Perhaps, the only new thing about the meetings of Kashmiri separatist leaders with the visiting Pakistan foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, in New Delhi on Tuesday, was the Indian government’s louder than the customary displeasure over it. It is clear beyond doubt that if New Delhi really did not want these meetings to take place it could have prevented Mirwaiz and Geelani groups from leaving Srinagar as was done in the case of Shabir Shah. JKLF chief Yasin Malik, currently on a visit to Pakistan, met Khar in Islamabad before she flew to New Delhi. Such meetings have become a routine ritual. As of now, there is no tangible evidence that this (side-line) interaction has had any effect on the course of the bilateral diplomatic dialogue between India and Pakistan even when Kashmir came up for cursory discussion. Pakistan’s commitment on enlisting ‘direct’ Kashmiri participation in Indo-Pak talks has so far not affected its positivity on engaging with India bilaterally. Nor has India been unduly bothered about visiting Pakistani ministers holding parallel meetings with Srinagar-based separatist leaders. Yet, the latest series of such meetings reveals a couple of interesting features of the overall scenario.
In contemporary evaluation, Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s outright ‘no compromise on right of self-determination’ conflicts with Mirwaiz group’s favourable inclination towards a negotiated settlement of the dispute. Hina Rabbani Khar’s reported statement that Pakistan no longer upholds the 4-point Musharraf (‘out of the box’) formulation fits into this confusing pattern. India, meanwhile, remains committed to taking forward the dialogue process from where it was left before the Mumbai attacks in November, 2008. It is on that basic premise that the foreign secretaries and foreign ministers of India and Pakistan have been meeting over the past few months.
Although there has been little or no forward movement in the recent past, mere fact of regular diplomatic engagement is considered a major achievement in the context of the past history of India-Pakistan animosity. Khar’s statement on arrival in New Delhi that both countries need to learn from their history rather than becoming its prisoners reflected Pakistan’s awareness that the world around the subcontinent had drastically changed. Mere engagement may be enough to keep the spirit alive for the sake of rest of the world but not for the people of Kashmir who look for results for reasons that need no explanation.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s seemingly rigid (‘no compromise’) apparently stand runs counter to the spirit of dialogue. Although his basic premise about lack of credibility of the process is correct international pulls and pressures warrant a change in the old script. Sticking to maximalist position and rejecting dialogue altogether is no longer an acceptable course today. Popular opinion in Kashmir itself, favouring Musharraf’s 4-point formula, towards eventual resolution of the basic dispute indicates a notable change of ground reality. However, Geelani’s valid doubts on the credibility of the dialogue process need to be addressed. He has a case when he alleges that this course has so far been misused only to bypass reality and obfuscate the real issues. The dialogue must actually seem to be real and substantial which it has not been till now. Desirability of this course is a question of principle which cannot be evaluated to the exclusion of the harsh truth of its poor credibility. Talks must show results to impact the course of events on the ground. ‘Time-pass’ game has gone on for far too long. Geelani’s line of thought draws sustenance from unproductive engagements, between Islamabad and New Delhi as well as that between Srinagar and New Delhi. It is here that a change of course has to take place in the first place.