The K Study Group
The Kashmir Study Group was set up by Farooq Kathwari as if Kashmir needed any more study than it has been subjected to since 1947. There is no issue that has been studied in greater depth and more extensively and longer than Kashmir. It has been examined from all angles and not only by Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris but by a succession of statesmen, diplomats, strategists, tacticians and academics who did not belong to the subcontinent.
It is not possible for anyone to come up with a solution that has not been proposed before. Three wars have been fought over Kashmir and a fourth one was a matter of touch and go at the time of Kargil. Had Nawaz Sharif not rushed to Washington — ceremoniously seen off at the airport by his Chief of Army Staff — and had Clinton not intervened personally, a war would have erupted, not only across the Line of Control but along and across the international boundary. There are many in this country who believe that never did the world come closer to a possible nuclear exchange since the Bay of Pigs than during Kargil.
Farooq Kathwari, is a Kashmiri who, thanks to a lucky break, and his talent of course, made a pile of money in America. He heads Ethan Allen, a nationwide maker and importer of expensive furniture. Several years ago, he set up the Kashmir Study Group, no doubt with good intentions, but the million dollar exercise took the wrong road from the word go. His first mistake was confining membership to retired American diplomats, and retired or working academics. The group has 25 members, Kathwari being the 26th, as well as the chairman, since he pays the bills. With the exception of two, possibly three, the rest are Americans. Nine of them are academics, six of them are retired ambassadors and two are members of Congress. What does one call it? Inverse racism? After all, doesn’t the Kashmir issue concern the people of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. Or does the group see it as the white man’s burden? One wonders.
The first report of the group issued in 2000 came up with the idea that a portion of the state should be made a sovereign country, without an international personality, enjoying free access from India and Pakistan, who should, in turn, be in charge of defence and foreign affairs. The Line of Control was to be left untouched until such time as the two countries decided otherwise. That amounts to giving permanence to the Line of Control which is a line of conflict. Demilitarisation was to take place and displaced people given the right of return. Nothing came of the proposal, as nothing should have been expected to come of it. Some members of the Group travelled around and the chairman made several trips to the subcontinent, meeting government and political leaders. Unlike India, in Pakistan, he has always been received at the highest level. What they told him is not important; what is important is that the grand Kashmir Study Group proposal withered on the vine because it had no roots in the soil.
Five years have passed since that report and I for one had thought that the Group was dead and, at last, sleeping the sleep of peace. It appears not to have been so. A new report has now been released and its main virtue may lie in its being only two pages long. It seems the Group and its members have been practising multiplication tables, since in the new report, instead of one “sovereign entity”, there are now five. They even have names. Two of them, Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas (which actually are Azad Kashmir but annexed by Pakistan, with a chunk gifted to China), are to be administered by Pakistan: what is left, by India. (Wo allag baandh ke rakha hai jo maal achha hai.). The Line of Control stays in place, so India can relax.
What is wrong with the Kathwari proposal and all such proposals is not their “what”, but their “how”. There is no point in pontificating on what a Kashmir solution should be. Everyone has a solution but the problem remains unresolved and the Kashmiris keep dying. What is needed is for someone to propose how a settlement can be made. Farooq Kathwari’s two reports say not a word about “how”; they just jabber on and on about “what”. I wish the million dollars or so he has wasted on this pointless exercise, he had instead sent to those children in Kashmir who have lost their fathers, those mothers who have lost their sons and those young brides who have lost their husbands. That would have been a true service to both the cause and the people.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent