The Manmohan Singh government’s record on Kashmir could remain the template for the new government to build on in order to resolve the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan

As elections got under way in April this year, voters heard from an unusual source in the country, Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who wrote an open letter in The Hindu (“Comment” page, April 8, 2014). “You must ask your leaders to develop a political consensus to resolve the issue,” was his appeal, that ended with “Let finding a solution to the Kashmir issue become a goal of all the parties to it.”

In the weeks preceding his letter, the Hurriyat leader had been vocal about his disappointment with the “Manmohan decade,” saying that in contrast to the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had done more to reach out to the Kashmiri people, and for a resolution. Others have been equally critical of the UPA’s efforts saying that despite all the outreach to Pakistan, the UPA has been unable to get key action from Islamabad, in spite of violence in the Kashmir Valley coming down to low levels; 2013 was the most violent year at the Line of Control since the ceasefire of 2003.

Contours of the formula

It is significant that Dr. Singh’s administration has now chosen to refute the allegations on its Kashmir record in a speech delivered this week at the Kashmir University by the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy, Satinder Lambah. “Dr. Singh,” he said, “has consistently advocated a solution that does not seek to redraw the border or amend the Constitution, but one that makes the boundary irrelevant, enables commerce, communication, contacts and development of the Kashmiri people on both sides and that ends the cycle of violence.”

Mr. Lambah spoke in his “personal capacity,” but the vision he outlined for a solution are clearly recognisable as the contours of the Manmohan-Musharraf four-step formula.

The points he highlighted are: it is important that military forces on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) are kept to the minimum, especially in populated areas; it is imperative that the people of Jammu and Kashmir on either side of the LoC should be able to move freely from one side to the other; it is important to ensure self-governance for internal management in all areas on the same basis on both sides of the LoC, and Jammu and Kashmir can, with the active encouragement of the governments of India and Pakistan, work out a cooperative and consultative mechanism to maximise the gains of cooperation in solving problems of social and economic development of the region.” It should be possible to do so to enable it to look into socio-economic issues like tourism, travel, pilgrimages to shrines, trade, health, education and culture (From Mr. Lambah’s “Discussion between India and Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir — A Historical Perspective” delivered at the Institute of Kashmir Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, May 13, 2014).

Above all, he said, “After three wars and long periods of disagreements, it is essential that any agreement must ensure that the Line of Control is like a border between any two normal states. There can be no redrawal of borders.” While this might be the most lucid explanation of the solution that the two leaders had spoken of, many rounds of negotiation and years of implementation still remain in order to effect anything that resembles a “final settlement.” But it would be a mistake to assume that no progress has been made so far.

Without doubt, Dr. Singh got a big push from the previous NDA regime, and the LoC ceasefire effected by Mr. Vajpayee. Mr. Vajpayee also made significant strides in talks with all sides, including the separatist Hurriyat leaders. In fact, his government even took the extreme step of talking to terror groups based in the Valley, through the aborted dialogue between the Home Secretary and Hizbul Mujahideen commanders.

On his part, Dr. Singh kept up the talks through “roundtables,” in Delhi and Srinagar, put in place a three-man team of interlocutors, and sent Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram to Srinagar to conduct talks with all stakeholders. Credit for the next step, of creative solutions, must go to Dr. Singh himself. Interestingly, the Kashmir formula used to be called the “Musharraf four-step,” but in the last few years, the ideas have been ascribed more to Dr. Singh than to Gen. Musharraf. In his book The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, controversial for other reasons, former media adviser Sanjaya Baru seems to set the record straight. “[Singh] was quite prepared to sell this as a ‘Musharraf’ formula rather than a ‘Manmohan-Musharraf’ formula ... He believed at the time that it would be tougher for Musharraf to sell the peace formula in Pakistan than for him to get the majority opinion on his side.”

Building on the results

Regardless of who took the credit, the four-step formula was soon visible on the ground.

While troop levels at the LoC have not come down, skirmishes, terror attacks and infiltration levels have dropped in the past decade. Army troops are seldom seen in Kashmir’s towns as they once were. Even during the stone-pelting protests in 2009-2010, the Army was enlisted no more than once — for a flag-march on the outskirts of Srinagar. The strength of the Central Reserve Police Force has also been reduced to nearly half in the State, with many bunkers being removed.

In terms of interconnectivity between the two Kashmirs, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service in 2005 and the opening up of trade routes will undoubtedly be Dr. Singh’s most visible contribution to the process. In his book, Mr. Baru describes how Dr. Singh was adamant about inaugurating the bus service. When terrorists attacked the tourism reception centre where the bus was to be flagged off a day before the launch, advisers including the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Intelligence Bureau Director advocated that he cancel the trip. Yet, Dr. Singh and the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi went to Srinagar. Nine years later, while the cross-LoC route needs much more, both in terms of infrastructure and a greater facilitation of visas, its durability is undoubtedly its biggest success.

Local governance in the two Kashmirs is for the moment left to the legislatures, and India has seen the conduct of several general elections, State elections and municipal and panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir in the past decade. In Pakistan, legislative elections were held in 2011, and general elections in 2008 and 2013. In fact, Pakistan’s virtual acceptance of the LoC as a more permanent “Line of Peace” is best reflected in its decision to reorganise parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and give Gilgit-Baltistan provincial status for governance.

Finally, the proposal to jointly manage sectors such as the environment and tourism is an idea whose time is yet to come, but remains doable. So long as there is peace at the LoC, and a free flow of traffic between the two Kashmirs, there is no reason why the governments of both States cannot coordinate things on such issues.

Setbacks of relevance

However, the ground reality has also involved many setbacks. Every terror attack from Pakistan and killing on the LoC hardens positions in India. Gen. Musharraf has long gone from a position of influence and subsequent governments haven’t yet moved to own the Kashmir formula.

In India, the government has failed to engage the separatists of the Hurriyat in taking steps toward the mainstream. Despite many promises, including one in Parliament, Dr. Singh failed to repeal the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, even from areas where the Army doesn’t operate. There has been little movement in justice for the families of 120 young men killed during stone-pelting protests in 2010, and in other allegations of human rights excesses. While it is creditable that no protester in the past five years has picked up more than a stone, the anger in the Valley is palpable, and the sense of alienation heightened after the decision by the government to hang the conspirator in the Parliament attack case, Afzal Guru, without notice to his family or agreeing to return his body. Finally, the return of Kashmiri Pandits, ousted from their homes a quarter of a century ago, remains an unfulfilled promise.

In an interview to CNN-IBN in 2009, Dr. Singh admitted that he should have moved faster on the Kashmir resolution with Pakistan. “We had come very close to a non-border, non-territorial solution, and I regret that we didn’t go ahead with it due to certain events at the time.”

Five years later, it is a regret he must continue to live with, even as his administration seeks to set the record straight on just how much was achieved in his tenure. But his ideas will remain the template for the new Prime Minister, to claim, in order to show the vision and the heart required to imagine an end to the subcontinent’s most costly dispute.

(Suhasini Haidar is Foreign Affairs Editor, CNN-IBN.)

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