It is a good omen that just before these deliberations, India and Pakistan agreed to restart the comprehensive dialogue that was halted after 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. It was after a break of two years that the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries held a friendly meeting and after briefing their respective governments, issued a statement which unveiled the road map for interactions between two Foreign Secretaries and the Foreign Ministers. It is also heartening that the Prime Ministers of both the countries have expressed optimism regarding the renewed dialogue. We not only welcome this decision but consider it an important imitative in itself. It is however imperative that the threads of the dialogue should be picked up from the point they were left off and no time should be wasted in unnecessary and ritualistic discussions. The announcement of the resumption of dialogue has generated new expectation among the people of the two countries making it a political and moral obligation for the leadership to carry forward the process sincerely and seriously. It is pertinent to mention here that not only the State of Jammu and Kashmir but the whole South Asian region is facing a grave threat to its peace. The trust deficit and strained relations between the two nuclear neighbours can prove disastrous if the peace imitative is not carried forward vehemently. A meaningful dialogue resulting in mutual trust and unity of purpose between India and Pakistan can also help in defeating the imperialist intervention and growing extremism of various hues. The threat of terror and obscurantism is presently being faced by both the countries and their limited resources which should have been utilized for the up-lift of the people and development are being drained towards countering the menace of terrorism and violence.
While we discuss new initiatives for Kashmir, we have to bear in mind that the problem which needs an amicable settlement has definitely no simple or readymade solution. With the passage of time, the problem has become so complicated that even the creation of a conducive atmosphere for the resolution of this vexed issue can be a great achievement. Those who want a short cut to solution should realize that the final resolution of the problem and creation of a favourable environment are not contradictory and in fact complement each other. While taking new initiatives, diversities across the line of control in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir have to be recognized as the same would help in understanding the contours of the problem at present and will lead to a realistic and positive direction. Every imitative should unite the people of the state rather than divide them. No divisive formula can be acceptable to the people who have many a time shown their dislike for division and mutilation. When we talk of new initiatives, the question which strikes my mind is whether the old initiatives have been implemented with positive results? It is rather ironical that we have hardly left any relevant initiative which has not been put forth and discussed at different fora. The problem seems that the initiatives have either been non-starters or they have not been followed vigorously. Most of the initiatives lie in old news paper files and on internet websites. Keeping this unpleasant but objective reality in view, we have to revisit the earlier initiatives and take them with a new and added force as also with changes that have become necessary due to a number of new developments in Jammu and Kashmir and the sub-continent.
As a member of the State Legislative Assembly, I have witnessed with keen interest that despite sharp differences on various issues between different political parties and the representatives of the different regions of the State, most of the members of the Assembly supported the re-opening of the link roads between the two parts of the undivided State of Jammu & Kashmir. They also stood for easy cross LoC mobility and free trade. On the other side of the LoC also, the legislators and opinion leaders favoured this initiative with equal zeal. This unanimity was an expression of the great urge of the people on both the sides for coming closer and re-establishing their severed relations. Unfortunately the present travel system is not only cumbersome but restricted to the divided families only. The governments of India and Pakistan should drastically change the present mechanism and allow all the interested people to visit any area of the undivided State on a permit, the process for which should be simplified and made accessible to every citizen. The apprehension that unwanted elements and trouble shooters may take advantage of the relaxed permit system is unfounded because these elements have been crossing the LoC illegally from unconventional routes. As a part of people to people contact simplification of the permit procedure should be followed by the up-gradation of link roads and special provision should be made for the exchange of students, professionals, intellectuals, artists, cultural troupes and other civil society groups. A sort of home-tourism including pilgrimage and eco-tourism across the line of control can also be started so that economy of both parts can be benefitted. It is strange that the people to people contact across the LoC is still far behind the interaction that has been going on between the civil society groups of India and Pakistan for quite some time. No cultural troupes or some other civil society groups from either side of the LoC have so far been encouraged to meet and interact. Tour operators from both the sides should be allowed to carry tourists and travelers across the LoC without transships.
The present system of trade across the LOC has a number of short comings and hindrances. The present trade is restricted to 21 items only and the movement of goods is just twice a week. This too is being carried through old barter system and there is no arrangement for banking, currency exchange and other modern facilities. A multi trade pass of at least two years duration should be issued to traders on both sides of the LOC along with other facilities especially telecommunication and speed post services. It may be noted that normal trade will minimize smuggling, establish trading houses and banking relations. Promotion of trade on modern lines will not only better the economy of the state across the LOC, but will also help in the removal of barriers and misunderstandings. The improvement in trade relations will substantiate other efforts aimed at bringing the people closer and come out of the estrangement which can in turn lead to greater confidence and trust.
Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the control line surely needs to be demilitarized. It is because no civic society can have a healthy growth in a charged and tense atmosphere. In Kashmir the presence of army and the paramilitary forces, no doubt , is disproportionate to the level of security threat. Even now some public places are occupied by the forces which should be vacated at the earliest. We have to understand and take serious note of the fact that the common people on both sides of the line of control have realized that violence is no solution to any Kashmir related problem and peace should return without pre conditions. This positive development should be encouraged by reducing the presence of troops as it will help in weeding out those fringe elements which still preach or practice violence. The main aim of reduction of troops is to provide much needed relief to the common people whose first priority is peace and tranquility. Since we have already achieved success in holding almost complete cease fire on IB and the Line of Control, it is quite possible that we can take another step in the positive direction by reducing troops on both sides of the control line. The reduction of troops on the LOC along with people to people contact and free trade, can take us to the point, where in the words of the Prime Minister of India, the borders or let us say LOC becomes irrelevant. In addition to these major initiatives other seemingly small confidence building measures can also prove very fruitful. These include free flow of humanitarian aid, medical treatment for the patients of the entire Jammu & Kashmir in hospitals across the LOC and IB. Joint efforts to remove land mines on both sides of the line of control. Full cooperation on disaster management and exchange of weather related information. Joint projects in aforestation, conservation of environment and ecology, generation of hydro- electric power and development of irrigation can also be under taken for the economic benefit of both the parts which can again bring the two estranged regions of the pre-1947 state of Jammu & Kashmir very close. To conclude the initiatives regarding withdrawl or revision of Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA), Disturbed Areas Act and zero tolerance for human rights violations by the forces or any unauthorized armed group, will also be helpful in easing the tension which has been witnessed by Kashmir valley during the last summer. The initiatives and measures mentioned may not be new and may not look earth shaking but they can certainly create an atmosphere for taking ahead the dialogue process which is fortunately being re-started by India and Pakistan and on which the masses of Jammu & Kashmir have pinned their hopes. Let us also hope and strive for the best possible.
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