BETTING ON THE WRONG HORSE?

Would you bet your life’s savings on a lame horse expecting it to win?  Would you want to see a suspense thriller with a predictable storyline and an inconclusive ending a second time? If the answer is “No”, then this is article too may not appeal to your finer senses as it pertains to resolution of the Kashmir problem which today has the dubious distinction of being one of the most boring issue in the subcontinent. And this is the result of the rigid stance adopted by all the actors involved due to which the story today is where it started over six decades ago!

Once again the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met on the sidelines of the NAM summit in Tehran and as expected, exchanged pleasantries. Once again the Foreign Ministers of the two countries are scheduled to meet but no one seems to be interested and even the FMs themselves don’t appear too enthusiastic. There are no TV shows hosting live debates on the strategy, agenda or outcome of the talks and it seems that no one has even approached either of the FMs for an ‘exclusive’ interview on this subject. Simply put, the talks are not ‘breaking news’!

So let us face the facts. For both India and Pakistan, holding bilateral talks is no more than a mere ritual to meet the expectations of the world community and convey the impression that the two countries are mending fences. And the best part of it is that the respective sides play out their predetermined roles with such professional finesse that it is difficult for a novice to discern that the talks are ‘fixed’. Yet for those who have been following such events in the past, it is pretty easy to predict not only the outcome, but also the tone and tenor of the discussions with a high degree of certainty.

And just to prove the point, here is one set of predictions on the forthcoming FM meet from an amateur –

•    Initial bonhomie with ‘long lasting’ handshakes and ‘plastic’ smiles all around.

•    Indian side starts by ‘talking tough’, reminding Pakistan that it had yet not taken any action against the alleged perpetuators of the Mumbai attacks and that the patience of India was ‘running out’!

•     Pakistan replies that it is eager to act, but the evidence contained in the ‘Dossiers’ handed over by India do not contain enough evidence to facilitate prosecution.

•    Rapprochement stage with India ‘climbing down’ from its aggressive pedestal and engaging in ‘serious’ talk.

•    Both India and Pakistan agreeing on the necessity of further increase in confidence building measures (CBMs) for normalization of relations.

•    Signing agreements and protocols on insignificant and peripheral issues which nobody (except the governments of the two countries) think will serve as credible CBMs.

•    Both sides reaffirming their commitment to resolve all ‘outstanding’ issues through dialogue through continued talks.
•    While the words ‘including Kashmir’ may or may not appear in the statement on ‘outstanding issues’, an announcement will be made that both India and Pakistan have mutually agreed to ‘discuss’ Kashmir at a later date when the time is ‘opportune’ and the climate ‘conducive’.

•    Even though no progress will be made, both FMs will declare that the talks have been ‘fruitful’ and that this process should continue. Accordingly, exchange of invitations for the next such meet will be made.

The ‘Great Bilateral Talks Tamasha’ between India and Pakistan goes on with such predictable monotony that hardly anyone evinces interest in the same anymore. And as expected, the talks and CBMs seem to have made no worthwhile impact on the powerful forces with hawkish temperament present on both sides of the LOC, who view every attempt to normalise relations as an act of treason or sacrilege. The tragedy of Kashmir is that while it is seen as a symbol of ‘national pride’ by Indian zealots, their counterparts in Pakistan view Kashmir as the fountain head of Muslim oppression by a nation ruled by Hindus. Unfortunately, due to these conflicting perceptions, the Kashmir has been reduced to a commodity and the views of Kashmiris don’t matter anymore!

So, when the Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq says that “it is time for the leaders of two countries to move beyond customary meetings and start the process for resolution of Kashmir issue,” he is not airing a personal grievance but venting the collective anguish of the people of Kashmir. However, both India and Pakistan have never displayed any sense of urgency on this issue. While India’s inertia in this matter could be intentional as it well may be in New Delhi’s interest that ‘status quo’ on Kashmir be maintained, Pakistan’s lack of determination in pursuing this issue to its logical conclusion is incomprehensible!

With the superpowers and other influential nations of the world according just ‘lip service’ to the Kashmir issue, some see Pakistan as the last bastion of hope. But, putting all the eggs in the ‘Pakistani basket’ is fraught with danger.

Presently, Pakistan is suffering from a serious credibility crisis and the international community eyes Islamabad with suspicion. So, under these circumstances, will its word have any force to influence international opinion? The most critical question that arises is based on Pakistan’s ‘performance evaluation’ or ‘report card’ regarding Kashmir. Would it be prudent to expect wonders from an ally which has virtually done nothing for Kashmir in the past and is avoiding getting involved with it at present merely for its self serving interests?

Even in today’s a world, where every nation seeks to project itself as the upholder of human values and speaks about ethics, justice, humanity, brotherhood and equality, it is ultimately national interests that reign supreme.  We have before us numerous examples of how the international community, for its self serving interests, is turning a blind eye towards the wrongdoings of powerful nations.  Let us therefore not cocoon ourselves in the virtuous days of the past by expecting ‘natural justice’ from a world order which is insensitive to human values. It is time that we reviewed our aspirations and if required, set for ourselves goals which are attainable.  After all, isn’t discretion the better part of valour?