Focussing on Kashmir

While it would not be correct to stretch the import of UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon’s Kashmir-related ‘offer’, at his New York press conference on Thursday, certain other connected developments indicate a revived international interest in one of the world’s oldest disputes. Like Moon, leaders of China and the European Union have hailed the India-Pakistan diplomatic re-engagement. Kashmir dispute between two South Asian neighbours is globally seen as a serious obstacle to peace and regional stability. It is an open secret that the United States has been playing a periodic backstage role to facilitate amicable resolution of the Kashmir dispute. However, given India’s known sensitivity to overt third-party intervention, other countries have generally sought to avoid giving an impression of any such ‘meddling’. Yet it is well known that but for these subtle moves from the world community, foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan might not have been discussing ‘Kashmir’ as an exclusive item of their agenda for the Islamabad meeting. India’s aversion to any such proposition became more pronounced after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

It was at Thimpu that DrManmohan Singh and Syed Yusuf RazaGilani were able to make course correction in response to discreet pressure from the US, EU and other countries. Compulsions of India’s domestic politics, aggravated by 26/11 incidents, dictated a change of priorities. ‘Terrorism’ took precedence over every other issue. For more than two and a half years India flatly refused to discuss Kashmir, exclusively or otherwise. Islamabad meeting between NirupamaRao and Salman Bashir on Thursday and Friday broke the ice as Kashmir was set apart for exclusive discussion.

It makes sense to view the UN secretary general’s latest observation on Kashmir in its relevant context rather than stretching its potential implications. It is not without significance that the world community continues to show interest in getting this old problem out of the way. Wider implications of a lingering major dispute between India and Pakistan have become more pronounced. That explains the urge for its early amicable resolution.

It is unrealistic to pretend that the situation on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir itself is not a part of the world focus even as efforts are on to resolve the larger dispute. There is a deep concern about regional stability, now especially in the wake of the proposed US pullout from Afghanistan. America will find it impossible to have its way without the active co-operation of Pakistan. Pakistan’s own concern about its eastern flank is largely Kashmir-centric. Unless this problem is seriously addressed Pakistan’s full commitment along its western flank with Afghanistan will not be forthcoming in full measure.

Having overcome its reservation about discussing Kashmir with Pakistan as an exclusive item of bilateral agenda, India should now be able to convince its neighbour towards putting in place a few substantial Kashmir-specific confidence building measures (CBMs).  It would create congenial atmosphere for exploring a lasting solution to the basic problem.
Peace process set in motion since 2004, though slow, was beginning to yield positive results and, more significantly, pave the way for progress on grappling with the root issue.

While global and regional factors have undoubtedly their place in the matter it is the internal dimension of the basic dispute that is historically proven to be of critical value to setting the course. Unrest, anger and alienation on the ground, if not addressed realistically can result in aggravation rather than stabilisation.