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Porous Indo-Pak Border

A Flawed Concept

By Yoginder Kandhari

OF late, there has been a lot of talk about making Indo-Pak border porous. One fails to pick a precedent to this concept from history. Obtaining reality points to only two situations - one when a border exists between two countries and the other when none exists. In the context of international law and relations, border between two nations is sacrosanct and it is the designated limit of a country's sovereignty and its civil jurisdiction. Any attempt to alter its status often sparks off a war. Furthermore, no cross border activity is permitted except with established legal authority like passport, visa etc. As a counter argument one could be tempted to cite examples of the status of America's border with Canada and Mexico. But such a comparison would be unfair since there is no recent history of territorial disputes between these countries and, more importantly, there is a convergence of views on issues of strategic interests, both at global and regional levels. Moreover, travel restrictions have been eased consequent to mutual understanding and these relaxations do not in any way impinge upon the territorial integrity of these countries. Situation in case of Indo-Pak relations is entirely different. There is a fifty seven year old history of territorial disputes between these two countries and their strategic interests too are divergent. Pakistan has waged a covert war in Jammu & Kashmir and the Indian state has been bleeding for last fifteen years. Floating concept of porous borders in such a security scenario defies logic, more so when such a proposal comes from India.

It is difficult to understand how this concept of porous Indo-Pak border has gained currency of late. One recollects a faint noise raised about it by a non-resident Kashmiri Muslim towards close of Narasimha Rao government. But nothing more was heard thereafter till Mufti Sayeed took over the reigns of Jammu & Kashmir state and the BJP at the centre went along with him on the issue. Talks are on between India and Pakistan to work out modalities for re-establishing rail link across Rajasthan border, starting a ferry service to Pakistan off Gujarat coast and most importantly easing travel restriction across Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir, which includes re-establishing Uri-Muzaffarabad road link. Notwithstanding the merits or otherwise of restoring such links at other places along Indo-Pak border, any attempt to ease movement across the LoC would have serious long term consequences for Indian strategic interests in the Valley and one can easily discern distinct strands of deep rooted subversion in this concept.

Indian Illusions. The think-tanks in New Delhi are hopeful that easing travel restrictions along LoC and re-opening Muzaffarabad road will be a win-win situation for India in Kashmir. Their assessment is based on four main assumptions; firstly, it would reaffirm Indian sovereignty over Kashmir; secondly, it would erode ceasefire status of the LoC since movement across would be permitted only through legal documents such as passport & visa; thirdly, Kashmiris would travel to Pakistan as Indian citizens; lastly, throttled democratic institutions and economic backwardness of POK would disillusion our Kashmiri Muslims about greener pastures across. These assumptions, however, betray ground realities.

Illusions Defined. Pakistan must have chuckled when India proposed opening of Uri- Muzaffarabad road as a CBM to better bilateral relations. That Pakistan refused to believe that India could commit such a diplomatic faux pas is clear from their reluctant initial response to this proposal. Only after being convinced that India really meant what she proposed did they respond with modalities of implementing such a measure. A critical assessment of the proposal would reveal that it is bereft of political and strategic sagacity. In fact, this retrograde step would impair Indian interests in the Valley in the long run. American connection is evident in this proposal for one can safely assume it to be her first step to gain an independent strategic foothold in the area. Porous Indo-Pak border in Jammu & Kashmir is  part of cartographic subversion carefully crafted by the Americans. Other instruments of this design include institutionalizing dual identity or citizenship and establishing trade links between two parts of Kashmir.

Political Implications. Such a measure would have serious political implications both at national and state levels. In Indian context, such a step would sanctify the LoC as de facto international border thus negating the resolution passed, not long ago, by the Indian Parliament that POK is under illegal occupation of Pakistan. It would send signals of political fatigue both to Pakistan and insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir and would be a moral victory for them. For the mainstream Kashmiri politicians, it would be a welcome measure since it brings them closer to fundamentalist Muslim elite who long to usher in an Islamic dispensation in Kashmir. That precisely is the reason why some politicians have been pressing the centre for early opening of Uri-Muzaffarabad road link. No sooner was this CBM proposed by India than PDP-led Jammu & Kashmir Government put up hoardings throughout the Valley announcing opening of Uri-Muzaffarabad road, thus drawing immense political mileage. Creation of euphoria on the issue would impression the gullible that thousands were separated from their near and dear ones by the erstwhile ceasefire line. But the truth of the matter is that cease fire line, or now the LoC, separated mainly the Pahari Muslims from the mainland ones and not many hearts were broken with this divide. It is a recorded fact that not more than a hundred Muslim families migrated to Pakistan or POK at the time of partition or immediately thereafter. This migration was mainly restricted to political rivals of Sheikh Abdullah, like Molvi Yusuf Shah, for fear of reprisals. For the Muslim elite too such a measure would be a boon for it would reaffirm Muslim identity and Islamic consciousness in the Valley. Thus the logic that restoration of Uri-Muzarrabad link would unite the long separated cousins and that peace would prevail in the Valley is unfounded.

