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The bus to nowhere

By Arvind Lavakare
February 24, 2005 17:04 IST
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What the NDA government proposed 28 months ago has now been signed, sealed and delivered by the UPA regime: graduates of terrorist camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir can legally come by bus, cross the Line of Control and enter Srinagar, 30 at a time, from April 7.

These T-graduates will not carry an international passport -- as insisted upon by the NDA -- but an entry permit issued by the designated Indian authority at Srinagar on the basis of an application endorsed by the designated Pakistan authority.

Carrying the tools of terrorism -- AK-47s, hand grenades, IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) etc -- could pose a problem for these 'visiting guests and relatives' from Pakistan, but with security personnel on the Indian check post at the LoC being always amenable to a generous baksheesh, what with Indian currency being manufactured on the other side of the LoC, that problem could be solved by a streamlined system.

The blurring of LoC

That is how cynics see the latest CBM (Confidence Building Measure) between India and Pakistan. The sanguine see the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus development very differently. They believe that it takes the Indo-Pak ties to a higher plane while the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir described the event as historic, even as Baramulla town bursting crackers symbolised the euphoria with which the news was greeted in J&K as a whole.

There is a third view as well. The Dukhteran-e-Millat, not too well known, thinks that that new bus route will 'definitely hurt the disputed status of the Kashmiri problem.' Its chairperson, Asiya Andrabi, said, 'Anybody who has contributed to this decision is not a friend of Kashmir.' How's that, you query? Ask the third umpire, if one is around.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani believes that the coming bus service cannot impact the Kashmir issue. 'People have not given their blood for the re-opening of a road but for self-determination,' he says. That is striking rhetoric, well delivered, though expected from someone who has long been with the Hurriyat -- and with Pakistan.

But that still does not match the lofty pronouncement on the bus by Prem Shankar Jha, a celebrated 'authority' on everything Kashmir. In his column in Outlook magazine, Jha dubs the S-M bus as being 'easily the most important single step towards peace that India and Pakistan have taken in the past 50 years.' That dramatic description of the new bus route totally obliterates Indira Gandhi's Simla Agreement of 1972 wherein India not only released over 90,000 Pakistani POWs, but also vacated 5,000 sq km of Pakistan that our Army had occupied during the 1971 war -- all this in return for nothing but peace between the two countries and an oral pact that the LoC, established after the cease-fire of December 1971, would be endowed with the characteristic of an international border.

Never mind cremating Indira Gandhi's monumental magnanimity. Jha goes further to say that the importance of the latest bus service lies in what it symbolises -- 'the first step towards undoing the damage Kashmir suffered from Partition.' His argument is that the 1947-48 war (started by Pakistan, never forget) and the cease-fire thereafter, the unsolved status of the Kashmir question, Pak's repeated efforts to seize the Kashmir valley through military action and India's response to these efforts have all led to the erstwhile princely state's truncation that took away the freedom which the Kashmiris had enjoyed to travel to, to trade with and live in any part of the subcontinent.

Jha rubs the salt in by saying that in J&K administered by India, the disempowered people did not in the initial years mind the replacement of the maharaja's rule by that of the vastly popular National Conference under Sheikh Abdullah, but were later frequently reminded of their disempowerment through the imprisonment of Abdullah, the rigging of elections and the toppling of governments finally leading to insurgency in the state.

Hence his contention that the S-M bus service opens the door for Kashmiris from both sides of the LoC to meet each other, to discuss common concerns and their relationship with each other as well as with India and Pakistan. Thus his conclusion that 'the bus service bids fair to become their portal to empowerment' -- meaning "an opportunity to contribute to finding the final solution in light of their own interests and aspirations."

Now everybody is entitled to his hype and hopes. But let no one please destroy facts or distort them.

First, if the Simla Agreement and events thereafter haven't made Pakistan accept the status quo on the Kashmir valley, then one or one hundred more bus services will just not make Pakistan think differently.

