Tapping politicians and policymakers on both sides of the border evokes dramatically differing responses, depending on whether they are speaking on the record or off it. Publicly, there's opposition to the idea, but in private many actually support it.
The Pakistani incursion across the LoC has again pushed the issue to the fore. Says columnist B.G. Verghese, with the Centre for Policy Research: "Now more than ever there's a need for its settlement as a border." But before that, he says, there's another priority. "Most Indian politicians, academics and journalists don't know what they are talking about when they speak of the LoC. We have to clearly understand what it is, where it goes, what its history is and what it stands for." According to him, most officials speak of the LoC in the context of the Simla Agreement. What the July '72 agreement between Indira Gandhi and Z.A. Bhutto did was to redelineate the ceasefire line of '49. Siachen was left out of this.
But since then, there have been several calls to adopt it as the border. Writing in a national daily in April '95, P.N. Dhar-former secretary to Indira and a key player in the Simla negotiations-said that Bhutto had a deal with Indira on turning the LoC into a border. But he couldn't do it right then as he would have been hounded out of power. "Bhutto not only agreed to change the ceasefire line into a line of control, for which he had earlier proposed the term 'line of peace', but also agreed that the line would be gradually endowed with the 'characteristics of an international border' (his words)", wrote Dhar. Pakistanis had resisted the Indian suggestion for calling the ceasefire line the LoC, which was at the core of the Indian solution to the Kashmir problem: "the de facto LoC was to be graduated to the level of the de jure border". Pakistanis have always denied this. But recently, Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the man who signed the Simla pact, has suggested that there should be a soft border. But she never dared to come up with this when she was in power.
So what's happening to this proposition? Selig S. Harrison, a US commentator on South Asia, believes turning the LoC into the border is the "best basis for a long-term solution of the Kashmir dispute". He says that an agreement on the basis of the LoC could "eventually set the stage for a Trieste-type solution in which there would be a soft border between the two sides of Kashmir".
But in India as well as the US, many feel it is premature to start a debate on this. Says former foreign secretary S.K. Singh: "This is not the time even to mention it. Until the present incursion is vacated, it would not be appropriate to discuss it." Another former foreign secretary, J.N. Dixit, feels differently: "About a year ago, I thought it was all right (to turn it into the border). But now I feel we have to readjust the LoC. We must not allow Pakistan any position proximate to the Srinagar-Leh road. "
Verghese, who has in the past proposed a soft border in Kashmir while it firmly stays part of India, has an interesting and logical idea. He argues strongly that the LoC must be anchored at both ends. While the LoC starts at Sangam in the south, near Jammu, in the north it ends at grid NJ 9842. "It's like a rope which is not tied on one side. If there is a loose end, someone will wiggle it around. Then that becomes a ground for argument and undermines the whole line. Define this line in cast iron terms," he advocates. He feels India has argued its case on Kashmir very badly.
Then there's the view that if the Pakistanis could not be persuaded in '72-when they were comprehensively beaten-to turn this line into a border, there's little reason for them to agree now. "Are the Pakistanis ready to do it?" asks Jasjit Singh, director, idsa, adding, "In this tendency to look for a solution, we forget our own position. We must define the problem and then discuss it with Pakistan. Right now, Pakistan has no urgency to settle it." He says India has given up its case on PoK and the negotiating position must start from the fact that the whole belongs to India. N.N. Jha, who heads the bjp's foreign affairs cell, says the proposal to convert the LoC into the border is not just unrealistic, it goes against the '94 resolution of Parliament, which had noted that PoK was also part of India. "They want all of Kashmir; it's a mindset and those seeking a solution by turning the LoC into a border don't take it into account," he says.
Stephen P. Cohen of Washington's Brookings Institution doesn't feel there's adequate support for turning the LoC into an international border. Says he: "I've met many Indians who've said this is a good idea, some more publicly than others. The problem is that even Pakistani moderates believe such a settlement would reward what they regard as India's long-standing violation of its earlier promises." Unfortunately, says Cohen, India needs to negotiate not just with the Pakistani moderates, but with the Pakistan army or hardliners. "This does not make a settlement," says Cohen, "even along the LoC, impossible, but it means India will have to 'get a little help from its friends' to move Pakistani opinion, even as it has to be prepared to move itself. I don't see this happening soon, alas, so there will be more of the same-as Sharif said, more Kargils."
According to a senior US administration official, it would not be a good idea to comment on possible solutions, especially when the Kargil situation is still "in the worrisome category". But he admitted that one of things he was looking at was an article by geographer-academic Joseph E. Schwartzberg in November '98, titled "Kashmir-A Bridge to Peace and Prosperity". In his article, Schwartzberg writes, "The area of the reconstituted state of Kashmir would be determined by an internationally monitored referendum... The new state might, but need not, straddle the present LoC. The LoC need not be altered by India and Pakistan, but could be if doing so were found to be in the interests of both." This idea is ridiculous, but should give an idea of the Western thinking.
Marvin G. Weinbaum, a Pakistan expert, feels that "having the LoC as a basis of negotiation would be a bitter pill for Pakistan to swallow". There's very little original thinking on this issue, he adds, as both countries are so inflexible and "taking the LoC as the de facto border-that is, sustaining the status quo-is an admission of that fact".