India-Pak peace and Kashmir

Prime minister designate Narendra Modi’s invitation to all SAARC leaders including Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharief to attend his swearing-in ceremony, and Nawaz having reciprocated the invite in friendly tones, is a welcome move. It is now hoped that such symbolism is backed up by efforts to renew a sustained, composite and unconditional dialogue process between the two countries, minus the usual bouts of hawkishness or succumbing to the fits and starts syndrome. This may be no small task for the man taking oath of prime minister’s office in the world’s largest democracy, given his own personal background of Pakistan bashing and a major chunk of his supporters having successfully made it to the parliament by raking up the anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Whether, Modi manages to overcome such dilemmas within himself or carry along the usual hawks in his campaign and whether he really does wish to take that initiative, only time would reveal. But he may soon have to realise that his spelled out dream of taking the country on the road to growth and development cannot be fulfilled without mending fences with India’s neighbours.

Pakistan is the most important country in this chapter of improved relations in the block. It would be foolish and highly chauvinistic to believe that Indian economy need not rely on friendship with its ‘weaker’ neighbours, as is pedaled out by spin doctors and new breed of experts. Hostilities around are bound to cause impediments on the road to progress and so it is in the best interests of the country to keep normalising relations within the sub-continent on the top priority. So far, the beginning is good. Now, a lot would depend on this new government assuming power in New Delhi to push for a sustained and structured dialogue process and take on from where it was left by the UPA government. Both India and Pakistan have several shared concerns including economic instability, poverty, health related issues and education that need a far greater focus and reinforce the need for joint mechanisms at various levels.

Beginnings to this end have been made in the past but dialogue process has hardly been a sustainable process, owing to which both sides have not made much headway beyond the goodwill gestures and failed to even come up with mechanisms for necessary things like relaxing visa regimes and exchange of prisoners, both of which are not a security risk. These can be immediate do-ables on whose edifices rest of the dialogue process can be built and this must be done even as it brings Modi and BJP on the crossroads of the larger dilemma of treating Kashmir issue, which is intrinsically linked to the India-Pakistan relations. BJP’s own hardline position may come in the way of fitting the Kashmir piece in the unsolved jigsaw puzzle. 

However, Kashmir having been recognized as a global nuclear flashpoint, the imperatives of this peace process cannot be negated. The sooner the realization dawns the better and the sooner the push for amicable negotiations for building mutual trust, co-operation and final resolution, the best for the south Asian region. It would be a folly to compartmentalise the peace process by excluding Kashmir. A fruitful conflict resolution vis a vis both India-Pakistan and Kashmir would be one borne out of greater realization and an indigenous push towards amicable negotiations.

This would eventually require not just out of the box thinking but also streamlining the existing remains of the peace process, the confidence building measures and building further on that for a systematic multi-level dialogue to progress from that. India and Pakistan would thus need to begin spade work for pushing in not just official level channels into the agenda but also people to people levelcontact at the India-Pakistan level and the intra-Kashmir level as well as dialogues for Kashmir on the two sides of the Line of Control with New Delhi and Islamabad. 

Encouraging signals from Kashmir have come in favour of a peace process with cross-section of people welcoming Narendra Modi’s unexpected gesture towards Pakistan and hoping for a dialogue process to follow. Joining the bandwagon is chief minister Omar Abdullah, though with a touch of sarcasm. However, his own support of such a gesture amounts to hypocrisy in the face of the extremely aggressive position he appears to have taken vis-à-vis protesting youth and separatists, disallowing them to give vent to their anger or resentment. The curfew like restrictions in Srinagar on Wednesday to stall the separatists’ programme to commemorate the death anniversaries of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone did not quite match the more pacifist gesture coming from a man of greater extremes in New Delhi.

A vital component of the India-Pakistan peace process lies in the divided Kashmir on the two sides of Line of Control. It is for the government in power in Jammu and Kashmir to push for Kashmir’s legitimate space in the India-Pakistan peace process and do all it can within its means to make conditions conducive for that. The denial of democratic space within Kashmir and the unattended long festering sore of the political issue coupled with the continuing graph of human rights abuse and curbing of civil liberties has made Kashmir vulnerable to several dangers and these would need to be addressed with a sense of immediacy and sincerity. There is much that Omar Abdullah still has in his hands.