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Two Disputed Frontiers And One Big Idea

C Raja Mohan
Indian Express
Saturday, January 13, 2007

As India embarks on two important negotiations in the next few days - one on Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan and the other with China on the boundary dispute - one big new idea is at the heart of the Government's diplomatic play.

Put simply, India's new approach is about shifting focus from territorial exchange to open frontiers and cross-border consultative mechanisms. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is travelling to Islamabad on Saturday for two days of intensive discussions with the Pakistani leadership on a range of bilateral issues, especially Jammu and Kashmir.

Next week, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan is hosting the Chinese Vice Premier, Dai Bingguo, for a crucial round of talks on the boundary dispute.

Potential breakthroughs in both these sensitive negotiation- this is the first time in decades that India is holding purposeful negotiations on Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan and the boundary dispute with China hinge on a brave re-imagination of the frontiers.

Ultra-nationalism, which ran amuck in the early decades of the newly constituted nations of India, Pakistan and China, prevented their leaders from a practical resolution of the territorial disputes that confronted them in Tibet, between India and China, and in Jammu and Kashmir, that involved all the three nations.

Today, the diplomatic challenge for the three large Asian nations lies in tempering past obsessions about acquiring additional territory, finding "out of the box solutions" to put these disputes behind them, restoring once vibrant trans-frontier cooperation in the disputed territories, and moving on.

Building on his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee's peace initiatives towards Pakistan and China, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came up with new approach to resolving long-standing disputes with the two neighbours.

The first step was to make clear what was not possible. During the visit of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to New Delhi in April 2005, Manmohan Singh made it clear that he had no political mandate to cede territory in J&K to Pakistan.

Last November, when Chinese President Hu Jintao came to India, he was told in equally clear terms that Beijing should not expect any territorial concessions in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh. Although China claims the entire Arunachal Pradesh, it suggested that the dispute over the 3600 km long boundary could be ended if India were to make territorial concessions on the Tawang tract.

With Musharraf responding positively by rejecting independence for Kashmir and agreeing to renounce claims to the Indian Kashmir, the current talks between India and Pakistan have acquired unprecedented momentum.

Singh and Musharraf also agreed that border lines should not matter in J&K and that improving the lives of the people in both parts of Kashmir through trans-border cooperation was the key. Singh took a step further by proposing a "consultative mechanism" between the divided territories of J&K in his speech at Amritsar last

March. Since then the proposal has been at the heart of the back channel consultations between New Delhi and Islamabad.

To be sure, there are a number of issues to be resolved on the composition and mandate of the Intra-Kashmiri consultative mechanism. This weekend, External Affairs Minister Mukherjee will have a chance to find out from Musharraf on where exactly Pakistan stands on the issue.

The idea of cross-border engagement also appears to be gaining ground in the Sino-Indian boundary consultations. While rejecting territorial concessions in Tawang, India has proposed a number of ideas on opening up the border between Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet and institutional cooperation across it.

India is waiting to see if Dai Bingguo stays with the traditional approach of asserting territorial claims to Arunachal Pradesh, especially to Tawang, or comes up with new thoughts. Singh and Hu had proclaimed in their joint statement last November that an early settlement of the boundary dispute is a "strategic objective" for the two nations.

The two sides can realise this by freezing territorial status quo, reopening the border between Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, and regulating the movement across the frontier through a joint consultative mechanism. This could also help restore the traditional trade and tourism between Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir and Western Tibet that hosts Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash.

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