On Kashmir, hot air and trial
balloons By Arun Bhattacharjee
NEW DELHI - Despite a strong disclaimer by the
Indian High Commission in London on an apparent
indication by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Time
magazine that an adjustment of a few kilometers on
either side of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir does
not matter, it appears that a settlement between India
and Pakistan over the state of Jammu and Kashmir is
being worked on.
The report comes at a time when
India is raising barbed-wire fences along the LoC and
the state government of Kashmir has approached the Asian
Development Bank for a loan of US$2.2 billion to build a
new, shorter and safer highway to its capital Srinagar
And Manmohan, who became prime
minister in May after his left-leaning coalition's upset
election victory, is to meet Pakistani President General
Pervez Musharraf on Friday on the sidelines of the
United Nations General Assembly gathering in New York.
Time reported that Manmohan would tell
Musharraf that India was willing to "adjust" the 740-kilometer
LoC, pushing the border further into the Indian side.
The LoC is the military frontier or ceasefire line that
divides the Indian- and Pakistani-administered sections
of Kashmir, the territory at the heart of two of the
three wars the countries have fought since independence
from Britain in 1947.
More than 40,000 people
have died in separatist violence in Indian Kashmir over
the past 15 years. India has accused Pakistan of
supporting the separatists, a charge Islamabad denies.
Both countries hold part of Muslim-majority Kashmir but
claim it in full.
US diplomatic sources in India
told Asia Times Online of a recent briefing by the US
State Department to President George W Bush on a
blueprint that had been drawn up for a settlement on
Kashmir through territorial adjustments in two broad
sections of the LoC - Siachen Glacier and Kargil
India and Pakistan nearly
fought an all-out war in 1999 when the latter's
forces, under Musharraf's command, occupied the Kargil
Heights that dominate the strategic Jammu-Srinagar highway.
The sides only backed off after intervention by then US
president Bill Clinton.
balloons Indications of a possible settlement
through territorial adjustment have been leaked by both
governments in phases to mold (or prepare) public
opinion in favor of an early settlement of the Kashmir
First Musharraf, say Western diplomatic
sources, assured US Secretary of State Colin Powell that
Pakistan was agreeable to a territorial adjustment along
the LoC, to which India apparently agreed during earlier
discussions with Powell before he left for Islamabad
from New Delhi on a recent visit to the subcontinent.
A similar statement by Manmohan, though denied
by the Indian High Commission, provides credence to the
claim that a blueprint for a modified LoC as an anchor
to a settlement in Kashmir already exists.
just-retired general of the Indian army, who preferred
not to be quoted by name, told Asia Times Online that a
settlement blueprint that has been agreed in principle
by both sides exists and is being kept under wraps
to be disclosed at a juncture politically suitable for
The general added
that adjustment of a few kilometers on either side of LoC
is unlikely to alter the strategic advantage of
either India or Pakistan. He claimed that political leaders at
a very senior level in the previous administration and
the present United Progressive Alliance government have
been briefed on this.
He pointed out that Kargil has
been attacked three times by Pakistan, and some of the
heights occupied by India after dislodging the Pakistani
forces were later handed back to Pakistan.
Pakistan's attempts to occupy Kargil, the last
attempt in 1999, indicate the area's strategic
importance to both countries, as occupiers of the heights
can dominate and destroy the supply lines to the Kashmir
Valley. It is therefore to be expected that India would
want Pakistan to concede on the Kargil Heights, while
Delhi would make concessions on the Siachen Glacier,
which is of similar strategic value to Pakistan. India
wrested Siachen from Pakistan after a bitter fight to
stop Pakistani incursion, and has posted Indian troops
in the region for the past several years.
India spends an estimated US$2 million a month to
maintain troops at Siachen, which lies between 4,900 and
5,500 meters above sea level, making it the highest conflict
zone in the world.
The Indian general pointed out that
tactical adjustments in any border disputes are always
acceptable to the defense forces as no one can fight
sitting on the crest of a mountain defined as the border.
He said he feels it is for the politicians in India and
the army in Pakistan to decide how they can make this
acceptable to the people. He expects a settlement within
a two-year time frame.
Though no one would
comment openly on the territory involved, a source in
the Survey of India office told Asia Times Online that
it could involve a few hundred square kilometers on
either side; not a few kilometers as is being leaked.
Western diplomatic sources agree that India
and Pakistan are following the principles adopted
for Sino-Indian border talks, which Musharraf described
a few months ago as a "reasonable method of
settlement". But his Foreign Office denied that statement
later, saying the president did not mean the actual
process of settlement, but the spirit of it.
Chari, director of the Indian Institute for Peace and
Conflict Resolution and former director of the Indian
Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses, said, "It may
not be very difficult for India to sell the idea of
settlement along the LoC through territorial adjustment
to the Indian electorate, as it was agreed between the
former prime minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
and [Indian premier] Indira Gandhi at the1972 Shimla
Conference, when he came to negotiate the release of
93,000 Pakistani soldiers taken prisoner by India during
the 1971 war between the two countries that led to the
birth of Bangladesh."
Most Indian leaders feel
that Musharraf is the best bet for a settlement, partly
because he is under strong US pressure. The peace
process was initiated in April 2003 by a symbolic "hand
of friendship" by India's then prime minister Atal
But India is also acutely
aware of the tremendous pressure on Musharraf from
jihadi Islamic extremists in his own country, demonstrated
by two attempts on his life. Officials at the
Pakistan Desk in India's External Affairs Ministry
believe that Musharraf's most difficult task would be to
sell the idea of a Kashmir settlement - without the
Valley going to Pakistan - to elements in the country.
On the other hand, a settlement over Kashmir
will elevate him to a global status beyond anything
enjoyed by any Pakistani leader. Although the common man
in Pakistan will benefit from faster economic growth
resulting from increased foreign investment, reduction
in defense budget, which is 19% of the country's gross
domestic product, and increased US and European aid,
this will make the jihadis desperate as they will lose
one of their main ideological motivations - the struggle
On India's side, many in the
Ministry of Home Affairs believe that while "soft
insurgency" in Kashmir would likely continue for a
period even after a settlement, the economic relief to
India as a whole, and especially in Jammu and Kashmir,
would surpass any territorial concessions India may have
Home Ministry figures show that India
spent $1.1 billion to fight "cross-border insurgency"
between 1989 and 2002, in addition to development
expenditure worth $4 million a month. Budgetary support
from India's central government to Kashmir in the
2003-04 budget year was $93 million. This does not
include the huge rehabilitation costs incurred to
resettle the 40,000 people who have fled the Valley and
whose household properties were destroyed, and
compensation for 20,000 dead.
statistics show 1,151 government buildings destroyed,
693 educational institutions torched, 337 bridges
demolished by terrorists, along with 11 hospitals,
affecting the administration, education and health care
of the Kashmiri population.
Bhatttacharjee, post-graduate in mass communication
from the University of Calcutta and University of
Minnesota, authored Indian Press from Profession to
Industry, Dateline Mujibnagar (Indo-Pak war of
1971), Chasing the Missing Link, Communication
Technologies, and Gender Bias in Reporting: A
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