The Indian side provided Pakistan the last draft on a possible agreement on the Kashmir issue in March 2007 following nearly three years of secret negotiations before talks stopped because of a political crisis in Islamabad, according to a new paper from Georgetown University.
The paper, by Jawaharlal Nehru University associate professor Happymon Jacob, is based on interviews with Indian and Pakistani officials who were involved in the back channel negotiations on the Kashmir dispute and contains hitherto unknown aspects of the efforts to resolve the issue by then Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf and prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
Riaz Mohammad Khan, who was Pakistan’s foreign secretary during 2005-08, said the Indian side gave the last draft in early March 2007, which was “close to what might have become the final document” if negotiations hadn’t come to a halt.
The Pakistani side didn’t get an opportunity to return the draft with its comments because of the sudden political crisis which sent the Musharraf government into a tailspin.
On March 9, 2007, Musharraf had unconstitutionally suspended Pakistan’s then chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and this triggered massive political protests that weakened the military ruler. Following elections the next year, Musharraf was pressured by political parties to quit as president in August 2008.
The paper, titled “The Kashmir Back Channel: India-Pakistan Negotiations on Kashmir from 2004 to 2007” and prepared for the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, recounts secret negotiations between the two sides for the proposed agreement on Kashmir that involved what came to be known as the “four-point formula”.
The stage for the negotiations on Kashmir was set by a ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) in November 2003, which itself was the outcome of behind-the-scenes talks between then Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief CD Sahay and the then head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt Gen Ehsan-ul-Haq, who met at undisclosed locations outside the subcontinent.
In January 2004, Musharraf had a “quiet discussion” with Tariq Aziz, who later became Pakistan’s point person for negotiations with India, and India’s then national security adviser Brajesh Mishra that kick-started talks on how to move forward on the Kashmir issue.
Despite a change in government in India following Vajpayee’s defeat in the general election, the “dedicated Kashmir back channel itself effectively began only in late 2004, after the Manmohan Singh government took office in New Delhi in May 2004”, according to the paper.
Several local and international factors helped facilitate the secret talks, including Vajpayee’s outreach to Kashmiris in 2003 and encouragement from the US government, which was keen to ensure there was no India-Pakistan friction while Washington and its allies were busy with the war on terror in Afghanistan.
Satinder Lambah, who served as Manmohan Singh’s special envoy for Kashmir, has said the proposed agreement was based on a four-point formula that would include no redrawing of borders, the people of Jammu and Kashmir on either side of the LoC being able to move freely from one side to the other, an end to hostility, violence, and terrorism and military forces on both sides being kept to the minimum, ensure self-governance on both sides of the LoC, and consultative mechanisms to look into socio-economic issues.
However, Pakistani and Indian officials are divided on whether a draft agreement was in place by early 2007. Riaz Khan, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jeelani and former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri believe the draft was ready, with Kasuri even contending it was “ready for signature”.
But former Indian national security adviser MK Narayanan said this was not a “formal diplomatic agreement of any kind”, and at most, it “must have been a discussion paper, exchange of which is routine in diplomatic negotiations before a final deal is reached”.
The two countries were also divided on the matter managing issues of mutual concern in Jammu and Kashmir, with the Pakistani side favouring “joint mechanisms”, while the Indian side wanted “consultative arrangements”, according to the paper. Once signed, the deal was designed to be in force for 15 to 20 years, after which the two sides would revisit it.
“Indian officials seem to think that the phrase ‘joint mechanisms’ infringes on the sovereign claims of each state on J&K. There is little clarity whether the document that was close to being finalised in 2007 had mentioned joint or consultative mechanisms,” the paper states.
Though this was the first time India and Pakistan engaged in sustained and structured back-channel negotiations to resolve the Kashmir issue, Musharraf’s political woes resulted in things running aground.