Two days ago, President Musharraf made an announcement that was nothing short of 7.5 on the Richter Scale of Dramatic Political Announcements
As he surveyed the ruins of Muzaffarabad, he was questioned by the press on the nature of co-operation he envisaged with India as Islamabad tackled the disaster that confronted it. "We will allow any number of people coming across the Line of Control to meet their relatives and assist with reconstruction," he said. The procedure for allowing people from across the LoC needed to be formalised with India, he added. He said his country was ready to allow political leaders from both sides of the divide to interact and assist each other. He also appealed to India to agree to the plan.
New Delhi promptly upheld the principle of what the general was suggesting
but said that it awaited details of how this could be implemented practically.
But Musharraf's announcement raises a number of questions.
- Was it an off the cuff remark?
- Would this access to assist in relief and reconstruction be limited to
- How could politicians - the kind that Musharraf recognises to be such in
Jammu and Kashmir - help in relief and reconstruction?
- Is the remark consistent with the other kinds of assistance that Pakistan has accepted from India?
Two days later, there has not been a squeak out of either New Delhi or Islamabad in terms of pushing forward on the Musharraf proposals. This could be put down, firstly, to practical difficulties in implementing these proposals immediately. But more importantly, there remains the question of merit of the suggestion, given the task that Musharraf has to engage in while reaching relief and rehabilitation to PoK. Reconstruction will come much later.
In terms of access to PoK, Musharraf has to indicate which roads can be used for this purpose and which bridges. There is none to speak of, at this moment. But there has been talk of running a bus between Poonch and Rawalkot. Could this road be operationalised quickly enough? Could points be identified in Rajouri or Tanghdar? First task would therefore be to identify the points where this crossing could happen. Even the Wagah-Attari border is not built for large-scale movement of goods and service.
The second task is to identify the modality of what kind of travel documents to allow for this. Would it involve the process that is applicable for those travelling in the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus? Under that process, a long time elapses between application to travel and the permission to travel.
The question also arises: who qualifies for travel? The subtext is quite
clear. It is a Kashmiri and a Kashmiri alone who will qualify for travel, going
by present indications. In this case, it would be natural to narrow the
Kashmiris who would travel to divided families, and relatives therein. And of
course, the politicians, mainly the Hurriyat. (Yaseen Mallik has wisely used his
passport to travel to Lahore and thence forward in his mission of relief and
rehabilitation.) At a time like this, what value would it bring to the situation
by letting local politicians crisscross the LoC like so many Florence
Nightingales? It would muddy the issue just as Musharraf seems to be doing.
But if the scope is narrowed to this extent, the question to ask is what practical purpose would this serve in terms of providing relief and assistance and in reconstruction of PoK? It is politically incorrect to ask this, but it is pertinent.How would the relatives be more qualified to provide assistance, except mainly in emotional terms? What is of more pressing need in PoK are medical teams, relief and rehabilitation specialists, food, shelter from the bitter cold and rain.
It is now twelve days since the quake struck. There has been an immense loss
of life amidst the debris of the quake. The onset of winter and the complete
absence of any kind of meaningful presence of the army/administration in these
areas are not going to make it easy for those who survived the actual quake to
survive the cold, hunger and diseases that lurk. It is a task of staggering
proportions, considering that at least a hundred thousand people have perished.
How would the relatives be better placed to help than those who are qualified to
help at a time like this?
One anecdote will illustrate the magnitude of the quake, if only inferentially. When the earthquake struck, there were 54 passengers from India who had gone on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service to the other side of Kashmir. So far only 13 have been traced. Seven were rescued, one died, two are in a hospital in Islamabad. And three walked back along the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road. Of the rest there has been no clue as to their whereabouts. The ones who were rescued had been barely 20 km from Muzaffarabad when the quake struck.
Afterwards there had been no sign of administration or the army anywhere.
When they finally could, they called their relatives on this side of the LoC and
described the chaos. Word got to Delhi, and, three days afterwards, New Delhi
offered to fly a helicopter out to rescue them. Pakistan said they would get the
army to rescue them, and to its credit this was done. But when the copter got
there, there was so much chaos because so many people clamoured to get on board
that the mission had to be put off for the next day so they could rescue these
people barely an hour's drive from Muzaffarabad, 20 km away. Imagine the
situation in more remote parts.
For someone who claims he has several ready-made solutions for Jammu and Kashmir, Musharraf has come across as alarmingly incapable of showing some imagination to deal with the situation. He must separate politics over Kashmir from the immediate requirement for relief and rehabilitation. Otherwise he will give credence to the suspicions that the only thing the Pakistani army is good for is to overthrow civilian politicians from time to time. And nothing else.
P.S: As we were about to upload this piece, came news of the general's interview to CNN where he is again reported as saying that "the interaction between the people may facilitate progress towards resolution of the decades-old Jammu and Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India" and that "if the people come into act [sic], let people generate some kind of solutions for themselves". If this is truly what he believes, it begs the question: Why has Pakistan not shown any movement - for more than a year - on the Indian proposal to at least provide for a meeting point for separated families on two sides of the LoC?