Sheikh Abdullah used emotional blackmail of Kashmiri Muslims as a tool to firm his grip on Kashmir politics. He was clever enough to personally remain away from this deft stratagem by using Plebiscite Front to brandish Kashmiri separatist symbols of 'green flag', 'rock salt' and 'opening of Muzaffarabad road'. Thus he retained political options. For an average Kashmiri, fed on Islamic fundamentalism, these symbols remain sanctified even today. Any attempt to re-open Uri-Muzaffarabad road link would be interpreted as advantage Kashmiri Muslims in their 'struggle' against Indian nation and that suites Pakistan's long-term designs.

Indian establishment's reasoning that allowing Kashmiris to travel to Pakistan would expose them to under-development in PoK and economic backwardness of people there is not based on sound appraisal of the ground realities. Much that Kashmir experts want us to believe that under-development and unemployment are the main reason for the current upheaval in the Valley, one needs to understand that this postulation is far from truth. In pure economic terms, average Kashmiri's lot is much better than that of an average Indian. If feeling of economic deprivation is the sole reason for all the ills in the Kashmiri society today, then why should we allow Kashmiri Muslims to seek a reference frame in POK and not in Bihar where people are steeped in abject poverty? If economic well-being is the main criteria to develop liberal outlook in people then Muslims settled in France for long would not have agitated over an order banning headscarves in French schools. We must be candid enough to accept that Islamic society is a closed system wherein intra community socialization is easier irrespective of obtaining economic dispensation. The issues at stake are not as simple as these appear to be. Proponents of porous border in Jammu & Kashmir need to understand that almost every family in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur has a member staying in Europe or America and huge remittances by them have immensely raised the living standards in these areas. How such an economic scenario disillusions Indian Kashmiri Muslims remains a moot point. Mirpur's non-resident Pakistanis wield considerable influence in power corridors of their adopted countries and have been in the forefront fomenting and financing militancy in Kashmir valley. They have largely been responsible to bring the Kashmir issue into international focus, especially so after eruption of insurgency in the Valley.

Implications on Trade & Commerce. Intriguingly, subversive lobbies have started raking up that Kashmiri Muslim traders are being discriminated against in Indian markets. Point to note here is that this issue has been raised at a time when India is seriously considering opening Uri-Muzaffarabad road link. The intent in this case is quite clear. Once this road link is established Kashmir's trade route will be diverted through Jhelum valley thus starving Jammu region of the benefits of trade transit worth 600 cr. annually. Pakistani government is likely to provide all possible assistance to Kashmiris to promote this trade route in order to gradually increase latter's economic and commercial dependence on her. Needless to emphasize that commercial dependence often leads to greater socialization and consequences of such a scenario can well be imagined.

Strategic Implications. Strategic foresight has never been the forte of Indian establishment. One shudders to imagine strategic consequences of making LoC porous. How can the establishment think of porous borders in present security scenario wherein insurgency shows no signs of abating? India has been fighting a low intensity conflict in the Valley for the last fifteen years which is assisted by Pakistan and foreign mercenaries who infiltrate through the very LoC, at present heavily manned by the Indian Army, which India proposes to perforate. Indian strategists appear to have run out of ideas and are desperate to change their policies no matter what the consequences are.

As a consequence of rendering the border porous, Pakistan is bound to launch demographic subversion all along LoC, especially in Jammu and Ladakh regions and along Chenab valley. This would ensure that population in these strategically sensitive regions turns hostile to Indian interests. Demand for establishing ‘Chenab Hill Council’ is already gaining ground and nefarious convergence in the emerging scenario can easily be discerned if events are perceived in totality. It is no secret that a large number of Molvies from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have already settled in Kashmir valley, Jammu city and border districts. Most of them have obtained permanent resident certificates, while the rest have purchased huge benami assets. Role of these Molvis in spreading Islamic fundamentalism in Kashmir valley can not be ignored in context of current armed uprising there. What stops Pakistan in sneaking in such elements in large numbers through porous border to facilitate her design of wresting Kashmir from India? Insurgent movement is bound to gain immense initiative against security forces and India would thus be forced on to the backfoot. Covert domination of Chenab valley by Pakistan would render India's defences untenable even in Jammu region thus paving the way for ultimate secession of entire state of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian union.

Conclusion. Porous border as a concept, unfortunately, has the backing of a section of Indian elite who continue to wield considerable influence in corridors of power in New Delhi. This lobby, to force Indian government to commit such a strategic mistake, is drumming up that insistence of GoI on proper travel documents is 'untenable'. Pakistan is fully aware of it and is likely to exploit this Indian dilemma to her advantage. This concept, if implemented, is a perfect recipe for strategic hara-kiri by India for it is full of flaws and contradictions.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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