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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 from Jammu.

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 Heights.

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.

Trial 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 issue.

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.

A 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 both countries.

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.

P R 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 Bihari Vajpayee.

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 for Kashmir.

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 to make.

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.

Kashmir government 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.

Arun 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 Journalist's Handbook.

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