By S.R. Ramanujan
?Infiltration continues, militants are still trained across the border?? ?Militant infrstracture in Pakistan is still intact despite the recent thaw in bilateral ties.? Who must have said these unedifying words, a day before the ?mini summit?, when the media and the political class were going ga-ga on the composite talks between India and Pakistan? It was from Union Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee whose anguish was that improved ties did not bring down the militant activities. He further accused that Pakistan was indulging in double-talk. Coming as it does from the Defence Minister, one need not attribute any motives to his statement. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus, which ran through the terrorist-infested path on April 7 to unite the divided families, may be, according to the officials on both sides, a good confidence-building measure. But whose confidence is it going to build up if the nation'sdefence minister himself appears so desolate? Keeping it aside for a moment, what is the story of the ?divided families? from across the border? How many of them are interested in coming to Srinagar except as a vacation? How many of them have their relatives on this side? Was any survey done?
I do not know how many of you would have closely observed two brothers, one from the PoK who traveled from Muzaffarabad to meet his brother in the Valley, the visual of which was repeated for two days on the screen of a national news channel, the anchor claiming it to be a historical picture of the channel. Absolutely, there was no similarity in the features of the two brothers. Nor was there warmth as they met. It was only the television anchor who was euphoric and inducing warmth and for every show asked them to hug each other. While the man from the Valley could pass for a typical Kashmiri, the one from across the border could be anyone from Hapur or Hoshangabad or Meerut. This only confirms the theory that Kashmiris from the Valley have nothing in common with those from PoK in terms of ethnicity, culture and language. No doubt there was migration when the raiders invaded the Valley in October 1947, but it did not involve more than a few thousand families, that too from the upper class Muslims who originally hailed from Central Asia. Where are those families? Most of them migrated to the West seeking greener pasteurs as Gujarati Patels or South Indian IT boys and girls settled in the US for the same reason. BBC Correspondent, Aamer Ahmed Khan, who visited the PoK on the eve of the inauguration of the bus service, has this to say:
?In the affluent southeast (of PoK) including the cities of Mirpur and Rawalkot, the political debate over Kashmir'sstatus lost its place in public discourse a long time ago?Few in these cities look back at Srinagar anymore?so focused they are on Western capitals where most of them have made their fortunes. Businessmen in Mirpur accept the UK currency and it is not uncommon to be reminded of the British chain Tesco'sin its supermarkets. Rawalkot, once a dusty little town, has recently distinguished itself for its distinctly European architecture. As diaspora money from all over Europe continues to pour in, the town shows little signs of being a part of a land that has been at war for over 50 years.?
A bus traveler from PoK told the media that among the divided families 90 to 95 per cent are not from the Valley. Therefore, the demand for opening more entry points along the LoC has to be viewed in this context. All these are fine. But a mystery that remains unsolved in history is this. Why did Sher-e-Kashmir not insist on Muzaffarabad and Mirpur to come under his reins, when the Indian Army threw out the invaders from the Valley. Those areas could have been easily taken over according to Gen S.K. Sinha who was then a young major at the Army Headquarters. According to Kashmir watchers, the regions of Muzaffarabad and Mirpur were of no interest to Sheikh Abdullah since the local population'sloyalty was not with him and these areas were ethnically, linguisticially and culturally very different from the rest of the Valley. Moreover, the Pahari-cum-Punjabi -speaking population of these areas was closer to the Pakistani side of the J&K border. This does not mean that India should not demand those areas when there is a final settlement for the simple reason that those areas were part of the then ruler Maharaja Hari Singh'skingdom. In fact, the Maharaja who signed the accession treaty with India protested to the then Dy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel for the inaction of the Indian Army after the recapture of Baramulla and Uri. No prize for guessing who could have been behind such inaction!
So, when we are talking of uniting the ?divided families?, it does not necessarily mean ethnic Kashmiris, a vast majority of whom anyway remained in the Valley during the 1947 invasion. Therefore whom are we trying to unite? If it is the people of Muzaffarbad and Mirpur or Rawalkot, who have nothing to do with the Valley culture or language, it should then be extended to the Hindus in Sindh and Muslims in Rajasthan. That is what a senior media professional from Pakistan was demanding the other day. He said that there are two million Hindus in Sindh and a good number of Muslims in Rajasthan who have their kith and kin across the border. When this is the ground reality, why should the bus be Kashmir-centric? Well, at least it created some hype over people-to-people contact and is definitely helping to reduce the tension. This was obvious during the Indo-Pak cricket series. Matches were no longer seen as a battle between India and Pakistan and there were no bursting of crackers when Pakistan won the matches. This is at the people'slevel.
At the political level, President Musharraf was no longer the angry general that we saw in Agra when he stormed out of the summit when he did not have his way on Kashmir. Though L.K. Advani was considered to have played the spoilsport at Agra, Musharraf did not hesitate to call on him during this trip and extend an invitation to visit Pakistan. According to his own admission, Musharraf seems to have turned 180 degrees compared with his last visit. During the present trip, the General willingly allowed himself to be diverted to other trade-related issues instead of harping on Kashmir, much to the annoyance of Hurriyat leaders.
Besides all this, what India has to be worried about is the General'stalk of ?soft border? and the suggestion to make it irrelevant. That is where the danger lies. To understand this, one must go back to 1972 when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi met at Simla. Besides the Simla Agreement, there was a secret understanding. Bhutto'sthinking was clear. ?After the resumption of traffic between India and Pakistan across the international border had gained momentum, movement of traffic would be allowed at specified points across the LoC. It was thought that after the gradual use of the LoC as a de facto frontier, public opinion on both sides would be reconciled to its permanence.? Now, the General'sthinking is just the opposite of what Bhutto envisaged. What is the gameplan of Musharraf? Is he toeing the American line for greater autonomy for Kashmir? One thing is clear. The General is shrewd enough to understand the changing realities and his 2001 tune will sound jarring in 2005. He says he has change of heart. Maybe. But the change should not be in mere diplomatic niceties. It must reflect in action. As the Defence Minister pointed out, the major irritant in bilateral relations is the cross-border terrorism and training camps in areas ?under the control of Pakistan?. Will the General see to it that all the terrorist training camps in PoK are closed for ever? That is where his sincerity and change of heart will be tested.