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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 May, 2003, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
Analysis: Dividing Kashmir by religion

Zaffar Abbas
BBC correspondent in Islamabad

The recent suggestion that India and Pakistan should agree to the division of Jammu and Kashmir on religious lines to resolve the 55-year-old dispute may not be a new proposal.

It is difficult to imagine that the prime minister of a territory, which for all practical purposes is controlled by Islamabad, can be allowed to hold independent views on such a sensitive issue

But because it has come from the Prime Minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Sardar Sikander Hayat, it has acquired an altogether different meaning.

Understandably it has taken all sides to the dispute by surprise.

Mr Hayat is certainly the first prominent Kashmiri government leader on the Pakistani side of the divide to make such a huge departure from Islamabad's official position over the dispute.

In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, Mr Hayat suggested the need to explore various options for resolving the dispute, including giving a special status to the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley.

But the real bombshell came on Tuesday, when Mr Hayat came up with a concrete proposal, suggesting that Jammu and Kashmir should be partitioned in such a way that the Muslim majority areas should be allowed to join Pakistan and the areas where Hindus or Buddhists were in the majority should go to India.

If put into effect, most of the areas that are already in Pakistan's control would remain with it.

Pakistan would also get most parts of the Kashmir Valley, including the summer capital, Srinagar.

India would get almost the entire Jammu region as well as Ladakh and some of the area adjoining it.

At present India holds about 45% of the disputed region, Pakistan over 33%. The rest is held by China.

Pakistan says the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir were ignored at the time of partition in 1947.

It argues that they should be given the right to choose between becoming part of India or Pakistan.

The Indian Government maintains that the former princely state is a sovereign part of the Indian Union.

Refused to consider

The proposal put forward by no less a person than the prime minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir harks back to what seasoned Kashmir-watchers in South Asia and the United States call the Chenab formula - named after the River Chenab which would mark the border between India and Pakistan.

At official level, both India and Pakistan have refused to entertain the Chenab formula.

A former Pakistani foreign ministry official says the suggestion was proposed in the 1960s by the Pakistan foreign minister at the time, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

But the idea was rejected by his Indian counterpart, Swaran Singh.

The proposal remained in cold storage until 1999, when the famous Lahore meeting between the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, suddenly revived hopes for peace in the region.

Security forces in Srinagar
The security situation has worsened recently

As it was revealed later, apart from having formal talks, the two prime ministers decided to establish secret, unofficial lines of communication to discuss some of the more contentious issues between the two sides.

During this secret process, the former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Niaz A Naik, held a series of meetings with an Indian businessman, RK Mishra.

Both men had the blessings of their respective prime ministers, and according to Mr Naik, one of the few proposals they discussed in all seriousness was the so-called Chenab formula.

Nothing concrete ever came out from those secret talks, and the two sides were still in the middle of exploring all possible options on Kashmir when the Kargil conflict broke out, rendering all talk of compromise over Kashmir meaningless.

'Bitterly criticised'

Now the Chenab formula is back in the news.

Opposition leaders in the regional capital, Muzaffarabad, have bitterly criticised Mr Hayat for putting the proposal forward.

Leaders of the hardline religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, have declared that nothing short of a plebiscite is acceptable to them.

Opposition has also come from leaders of the main Kashmiri political grouping in Indian-administered Kashmir, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference.

However, some Kashmiri politicians privately say there is division in its ranks over the issue.

Srinagar street
Srinagar would become part of Pakistan under the Chenab plan

Interestingly, another veteran Pakistan-based Kashmiri leader, Sardar Abdul Qayyum has endorsed the proposal.

He has called for discussion on all possible solutions to the Kashmir dispute.

Despite the uproar among the traditional Kashmiri supporters, Mr Hayat says he is not ashamed of his suggestion.

In fact, he has now come up with more arguments in support of his idea.

He says this is the closest thing to the way the partition of India was planned in 1947, a reference to the idea that Muslims should be able to live as a majority in their own country, Pakistan.

If the states of Punjab and Bengal were divided on religious lines at the time of partition, then "What is so wrong with the division of Jammu and Kashmir", Mr Hayat is reported to have said.

So far the Pakistan Government has neither criticised his statement, nor has it tried to stop him from airing his views.

However, for the record, Pakistan's foreign ministry has said that there has been no change in Islamabad's official position on the dispute.

But it is difficult to imagine that the prime minister of a territory, which for all practical purposes is controlled by Islamabad, can be allowed to hold independent views on such a sensitive issue.

Experts of Kashmiri affairs say there is a strong possibility that Mr Hayat may have the tacit support of the Pakistani establishment, which wants to gauge India's reaction to it.

Two proposals

Should the Indian Government show some inclination towards considering the proposal, then the Pakistani Government may be encouraged to make such a proposal official.

Should India reject the proposal, then Islamabad can simply say it stands by its stated position on the Kashmir dispute - that UN resolutions must be respected and the people of Kashmir decide in a plebiscite whether they be part of India or Pakistan.

Many Kashmir-watchers in Islamabad believe there are only two proposals on the Kashmir dispute that officials and think-tanks in America believe have any realistic hopes of success. One is a deal whereby the UN-delineated Line of Control in Kashmir becomes the permanent boundary between India and Pakistan.

The other is the so-called Chenab formula.

Indian officials have often indicated that the first option would be acceptable to them.

And perhaps the division of the Himalayan state along religious lines would be a compromise the establishment in Islamabad would be prepared to consider - at least at this stage.



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