AM I Still Relevant?

It was posing right questions to a wrong person. Two days back at a funeral meeting, I was confronted with a volley of questions by the supporter of a political party.

He had a barrage of pointed questions for me about 2008, 2009 and 2010, the three summers of discontent that had seen millions converging on the roads articulating the demands that have been resonating in the state for past over sixty years. The 2008, undoubtedly was seen internationally as big transition in the strife torn twenty two years history of the state. Since 1989, the guns that roared for some years fell completely silent. Many commentators and opinion makers called it a transition from “armed resistance to non-violent struggle.’ The main achievement of the 2008 ‘peoples marches’ in the words of Barakha Dutt was that ‘the cry for azaadi in Kashmir had found chorus amongst some of Delhi’s sharp thinkers.’ It had changed intellectual discourse in the Delhi and made many a major opinion makers in the capital to ask the government to bid adieu to the past baggage on Kashmir and embark upon a new policy that would culminated in the resolution of the dispute. The remarks made by people like SwaminathanS Anklesaria Aiyar and Vir Sanghvi are often quoted by both political workers and commentators to this day.

In his often quoted statement Mr. Aiyar had said, “I was once hopeful of Kashmir’s integration, but after six decades of effort, Kashmiri alienation looks greater than ever. India seeks to integrate with Kashmir, not rule it colonially. Yet, the parallels between British rule in India and Indian rule in Kashmir have become too close for my comfort”. His views about accession of the state very harsher than expected, “Many Indians”, he wrote, “say that Kashmir legally became an integral part of India when the maharaja of the state signed the instrument of accession. Alas, such legalisms become irrelevant when ground realities change. Indian kings and princes, including the Mughals, acceded to the British Raj. The documents they signed became irrelevant when Indians launched an independence movement. The British insisted for a long time that India was an integral part of their Empire, the Jewel in its crown, and would never be given up.

Imperialist Blimps remained in denial for decades. I fear we are in similar denial on Kashmir”. Vir Sanghvi, while making cost analysis of Kashmir dispute concluded, “I reckon we should hold a referendum in the Valley. Let the Kashmiris determine their own destiny. If they want to stay in India, they are welcome. But if they don’t, then we have no moral right to force them to remain with us”. There are many in Kashmir more particularly outside the electoral politics who believe that in 2008 the state was on the threshold of ending its sixty years old uncertainty. The political activist in his make-believe world had framed an opinion about me and believed that I was softer towards one leader and harsher towards others. With anger in his eyes he asked that if I had made a reappraisal of the 2008 ‘political movement’ in the state and who I believed was responsible for torpedoing the people’s movement that could compared to “long march of China. Honestly, I have not done any academic study of the 2008 agitation so was not confident enough to put blame on or the other leader but my off the cuff answer would have been that it sank under the burden of the inherent contradiction of the forum politics- that is first experiment of its kind in political struggles. He had lots of question about 2010 agitation that had caused death to one hundred and sixteen youth and school children and what Washington Post called ‘caged’ six million people in Kashmir valley virtually for over five months. Though no systematic study has been done about the economic losses suffered by people during the period however the losses suffered are roughly estimated to be over hundreds of billions of dollars.

I did agree with him that going by the reportage of 2010, internationally Kashmiris were acknowledged as thirty party to the dispute that was perennially discussed bilaterally by India and Pakistan. The activists nurse a grouse against me that I have not been pointing out the loopholes in the 2011 political postures of the leader who was in the vanguard during 2010. Seeing lots of contradictions in his statements to the stand that he had taken during 2010, he denounced me and many other commentators as “Politically expedient people.”

His questions set me thinking. That if in the changed geo-political situation in the region my (our) views have any relevance. Or as a Kashmiri, I am of any relevance. Or for that matter if the statements made by the Kashmir leaders- tall or dwarf can influence this situation to be in line with their political beliefs and peoples aspirations. India and Pakistan have resumed their dialogue. For past over six months there have been structured talks at various levels. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries are all set for meeting in Delhi on July 26-27. This meeting is being held after the foreign secretaries of the two countries having past month set an agenda for these talks. There are reports that the countries on this occasion will be ‘unveiling specific cross-Kashmir and nuclear confidence building measures.’

Ostensibly there are no new CBMs on the agenda however the CBMs introduced in 2005 and after are being strengthened further. Last year also the foreign minister of the two countries met but the meeting had ended on a ‘disastrous note’ adding further bitterness to already bitter relations. The question arises what has changed during past one year that has generated optimism about the forthcoming talks. There is a school of political observers that believes that the talks have been resumed at the behest of the White House. Besides, Washington, Saudi Arabia has also been working behind the scene with Britain and France in the loop. The question that stares in the face is what prompts the United States to play a proactive role in India- Pakistan relations at a time when its relations with its age old ally are at the lowest point and 2011 is reckoned as the year of Sino-Pakistan friendship.

There is element of desperation in Washington behind prompting the two countries to resume the dialogue and asking them to avoid any kind of blame game. The United States wants to talk and reach some kind of arrangement with them before completely winding up its military presence. Washington believes that it could not be achieved without sufficient cooperation from Pakistan establishment more particularly the military that is known for its influence on Taliban more particularly Haqani group. The United States not only needs Pakistan’s full cooperation but it also wants to rope in Tehran. ‘Hillary Clinton recently stated that as part of the talks with the Taliban initiative, the US was willing to consider talking to Tehran once again and slashing the sanctions against it.’ It is not only Pakistan but all other players that are preparing themselves for ‘positioning themselves for maximum leverage post-withdrawal.’

Notwithstanding Pakistan infusing new life in its relations with China, New Delhi wants to draw two fold gains from the situation in Pakistan before the endgame in Afghanistan. This was made obvious by Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh during his interaction with some senior editors in New Delhi on June 29. On Kashmir he said that Pakistan should ‘forget about Kashmir and tend to its own internal dilemmas.’ Making this statement immediately after an amicable meeting of foreign secretaries came as big surprise to observers of Indo-Pak relations across the globe. In sixty three years history of Kashmir history this has been one of the ‘toughest’ statement by an Indian Prime Minister. He as very rightly put by a former Pakistan diplomat was simply reminding Pakistan of the changed context in which India was conducting the resumed dialogue with it. The statement by Mr. Singh had provoked a lot of reaction in the neighboring country. Writing in the News a Pakistan commentator looked at the PM’s statement from various angles New Delhi believes that, under current environment, Pakistan can do nothing to change the Indian position on Kashmir. This means that internally Pakistan has been made so weak to stand in front of India. Second, Pakistan should think for its own survival under the prevalent domestic crisis in the country, rather asking for a solution of Kashmir. Its internal dissent would compel Pakistan to look inwards, rather outwards. One may not agree with analysis of the Pakistan observer but the harder reality is that on the ongoing dialogue is not being held at the same level under command and control of a party that has stakes in the region. In this bizarre scenario do I become relevant and does my statement carry any weight.