Facing New Challenges Amid hopes, illusions, fears, we stand at the crossroads

I have no sunny predictions to make regarding Islamabad- New Delhi relations. Or share no optimism with my “leaders” that a right wing government atop Raisina Hill is going to ‘augur well’ for finding a lasting solution for sixty seven  year old political problem that hangs fire on the region. There are many pointers that make one obtuse to any forward movement in India-Pakistan relation in near future or white doves   hovering over the region. Given to the volley of controversial issues- some in dormancy for sixty years like ‘undoing of the 1927 state subject laws, Article 370, settlement of over four to five lakh West Pakistan refugees (non-state subjects)   being ferociously  raked up the NDA government in its new avatar- the possibility of meaningful engagement with Srinagar seems a rare possibility.    

On Saturday morning, when I started writing this column. Lead story on a satellite television website posted at 6.55 A.M, read major ceasefire violation along international border; 2 Civilians Killed, 4 Injured. Pronouncing the firing as “most intense”, the report said the deceased included eight year child and his father and injured included one BSF soldier. And major story in Pakistani newspaper website, known for ‘friendly policy’ towards New Delhi at the same time read, ‘heavy Indian cross-border firing near Sialkot leaves 2 civilians dead, 6 injured’. The civilians killed included an old man Imadad Hussain and a woman – her two daughters suffered injury. By the time, this column goes to print, there may be few more clashes on the LOC or there may be none. 

The question arises if the skirmishes on the ‘working boundary’ are a fallout of the collapsing of the scheduled foreign secretary level talks between the two countries or is an isolated incident but by all stretch of imaginations these signify the new challenges for peace in South-Asia, more particularly when United States is withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan- leaving behind a minefield of uncertainties. This time, New Delhi backtracked from the dialogue on an uncalled for alibi that Pakistan High Commissioner, in New Delhi had invited leaders of three factions of Hurriyat Conference and JKLF leader for ‘consultations’ or getting inputs about ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir. This did not happen for the first time and it will be also wrong to believe that it happened for the last time. 

 From 1 November, 1947 till date the two countries have been talking   and exchanges papers at the highest level for the final settlement of the Kashmir Dispute. In the first meeting between Lord Mountbatten and M.A. Jinnah on this day New Delhi first time committed in writing holding UN sponsored plebiscite in the state. New Delhi was also to involve Kashmir leadership in the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. In 1948, when Kashmir Dispute was taken to the United Nations Security Council. Kashmir leader Sheikh Abdullah was included in Indian delegation by Union Cabinet that included Sardar Patel and Syama Prasad Mookerjee as its members. As very rightly pointed out by Howard Shaffer, “In formal sense Kashmir dispute at this stage only involved two parties- India and Pakistan.”  Sheikh Abdullah as a member of Indian delegation called on Warren R Austin US permanent representative to UN and talked about independent Kashmir- perhaps he had tacit approval for this from New Delhi otherwise on his return from New York he would have been arrested or at least questioned. Nothing like that happened. Notwithstanding, the United Nations passing resolutions calling for holding of plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir under its auspices India and Pakistan remained engaged without involving Kashmir leadership for resolving the Kashmir dispute outside the United Nations Security Council. In May 1953, when John Foster Dulles UN Secretary of State visited India and suggested Nehru holding talks direct to Pakistan for final settlement of Kashmir-“Nehru jumped over idea”.

But nursed apprehensions with widened trust-deficit between him and Abdullah Nehru he may not be able to get support from Jammu and Kashmir. Nehru ‘made a dramatic reversal and virtually agreed to all suggestions including holding a plebiscite in the State in his meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Bogra.’ He indicated this to new P.M. Bakshi, “Obviously I cannot ignore the wishes of people. If our efforts thus far have been in vain and the only result we can expect is some sort of tragedy.’ In the wake of Chinese aggression when Nehru wanted see Kashmir problem settled. In 1964, he again inducted Kashmir leadership into talks for resolving the dispute by sending Sheikh Abdullah and all top leaders of to Pakistan. In the post 1990 scenario the GOI under almost seven Prime Minister, encouraged indirect involvement of Kashmir leadership in talks between India-Pakistan by facilitating their meetings with Pakistan leaders in New Delhi. These meeting became more frequent and profound during both the NDA and UPA was engaged composite dialogue the Musharraf’s Government. The meeting between Kashmir leaders and Pakistan official was as past practice- why hullaballoo is the question. “Cancelling the meeting was an overreaction on India’s part, especially when it could have served as an opportunity to discuss grievances and press for a solution, wrote New York Times in its editorial on 19 August, “It would be foolish and dangerous to let this episode destroy the chance for a more stable relationship.”  Some political circles in Srinagar believe that this was deliberate attempt to delegitimize as stakeholder role of Kashmir leaders in the resolution of Kashmir problem and project their dissent as    centre-state discourse.  

Historically, whenever leaders in India and Pakistan fail to live up to their promise made to electorate the relations between the two countries or their engagement over Kashmir is the first causality. Prime Minister Modi swept to power on promise to revive the   economy, rein in prices, reinvent foreign policy etc. Now in power for three months nothing of the sort has happened so far. The Associated Press, an international news agency in a story based on market survey observed that a feeling has set both in his critics and supporters that he is “squandering his powerful mandate”. Most of political observers see next six months are crucial.