- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Over the last 50 years, India-Pakistan relations have degenerated into an entangled mess of thorny issues, the thorniest remaining Kashmir.

Pakistan’s claim on the Muslim-majority state is steeped in its founding ideology as the logical home for South Asia’s Muslims. India counters its secular identity is defined by being able to provide for its Muslim minorities within India’s Hindu majority, and ceding any territory Pakistan demands would set a dangerous precedent for breaking up India’s diverse polity.

The two nuclear powers have gone to war twice over Kashmir to defend their respective positions. Friday, their leaders, Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, have a chance to start anew by constructing a roadmap for permanent peace during their one-on-one meeting in New York.

India wants water rights, increased bilateral trade and commerce, and energy pipelines that bring Iran’s oil and gas through Pakistan to western India at the top of the two-nation agenda. Pakistan, now comfortably situated as the key U.S. ally in the war against extremism and therefore well-funded, would prefer to talk Kashmir first and then anything else. Neither position is feasible for peace. Bold new steps are needed.

Four years ago, Atal Behari Vajpayee, then India’s prime minister and now its elder statesman, was prepared to make Kashmir’s people the central players in any final status resolution talks. India thus gave Pakistan’s powerful army generals, who have too much blood invested in the disputed enclave to ever walk away quietly, adequate maneuvering room to slip out under the banner of having empowered the Kashmiri people with stature to determine their own fate.

That kind of statesmanship is again needed in South Asian diplomacy to rekindle the spirit of peace Mr. Vajpayee left behind. Mr. Singh, whose primary strength is economics, needs to offer a bold political step that allows Mr. Musharraf, ever the tactician, to stare down his military hawks at home and shut down Pakistan’s jihadist enterprise.

To break the deadlock, Mr. Musharraf can offer prospects of a bilateral pro-business plan that puts the trade and commerce issues India wants at the top of the agenda while asking his Indian counterpart to offer a macropolitical framework that prioritizes resolving Kashmir.

A secure and lasting framework for peace could be guided by the following principles:

• Pakistan establishes mini-free trade zones; India offers freedom of movement for Kashmiris. Pakistan should propose to match India, industry for industry, in reducing tariffs, customs duties and other prohibitive fees by creating a series of smaller free trade zones that can form the basis for larger bilateral trade and commerce. India recently encouraged its large manufacturers to import capital goods by eliminating import duties to strengthen output and export capacity.

Increased trade would mean more jobs. More jobs would mean fewer idle hands. Fewer idle hands would mean fewer recruits available to the extremists, and therefore less terrorism.

India, in return, should agree to release Kashmiri prisoners, permit Indian-held Kashmiri residents to travel abroad, as the Vajpayee government did to great effect in 2001, and start a people-unifying bus service for Kashmiris between Srinagar (on the Indian side) and Muzaffarabad (on the Pakistan side).

The buses should run without requiring passports of Kashmiri travelers, a prerequisite that would have the disastrous effect of politically recognizing the Line of Control separating the disputed territories as a de-facto international border before other steps can be taken.

If Mr. Singh helps create conditions for unifying Kashmir’s people, Mr. Musharraf should respond by genuinely ending his army’s support for cross-border insurgents that has vexed bilateral relations.

c Pakistan places top priority on high-volume energy links; India places top priority on resolving Kashmir. In exchange for New Delhi putting Kashmir at the top of the bilateral agenda with defined resolution milestones, Islamabad could approve New Delhi’s much-needed Iran-India oil and gas pipelines for transit across its territories, including security guarantees by Pakistan’s armed forces. Since Pakistan’s economy will be inextricably linked to and increasingly dependent on India’s for decades to come, it only makes sense that Pakistan earn the $500 million to $800 million per annum in transit fees and revenue (1 percent to 11/2 percent additional gross domestic product) the pipelines will generate while helping India’s economy grow.

Pipelines carrying India’s refined energy products to Pakistan should also be considered (Pakistan, for example, needs up to 10 million metric tons of diesel fuel yearly, which Indian refineries can provide). Such bilateral exchanges of vital energy products make it much less likely either country would unilaterally shut down the other’s energy lifelines. This is “trust but verify” at its very best.

To elevate Kashmir as an issue meaningfully, Mr. Singh should regenerate the good will New Delhi once enjoyed among indigenous Kashmiris. Invite them to the table as partners for peace. Mr. Singh should remember forcing one party in a dispute to make all the concessions could irreparably compromise that party’s ability to negotiate at all. Leaving the key party out — Kashmir’s people — is an unacceptable price.

c One bold step: Adjusting the Line of Control. Kashmir’s final solution lies in territorial adjustments that reflect India’s desire for geographical unity while respecting Pakistan’s yearning to reunite with disputed Kashmir’s people. Therefore, modifications of the Line of Control that give Pakistan even a sliver of the coveted Kashmir valley by moving it a few miles east in the southern part near Srinagar, while moving it westward in the northern part at Siachen, where only glaciers hold fort, would give Pakistan’s army generals enough cover to claim victory to their partisan domestic audience while allowing India its right to geographical unity.

Accentuating such territorial adjustments by making the border more porous so Kashmiris within the princely state can be reunited and demilitarization can occur would heal the scars of five decades of conflict.

Mr. Musharraf and Mr. Singh have a historic chance to put forth a comprehensive plan for engagement that leaves troubled histories behind them, offers economic hope and development to the one-sixth of humanity they are responsible for and forever changes the political fate of one of the world’s most elegant and peaceful people.

Mansoor Ijaz, chairman of Crescent Investment Management in New York City, jointly authored the blueprint for a cease-fire of hostilities in Kashmir in 2000.

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