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STRATEGIC ISSUES
Dawn of Peace-May 2005
With soft borders, India-Pak have moved towards resolving the Kashmir problem
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
 
The three-day visit of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to India saw the beginning of the new and decisive phase for the permanent settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Hitherto, bilateral talks in the form of the composite dialogue were meant for conflict management rather than conflict resolution. This was possible after both India and Pakistan agreed on the extraordinary Confidence Building Measure (CBM) of converting the Line of Control (LoC) into a soft border. Undoubtedly Musharraf’s initiative, the approach seeks to find a political solution to the Kashmir dispute between the two stated positions of both countries: India saying that borders cannot be re-drawn, and Pakistan refusing to accept the Line of Control (LoC) as the border. Considering that both sides have agreed on the need for more and varied people-to-people contact between divided families of the two parts of Kashmir, there is hope that a soft border, over time, would suggest a solution on Kashmir that is acceptable to both India and Pakistan. From India’s viewpoint, a soft border will accrue many advantages.

For example, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament that greater traffic of people and trade across the LoC would create an atmosphere of trust. What he did not say is that a soft border looks an excellent substitute for continuing estranged relations with Pakistan. India feels that the soft border approach would help buy time by silencing the Pakistani insistence of dealing expeditiously on the core-issue of Kashmir. The soft border approach would take a long time and have its own dynamics. With the core-issue of Kashmir on the back burner, the two sides could concentrate on trade and commerce for improved overall relations. Moreover, the soft border would ensure that ceasefire on the LoC since November 2003 will continue to hold. This will keep infiltration from Pakistani territory in check, thereby helping the security forces to concentrate on counter-insurgency operations inside the border state.

And finally, there is little assurance that a soft border would actually lead to a permanent settlement that may involve give-and-take of territory by the two sides. At this stage, few know what exactly is implied by the soft border approach in the context of India and Pakistan as a conflict resolution means. Therefore, India is expected to view the soft border understanding as a CBM for conflict management alone. There will be an added emphasis on various other CBMs including the gas pipeline understanding involving Iran for improved overall relations with Pakistan.
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