What to Do About Jammu and Kashmir

In Frontline (India), Praveen Swami on the stagnating Indo-Pakistani dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir.

LITTLE pamphlets fluttered down into the small Pakistani towns of Wana and Miranshah in March, exhorting local residents to support the armed forces in their struggle against a resurgent Taliban. “This war is against foreign terrorists and their harbourers who are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Jews and Hindus against the state of Pakistan,” the air-dropped leaflets read.

What do leaflets in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the India-Pakistan dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir have to do with each other? A good deal. In recent weeks, it has become clear that the dialogue process is starting to reach that place so familiar to its participants – impasse. Confidence-building measures like the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service seem to be running out of steam. In March, the first bus service in a month attracted just four passengers from Jammu and Kashmir. On the political front, Islamist terror groups are yet to join the dialogue. And while both India and Pakistan support out-of-the-box solutions, neither side can seem to agree on exactly what these innovations might be.

All of this has made General Pervez Musharraf’s calls for the demilitarisation of parts of Jammu and Kashmir hugely attractive. A grand Indian gesture, demilitarisation advocates argue, would breathe life into the dialogue, compel terrorist groups to declare a reciprocal ceasefire, and enable the Pakistani President to shoo away the Islamist hawks who are circling the skies, waiting to prey on the remains of the peace process. Should India fail to do so, some experts have warned, the uniform-wearing Islamists who prepared the pamphlets could seize power, and bring a summary end to detente with India.

Is demilitarisation, then, the sensible next step ahead on the road to peace?