India and Pakistan must back off and let Kashmiris choose

Daily Times

PERSPECTIVES

India and Pakistan must back off and let Kashmiris choose

India and Pakistan have had more than 150 official rounds of talks in the last seven decades to discuss their conflicts and issues. The by-product of every round of talks was an agreement to meet again to talk

Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai

JUNE 10, 2018

“The best way to solve any problem is to remove the cause.” — Dr Martin Luther King

Kashmiris need to be given their right to make their own decisions. So far, the story has been just about India, Pakistan, and their fight to the finish line that is Kashmir — but what the people of Kashmir want never makes the headlines.

In a recent interview with The Indian Express, Dineshwar Sharma, the former intelligence chief interlocutor said, “When I talk to the younger generation there (Kashmir), often they confront me with so many questions and even talk about Azaadi. Any rational discussion will be possible when we are able to first address the sentiment of the people.”

I believe that we need fresh thinking to fix the Kashmir issue. It has been more than 70 years since Pakistan and India have been facing this bilateral issue. All parties concerned, including the governments of India and Pakistan, and the leadership representing the people of Kashmir, need to recognise that the issue cannot be resolved with a shift in strategy.

However, the one thing that cannot be compromised is the will and sentiments of the people of Kashmir.

We know that all international conflicts ultimately are resolved on the negotiating table. If that is true, then the world powers should become deeply engaged in order to make sure that the peace process between India and Pakistan does not get derailed. They can play a bridge-building role to bring parties together so that the animosity is done away with, and the dawn of dialogue and engagement is sustained. They need to make sure that any policy for conflict resolution, adopted by both New Delhi and Islamabad, is consistent, coherent, transparent and dependable.

We are mindful of the United Nation (UN)’s focus on ensuring that India and Pakistan keep talking to each other. However, while talks are needed, expecting a breakthrough with just talks is like asking for a miracle.

During the long years that India, Pakistan and the UN have spent playing political chess, the people of Kashmir have been denied the role of even a pawn. Their voices have neither been summoned nor heard, yet they have suffered persistent, harrowing human rights violations.

It’s interesting how problematic it is for India and Pakistan to agree that Kashmiris themselves have a stake in any talks about their future. In what kind of democratic process would this not be of prime consideration? The moral, legal and historical foundations for such a principle have been frequently raised not only by Kashmiris but by the world community as well, which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have had more than 150 official rounds of talks in the last seven decades to discuss their conflicts and issues. The by-product of every round of talks was an agreement to meet again to talk.

During the long years that India, Pakistan and the UN have spent playing political chess, the people of Kashmir have been denied the role of even a pawn. Their voices have neither been summoned nor heard, yet they have suffered persistent, harrowing human rights violations

As a result, the peace process has remained but an illusion. Talks have always proved barren because both India and Pakistan have never defined the parameters of talks. The talks were never meant to be time bound with specific benchmarks that would define and characterise progress. History testifies that the dispute will not, and cannot, be solved bilaterally by the two stakeholders involved. Both India and Pakistan have to agree to include the leadership of the Kashmiri political resistance to explore a lasting solution for the dispute.

We are fully aware that the settlement of the Kashmir dispute cannot be achieved in one move. Like all qualified observers, we visualise successive steps or intermediate solutions in the process. It is one thing, however, to think of a settlement over a relatively extended period of time. It is atrociously different to postpone the beginning of the process on that account.

The people of Kashmir need to be given back their representation and freedom to decide what they want. Whether they want to continue with the status quo or opt for something new will not be difficult to work out. It can be done by a joint committee composed of rightly qualified people from India and Pakistan, who would consult Kashmiri representatives, along with experts from the United Nations.

What is desperately needed is an affirmation by the leadership of both India and Pakistan, that they will implement new measured to settle the Kashmir dispute. To that end, India and Pakistan must together prepare a plan for the demilitarisation of the state with safeguards for security worked out together.

Peace in the region would benefit all involved — Kashmiris, Pakistanis and Indians. Sounder minds must prevail. More rational methods of dealing with differences must be sought. Repeating the same mistakes, while expecting different results, has long ago been found to be the path of failure.

Seventy years should demonstrate a need for a change in policy — a policy that accepts the need for coming together in a process that accepts the right of all people to determine their own destiny.

The people of Kashmir, like most people, are by their nature peaceful. History testifies to that fact. They do not seek war, and do not want to see their children die in a bloody conflict. They seek and would welcome a peaceful and negotiated settlement to the crisis for the sake of peace and stability in the region of South Asia.

The writer is the Secretary General, World Kashmir Awareness Forum, and can be reached at gnfai2003@yahoo.com

Published in Daily Times, June 10th 2018.