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Secret talks nearly sealed Kashmir Pact in 2007

Secret talks nearly sealed Kashmir Pact in 2007

Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: February 23, 2007

India and Pakistan held more than two dozen secret meetings in third countries from 2004 to 2007 but failed to reach a historic breakthrough on Kashmir, even though the two sides had had "come to semicolons,'' according to American Pulitzer Prize winner authorjournalist Steve Coll. Coll's account of the breakthrough that was not reached is set for publication in the "New Yorker" magazine.

The effort which began in 2004 stalled in 2007, and the prospects for a settlement were further undermined by deadly terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November, the Washington Post said on Sunday quoting from the article.

The attempt ultimately failed, not because of substantive differences, Coll explains, but because declining political fortunes left then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf without the clout he needed to sell the agreement at home.

Although Musharraf fought for the deal he became so weak politically that he "couldn't sell himself", let alone a surprise peace deal with India, Coll says, quoting senior Pakistani and Indian officials. This was despite the fact that the Pakistani military was completely on board at top levels with Musharraf but the paradigm shift could not be translated into actions.

(Musharraf, it will be recalled, had started losing support rapidly on account of his tiff with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.) Coll, a former Washington Post managing editor, writes that the Kashmir specific secret Indo-Pak talks would have represented a "paradigm shift" in relations between the arch foes of the subcontinent.

The plan envisaged resolving the Kashmir dispute through the creation of an autonomous region in which local residents could move freely and conduct trade on both sides of the territorial boundary. The historic agreement, if it were to happen, would have made the border irrelevant and demilitarized the entire Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control. The secret negotiations revolved around developing a document known as a "non-paper", diplomatic jargon for a negotiated text that bears no names or signatures and can "serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal", the article says. The U.S. and British governments were aware of the talks and offered low-key support but chose not to meddle. Relations - and hopes for resuming the peace initiative - began a downward slide after Musharraf left office, it said. In Kashmir, anti-India fighters began an aggressive campaign of public demonstrations and terrorist attacks that seemed designed, Coll writes, to send a message: "Musharraf is gone, but the Kashmir war is alive."

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