Cross-LoC interactions in J&K: So Far, Yet Much More

01 Aug, 2013    ·   4062

D Suba Chandran deconstructs the gaps that are to be bridged between the civil society and the state

In the recent years, no initiative between India and Pakistan, especially between the two parts of J&K evoked so much of enthusiasm, expectation along with dismay and disappointment, as the cross-LoC interactions have. The bus service for the divided families and the truck services for a limited trade were greeted with so much of passion and zeal in every sub-regions of J&K.

With Cross-LoC trade likely to complete five years this October, where do we stand today? Why this initiative has failed to expand? Where lies the problem?

One approach is to look into all the practical problems of the bus and truck services. From the slow and disappointing pace in processing the application forms, to the lack of travel documents, telephone and monetary facilities, use of an absolutely outdated barter as exchange – one could identify multiple problems at the ground level. Multiple reasons could be easily identified  in why the process has become complicated, resulting in increased disappointment amongst those who are making use of it and those who would like to.

The above approach will result in a huge laundry list of problems in cross-LoC interactions. Though valid, will such an approach alone be sufficient to find ways to improve the present conditions in the existing interactions? And more importantly, will such an approach help the process to expand further?
An alternative approach could be to find the problems at the macro level, in terms of why these two initiatives have not taken off, despite the potential and interest at the ground level. Let us try to identify what is the problem at the macro level, before banging our heads against the wall.

First and foremost, the cross-LoC interactions started off as a political confidence building measure between India and Pakistan in J&K. Any subsequent positive development within J&K was to be constructive collateral, for the main objective is to find ways and means to improve Indo-Pak relations at the bilateral level. Decision by India and Pakistan to respect the sanctity of LoC was a political one and was a part of this larger process.

Second, the process was driven by the political leadership at the highest level. Had it not been for Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh’s political decision to move ahead, this process would not have taken off in the first place. Unfortunately, on this issue, Musharraf never received the credit he deserves. Despite being from a military background, he made a brave decision to move ahead on J&K. He also proposed multiple ideas, some of them highly questionable, but the rest deserved a closer look. In retrospect, it appears that the initiative on cross-LoC was driven by Musharraf and did not have the support of rest of his Establishment, and more importantly, the policy makers and drivers behind Pakistan’s Kashmir strategy.

On the Indian side, Manmohan Singh should also be acknowledged for taking the first step, despite reservations from his own ministries, and those who drive India’s Kashmir policy – internally and externally. Manmohan and Musharraf went ahead despite domestic opposition within a section of their own ministries and departments.
Musharraf being removed from the political scene, it was unfortunate, that whatever good he did, limited though, became highly despicable within Pakistan. The government that followed, led by the PPP got embroiled with fire-fighting on a daily and hourly basis vis-a-vis terrorism, political stability, cross-Durand relations and the fallouts of Osama bin Laden’s killing. Within India, Manmohan became a dummy Prime Minister, but an able successor to Vajpayee, in terms of starting a good process, but allowing it to flounder.

From Round Table Conferences to Working Groups, there have been numerous positive initiatives that Manmohan started, but failed take them to logical conclusion. Like Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh also wants to stick to power, rather than imposing his will. If only he would have wanted, cross-LoC trade would have been one of the most successful initiatives in J&K. All those issues identified as bottlenecks and problems at the ground level for the trade, would have vanished in a single day – if only he would have wanted.

Following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indo-Pak relations took a nosedive, taking the cross-LoC interactions along with it. Those ministries and departments which had reservations on the cross-LoC interactions took the centre stage with a smirk: we told you so. With the political leadership at the top level having other concerns and the conservatives taking the main stage, cross-LoC interaction is bound to remain ineffective.

Third major issue at the macro level is the interest, enthusiasm and the engagement of all the sub-regions of J&K across the LoC. While there is an interest and enthusiasm in the Jammu region – especially the Poonch and Rajouri belt, it was primarily social. There are more divided families in this part of the LoC, and there is a huge interest in the bus service. When the truck services started in this region through Chakan-da- Bagh, thanks to the capacity of the local traders, and the enthusiasm of big traders outside J&K, the cross-LoC trade is seen more as a proxy trade today.
In Kashmir Valley, there is more interest in the cross-LoC trade, for the number of divided families, when compared to the other regions is less. More importantly, the Kashmiri traders stand directly to be benefitted out of the trade and do not have to be someone’s proxy, for there is enough capacity and produce to trade from the Valley.

Across the LoC, there is sufficient interest in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur for both to trade and exchange family visits.

While Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Muzaffarabad have enough interest – social and economic, Gilgit, Baltistan, Kargil and Leh have been totally left out of this interaction. Except for being politically correct, neither the political elite, nor the general public is keen to expand the interactions to include the GB-Kargil-Leh belt.

Now, in terms of the road ahead, what could be done at the macro level? First and foremost, India and Pakistan need to be convinced that the cross-LoC interactions is in the security interests of the two countries, and not a “concession” to J&K, as is generally viewed by New Delhi and Islamabad. There has to be adequate pressure, not in the streets of Srinagar, Jammu and Muzaffarabad, but in New Delhi and Islamabad. Rest of the civil society in India and Pakistan sees the cross-LoC interactions as a huge success story, without understanding the practical problems, and the huge potential.

Second the governments in J&K across the LoC have to play a positive role, in pressurizing the national capitals. Given the enormous problems between the State and the Union, cross-LoC is perhaps the least in their wish list, or only to serve a political point.

Third, the multiple civil societies within the region have to speak and pressurize the national and state capitals in one voice, for there is something for everyone, and for the entire region cutting across the LoC.

If the macro issues are sorted out, micro issues will get dissolved automatically. Perhaps the State in India and Pakistan, in terms of the cross-LoC interaction would have made up their mind: So far, no more. It is in the interest of multiple societies in J&K and the rest of India and Pakistan to demand: So far, yet much more.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir