Sixty two years is not a small period. The Afghans ruled Kashmir for sixty seven years (1752-1819). The Sikhs colonized it for twenty seven years (1819-1846). But the barbs of these rules continue to cause pain even today in the neck of Kashmiris. A month or so hence “Kashmir Dispute” or “Issue” or “problem”, whatever you like to call it will be completing six decades and two years on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. On January 1, 1948, invoking Articles 34 and 35 of the United Nations India took the Kashmir problem to the Security Council. In its complaint before this international organization it had blamed Pakistan government of aiding its nationals and tribesmen “in the invasion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It had called Pakistan “aggressor”. I am not to dwell on the dominant debate amongst some European, American and Sub-continental historians about the tribesmen joining the “poor Muslim peasants” of Poonch who had revolted against ‘Rajput landlords’.
Many Indian historians including official biographer of Jawaharlal Nehru first Prime Minister of India, M.J. Akbar have blamed him of internationalizing Kashmir when it could have been resolved bilaterally. M.J. Akbar has pronounced taking of Kashmir problem to the Security Council as Nehru’s ‘blunder’. Pakistan made a successful cross complaint before the United Nations. Top American historian and South-Asian expert, Stanly Wolpert writes: “Jinnah had no strength to fly to New York, but Foreign Minister Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan performed brilliantly as Pakistan’s advocate before the Security Council; he was judicious, articulate, and often eloquent in presenting his case while refuting India’s charges”(Jinnah of Pakistan).
Kashmir problem ever since this day has been a part of the global discourse. It has dominated international debates on the floor of the Security Council and outside. Seen in right perspective during the cold war not only South-Asian but global politics had got hinged to this issue. The issue for its getting enmeshed in the cold war politics not only failed a resolution but contributed to perpetuation of animosity between India and Pakistan. It caused collusion between Islamabad and New Delhi in the diplomatic arenas and the battle fields. The two countries despite committing themselves more than once to resolve the dispute through bilateral negotiation it often slipped into the global discourse. Sometimes it dominated the international relations as prominently as issues like Palestine and Afghanistan and sometimes it was relegated to the backburner. In 2008, with about a million converging on the roads it once again made to the international headlines. It set many opinion makers in India come out strongly in support of the resolution of the problem. Many an international opinion makers consider this issue as a dangerous nuclear flashpoint in South Asian region with worldwide ramifications. Many important voices in New Delhi not only voiced their concern over the non-resolution but made bolder statements emboldening political leadership to take daring initiatives for resolving the issue.
The year 2009, dawned with the US President Barrack Obama identifying “diplomatic solution to the Kashmir conflict as a “critical task for his new administration.” It was for the first time after the end of the cold war that Kashmir problem started gaining centrality in the US South Asia policy that has a lot of bearing on domestic policies of the only global power. Ever since Barrack Obama took over it has been belief with the United States that the ‘resolution of Afghan crisis passes through Kashmir’. True, the United States failed to live up to its envisaged policy of appointing former President Bill Clinton as its special envoy on Kashmir. It is also true that New Delhi lobbyists in Washington succeeded in getting Kashmir deleted from the brief of Richard Holbrook, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan but it would be naïve to believe that he is not actively engaged in Kashmir affairs. The debate over Kashmir is no more confined to some senators like Dan Burton but of late has been getting lot of attention of the US think tanks and the civil society. The Harvard Kennedy School’s Car Centre for Human Rights has been holding ‘Kashmir Initiative lecture series “for the Human Rights Policy for the World’s Most Militarized Dispute” involving lots of students and has been focusing on the resolution of the problem.
Kashmir besides the United States and the European Union during the past few months has engaged the attention of many other important countries. It unexpectedly after a gap of many years resounded on the floor of the United Nations at its 64th annual meeting after Libyan President, Muammar Gaddafi called upon India and Pakistan to grant complete independence to the State. Besides the problem finding an echo inside magnificent hall of the United Nations it dominated the discussions on the sidelines of the annual meet of the comity of nations. The OIC group besides adopting a resolution calling for peaceful settlement of the Kashmir ‘dispute’ in line with the UN resolutions also appointed a Special Envoy on Kashmir. The appointment of OIC envoy, true, has not so far taken any initiative but it would be wrong to belittle the diplomatic importance of the move.
Historically China undoubtedly has been a supporting Pakistan stand on Kashmir in all international forums. It has been a strong advocate of right to self determination for people of the state as laid down in the United Nations resolution but stance on this problem during past few months has been significant. Its Kashmir policy manifested by not pasting visa to citizens of Jammu and Kashmir on Indian Passport suggests it being more proactive than that of Pakistan. The statements by NATO and other organization calling for resolution of Kashmir may be seen as an important development but what has been more significant is the unanimity of ideas between China and USA on Kashmir. This unanimity that speaks about the two working in tandem in the region found an expression during Barrack Obama’s visit to Peking.
It may be too early to suggest where this global discourse was leading to but it has now been punctuated with the APHC(M) and New Delhi talking of a dialogue. There has been lot of drum beating about dialogue after Home Minister; P. Chidambaram during his visit to Srinagar on Oct 15, 2009 conveyed his readiness to talk to all shades of opinion in the state including the “separatists”. There were many positive notes in Home Ministers press conference that set many a Kashmir watchers within and outside the state to look for paradigm shift in New Delhi’s stated Kashmir policy. The Hurriyat Conference (M) which has been religiously pursuing resumption of dialogue with New Delhi after the snapping of the same after 2005, over the question of participation in the round table conferences in Srinagar jumped over the idea and expressed its readiness to talk to New Delhi.
The question that is being debated in the political circles as well as by the Civil Society in the Srinagar for past few weeks has been if the proposed dialogue with New Delhi leads to the ending of uncertainty in the region and finding solution of the dispute. India and Pakistan, ever since the birth of the “dispute” have been holding dialogue both on the back and front channels and at all levels for finding an amicable settlement of the dispute. But, there is no history of New Delhi ever having had a dialogue with Kashmir leaders for deciding the future political status of the state. There have been two important pacts between New Delhi and Srinagar, one, the Delhi Agreement of 1952 and another Indira-Sheikh Accord of 1975 but both these pacts were for delineating the constitutional relations of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India. It is a ironical that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and his lieutenant and envoy during three years deliberations with Mrs. Gandhi’s envoy often asserted that the talks were for arriving at an interim arrangement for paving way for final settlement. But, the Six Point Accord signed by them was nothing but reiteration the status of the State within Union of India. It will be an exercise in evasion if yet another dialogue talking for an interim arrangement on the pattern of 1973 is initiated. But it will be making history if the Congress led UPA government holds a dialogue with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on deciding the political future of the state. It is not important with methodology of dialogue is pursued, whether it is back channel, front channel, quite dialogue, proximity talks, bilateral, trilateral or tripartite talks but what is important agenda for the dialogue acceptable to all the contending parties.