing such topics in his speech.

The peace talks offer came as a surprise not only to Islamabad but also to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hawks in Vajpayee’s own cabinet who were flabbergasted at the prime minister’s unilateral decision to reverse a well-established BJP policy which prohibited any peace initiative towards Pakistan. Vajpayee, after much pushing and shoving, difficultly managed to calm the ensuing pandemonium in the Indian Parliament. One wonders how he managed to implement a complete U-turn in a longstanding BJP policy towards Pakistan. Could it be that after Colin Powell’s repeated emphasis on finding a means to abate the crisis via dialogue fell on deaf ears and he decided to dispatch Richard Armitage to the region to stress the importance of his repeated cries, Vajpayee finally acquiesced to offer peace talks? Some argue the offer comes suspiciously before Pakistan takes up the rotating presidency of the Security Council in May in order to prevent Pakistan from pushing for yet another resolution on Kashmir. In any event, one only hopes that the estranged neighbors can sort out their differences and keep the peace talks from deteriorating into an armed conflict as they have twice in the recent past.

In 1999, the peace summit in Lahore quickly degenerated into the bloody Kargil War when the two sides failed to reach an agreement over Occupied Kashmir. Similarly, at the Agra summit two years ago when both leaders agreed to “talk out” their differences and decided to meet in Agra after months of bloodcurdling rhetoric hurled at each other, the negotiations began only to break down into a stalemate over the status of Kashmir. As tempers flared and feathers ruffled, the talks quickly developed into another round of threats and counter-threats before both sides amassed a million troops, eyeball-to-eyeball along the Line of Control in Kashmir.

The only visible hurdle at this point that is likely to mar the peace talks is the status of Kashmir. India’s insistence on relegating the Kashmir issue to the backburner and instead concentrating on issues of mutual economic and social interest is at odds with Pakistan’s emphasis on the status of Occupied Kashmir as the “core” issue between them.

Many see no solution to the Kashmir issue, apart from the implementation of the numerous U.N. Security Council Resolutions affirming the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir and demanding a referendum held under the auspices of the UNCIP (United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan) for the people of Kashmir to decide whether to cede to India or Pakistan. U.N. Security Council Resolution 122 (1957) reads, “The Security Council…Reminding the Governments and authorities concerned of the principle embodied in its resolutions 47 (1948) of 21 April 1948, 51 (1948) of 3 June 1948, 80 (1950) of 14 March 1950 and 91 (1951) of 30 March 1951, and the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan resolutions of 13 August 1948 and 5 January 1949, that the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.” Subsequent resolutions (123, 126, 209, 210, 211, 214 and 215) stress the fundamental human right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir.

Then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reaffirmed the right of the Kashmiri people to decide their future themselves in a statement to the Indian Parliament on November 8, 1947: “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it. We are prepared, when peace and order have been established, to have a referendum held under international auspices like the U.N. We want it to be a fair and just reference to the people and we shall accept their verdict.” What better time than the upcoming negotiations to give the Kashmiris their long promised right of self-determination?