Secondly, vis-à-vis his dripping empathy for the Kashmiris, the Jhas of the world must realise that it is the nature of men to accept divorces and separations and get on with their lives. The droves of refugee Sindhis, Punjabis and Bengalis of undivided India have done precisely that after the humongous, heart-breaking Partition of 1947. The Koreans have done that and so have the Tibetans under China.

If there's hardly a move for an Akhand Bharat once more, for a united Korea once more, for a Soviet Union once more, and for a composite Viet Nam once more, it's because man's inherent instinct is to move forward all the time, adjusting himself to reality. Even the Khalistanis have forgotten Bhindranwale and, along with the rest of their own kith and kin and the rest of India, shown how to work hard and live life to the full, bhangra and all, instead of moaning over spilt milk.

The Indo-Pak peace process 

In what way then are the Kashmiris so unique that they should be given a bus and much more to be tied once more to those whom circumstances separated over half a century ago? In fact, the Indian nation too should accept that PoK can never be recovered, that until Pakistan is transformed into a genuine democracy without the ISI/Army combine, it's just so much waste of time to think of peace efforts with Pakistan, and that, therefore, it's best to continue countering the terrorists as best we can.

Thirdly, it is gross injustice to history to overlook that

  • Sheikh Abdullah was imprisoned in August 1953 for his own actions that were looked upon as treasonous by a large section of his own National Conference party.
  • Jammu & Kashmir did see impressive socio-economic development for at least a decade after Abdullah's incarceration.
  • Subsequent toppling of governments and manipulated elections were made possible only because of the dirty tricks of the political oligarchy of those who ruled with the aim of creating Sheikhdoms and Sultanates with the aid of the dictatorial autonomy permitted by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
  • Since J&K's financial integration with the Indian Union, the Indian government had pumped in an estimated Rs 70,000 crores (Rs 700 billion) into the state till 1989-90 and another Rs 35,571.6 crores (Rs 355.7 billion) from the time militancy began in 1990 till 2001-02.
  • Today, solely because of the munificent financial doles to the state, the proportion of people living below the poverty line in J&K is 3.48 per cent, the lowest in the country, although the state's contribution to the nation's GDP was less than 1 per cent in 2000-01.

The above do not constitute hype but facts from published responsible documents. Then why this bus to Muzaffarabad as a tool of empowerment for the 'poor dear' Kashmiris? Empowerment for what? For secession from India? Fie on such ingratitude.

Is Kashmir bus a strategic blunder?

Any way, what kind of a bus service is S-M going to be? As per press reports, the 170-kilometre journey will mean:

  • Filling application forms with the designated authority in Srinagar to enable verification procedure.
  • Waiting for the form to be sent to the designated Pak authority.
  • Waiting for the Pak authority to screen the applicant's suitability for an entry permit.
  • Waiting for the Pak authority to communicate its decision to the designated authority at Srinagar.
  • Buying the bus ticket and waiting to be included in the permitted quota of 30 on a particular day.
  • Alighting from the bus with bag and baggage on the Indian side of the LoC, crossing the LoC on foot on the basis of the permit given by the Pakistanis at the LoC check post and boarding a second bus from there to Muzaffarabad.
  • Agreeing to visit only where relatives reside.
  • Agreeing to report to the Pak police on arrival and before return to Srinagar.
  • Agreeing to return after a fortnight.

And yes, the screening is expected to take between three to four months after it is first speeded up for the photo ops and fanfare of the inaugural service. The train from Delhi to Lahore brought Kargil upon us. What will the S-M bus service bring? Nothing, because the bus itself is going to 'nowhere.'

Tailpiece: In his article on rediff, Kanchan Gupta says the S-M service signifies India's goodbye to Kashmir. Well, what's wrong with that? Readers may froth and fume at the thought, but, really, that farewell will rid India of a vicious and unviable valley, rid us of hundreds of thousands of arrogant and ever-aggrieved people, rid us of the constant harassment and humiliation of our security forces, rid us of further loosening our financial resources that don't get so much as a 'thank you,' rid us of Article 370 that's caused such harm to Jammu and Ladakh regions, and, above all, rid us of straining our energies for peace with a neighbour whose second name is jihadistan. Think over it.

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Arvind Lavakare