Backburner to Deep Freezer ?

What I am going to say is not ‘God’s truth’. It is not even an insider’s story.  I am simply going to look at the emerging political scenario in the state during this year not with a prevision but with some hindsight.

For understanding the emerging scenario in the state, I will be approaching the problem from the perspective of political developments in Islamabad, New Delhi and Washington. The developments in Islamabad and New Delhi having a bearing on Kashmir are understandable. It may be questioned how developments in Washington were going to influence the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir.

Historically, ‘from the day Kashmir issue came to world attention in January 1948, American administration has been at the centre as one of the players in the words of Howard Schaffer, in “the world’s longest-running, most intractable dispute.” The chronology of America’s role in Kashmir from Truman’s times ( 1947)  to Barrack Obama’s first term as given by Schaffer at end in his book, ‘The Limits of Influence: America’s Role in Kashmir sufficiently suggests that Washington has been throughout  at the centre of the ‘dispute’. The dispute’ true, did resist the diplomatic efforts of Washington but one has to be in agreement with the US political commentators that ‘Washington has been more effective in crisis management between India and Pakistan than in resolving the dispute.’

Notwithstanding America’s interests in the region having undergoing a sea change after the end of the cold war when it was deeply engaged in efforts for bringing about the settlement of the dispute its influence did not ebb away in the sub-continent.   For its involvement in Afghanistan,   its interests in South Asia have become more crucial than ever before. Before coming to the question, if US ‘crucial interests’ in the region were going to affect Kashmir in the coming years there is need for understanding how the developments in the two countries were going to contribute in coming months to political scenario in the state.

Consecutively for three years (2008-2010), Kashmir for what New York Times had described as ‘intifada’ shot into international headlines. Engaging the attention of many internationally known opinion makers, the situation in the state had become significantly part of international discourse- as good as that of the Palestine. Nevertheless, seen in right perspective the media coverage failed to translate into diplomatic gains that could have helped in the peaceful resolution of the problem. These developments in Kashmir were taking place at a time when Washington was talking about adopting regional approach for resolution of Kashmir problem and a good section of US think tank including US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrook was looking at Kashmir as gateway for bringing in lasting peace in Afghanistan. Has Kashmir lost that status, how and why is a subject that would require a detailed analysis. But, looking at this subject in the context of present US-Pakistan standoff it seems that regional approach to Afghanistan problem has also outlived its importance and apparently Kashmir is no more counted by the US as gateway to Afghanistan.
 Contrary to the expectations of Kashmir, leadership in vanguard of these agitations the PPP led government in Pakistan relatively preferred to remain detached from the developments in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, Pakistan’s interest in Kashmir has been diminishing, and it having undergone a paradigm shift was obvious during the 2008 elections. During this election that brought the PPP to power unlike in the past Kashmir had totally evaporated from the election campaign. 

The PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, immediately after being elected as President  in an interview to a New Delhi television made it clear that Kashmir would not be allowed to come in way for improving ties with New Delhi and it would be put on the backburner. This overwhelmingly has been Kashmir policy of GOP during past four years. Largely Kashmir is now absent from the narrative of political parties in Pakistan including the ring wing that largely influence Kashmir policy in the past.   The question arises if it once again was going to creep into it during the coming elections. Pakistan media has been projecting Imran Khan as next Prime Minister of the country. If his recent interview with Karan Thaper is an indicator, it seems even if his PTI replace the PPP government Kashmir will continue to be on backburner.   

The 2010 situation had set New Delhi thinking. The visit of All Parties Parliamentary delegation to Srinagar was indicative of the concern it had caused across political divide in the country. This visit of high profile visit of Indian leadership resulted in the appointment of three interlocutors. During last year, the dissenting leadership largely took a backseat and maintained relatively low profile, instead, besides the discovery of mass graves and official debate over AFSPA it were the activities of these interlocutors that dominated the Kashmir narrative.  On October 12, 2011, the team presented its report to the GOI.

The report has not been made public so far  but discreet leaks made to press suggests some administrative and confidence building measures but it does not suggest any concrete solution for ending political uncertainty in the state. In the backdrop of the media reports about New Delhi planning to initiate dialogue with a faction of dissenting political leadership in April after the Assembly elections it seems the interlocutors report will continue to remain under discussions during coming months of 2012. And with Islamabad focusing on trade and cultural relations with New Delhi the India-Pakistan dialogue is unlikely to be part of Kashmir discourse in the coming months. In all likelihood it seems that talks between Kashmir leaders and New Delhi will be dominant discourse in Kashmir during 2012 ???