03/15/2005versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend



But obstacles to peace abound
Writen for PeaceReporter by
Andrea Carbonari*
 
Delicate balance. Hundreds of people are standing in line these days at public offices in the two parts of Kashmir. Residents under Indian control in the state of Jammu and Kashmir as well as those in the Pakistani zone known as Azad Kashmir are hoping to get a special permit to travel by bus to visit relatives not seen in decades, in some cases since 1947. On February 14 the governments of New Delhi and Islamabad reached an agreement to establish a bus route that will connect Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and a regional hub, with Muzaffarabad, capital of Azad Kashmir. Service is set to begin on April 7. The route will reunite families separated by the Line of Control, the provisional border that has divided this territory since 1947. India and Pakistan both claim control over the whole of Kashmir.
 
This bus route is one of several Confidence Building Measures enacted by the respective governments in an attempt to create a climate for peace between two countries that have gone to war three times since 1947, the year they were born in the wake of British rule. Meanwhile the Pakistani national cricket team is on tour in India. There is hope that initiatives like these can lead to friendship between neighbors. But while the peace process started in 2004 appears to be moving forward, there are still many obstacles to overcome.
 
kashmir mapResistance. Not all the residents of Jammu and Kashmir support these measures. Many have criticized the new bus route through Kashmir for political and security reasons and feel that New Delhi is simply diverting attention from the real issue. The All Party Hurryiat Conference includes all those working towards the independence of Kashmir or its union with Pakistan by legal means. Some Hurryiat members have expressed their distrust of any initiative that fails to solve the question of Kashmir. Terrorist groups active in India—including Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been particularly visible in recent months—have already announced their intent to sabotage the new bus line. These groups have been waging an ongoing war against government institutions. According to some estimates they have been responsible for 66,000 deaths since 1989. In recent months, rebels have attempted to disrupt administrative elections underway since January in parts of Jammu and Kashmir. They have killed two candidates and several others in a number of attacks. But elections—which had not been held in this state for 27 years—continue even if the actions of the Hurryiat Conference have greatly reduced turnout at the polls.
 
A slow, gradual process. Kashmir is not the only question that has kept these two nations at odds, although they now square off in the negotiations room instead of on the battlefield. Plans are also being launched for several projects whose completion would increase economic ties between the two nations. This would diminish the possibility of a fourth war between New Delhi and Islamabad, both with nuclear weapons in their arsenal. Talks are progressing slowly because neither side wants to look like it is giving in; both are primarily concerned with public opinion in their own countries. On the question of Kashmir, Pakistan insists that it wants to protect the rights of Muslims living in Jammu and Kashmir and that any resolution will have to be approved by the citizens. By contrast, India has always treated the negotiations as a matter of business between two governments. New Delhi is clearly negotiating from a position of political and economic strength, but it would still like to renew economic ties with its ex-foe. Right now the real danger is the possibility of sudden regime change in Pakistan, a nation still ruled by military dictatorship even though there has been significant progress towards a return to democracy. If Pakistani president Musharraf were to be replaced by another military leader less open to negotations with India, the whole peace process would be suspended indefinitely. But the start of the new bus line and the fact that administrative elections in Jammu and Kashmir have gone off without a significant hitch raise hopes that peace is on its way in Kashmir.
Topic: War, Walls, Peace
Area: India