India, Pakistan and Kashmir: Long distances, physical and psychological

The distance between Delhi and Islamabad could be longer than anyone’s imagination, especially if you decide to reject the Wagah border crossing option. With Air India having stopped its flights and Pakistan International Airlines reducing the sorties to just once a week, which too are cancelled frequently due to stringent visa regimes and thus less number of passengers, it’s a long road via Dubai. The absurdity of it all and the inadequacy of the resumption of peace process between the two countries dawned during last week’s travel to Islamabad. Soon after the plane takes off from Delhi westwards, it flies somewhere between Lahore and Islamabad, goes all the 3000 kilometers westwards to land in Dubai and then another flight back the same distance to a place closer to the starting point. A distance of 600 plus kilometres covered by travelling about 6000 kilometres! And if you please, confidence building measures was one of the main agendas at the conference organized in Islamabad. 

At the fag end of 2001, when Operation Prakaram began drawing India and Pakistan into an eyeball to eyeball confrontation on the borders, I was part of a SAFMA delegation in Kathmandu, where we heard of India snapping air links with Pakistan and denying air space to its aircrafts. The Pakistani delegates had no option but to reschedule their tickets and fly via and over any other country but India and so they all took the long road via Bangladesh, Bangkok, Sri Lanka or Dubai. Relations between India and Pakistan at present are much more improved than that but despite a long standing commitment and agreement on visa relaxations, it prohibits the possibility of increasing the frequency of flight connections. Divided families on both sides vouch that getting visas is an extremely painful task; for others it is almost unthinkable including for activists travelling for peace conferences and campaigns. The Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy, the largest people to people campaign that grew into a kind of movement by 2000 and played a role in pushing Indian and Pakistani states to the dialogue table, has been unable to hold its regular joint conventions in over a decade, barring one at Allahabad in 2011. What is the legitimacy of a peace process that keeps people of the two countries more distanced and divided? 

As far as Jammu and Kashmir, on both sides of the Line of Control is concerned, the situation is far more dismal. The symbolic trade and travel has sustained despite the hiccups and ups and downs in the relations between New Delhi and Islamabad. However, it has been jeopardized by casual bouts of hawkishness occasionally, more recently due to ceasefire violations and the narcotics smuggling episode. Besides, it has failed to move beyond the symbolism, it was supposed to for greater inclusion of people in the peace process. A more significant flaw is the conceptual design of these existing confidence building measures that fail to address the human element other than the divided families across the Line of Control. Even in the best of times, easing tensions and reducing human rights violations has never been on the planned agenda, which could make the peace process between the two countries vis-à-vis Kashmir more credible. 

The handling of the Pathribal case and its official closure is just one small indication of the arrogance of the Indian state regarding human rights abuse. The wavering postures of Pakistan from raising the human rights pitch to completely wriggling out of the situation and its present indecisiveness is not something that invokes any hope. Interestingly, Pakistan caught in the grip of its own multiple internal problems, its Afghanistan front and a disappearing peace process with India, diluted much of rhetoric on Kashmir some years ago. And so it did on the issue of human rights violations, with its think tank insisting that human rights issue was something to do between New Delhi and the people of Jammu and Kashmir, even as some militants continued to be aided by Pakistan agencies, its intelligence wings active on both sides of the border, much like their Indian counter parts with continuing ugly mechanisms of co-opting civilians and controlling their lives. In addition was the ignored sense of alienation of people of what is known officially in Pakistan as ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ and ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’, where goodwill is now being generated through steps like mega power projects – something that has already failed to yield dividends on the Indian side either in terms of mainstreaming people or in increasing power generation. When it comes to controlling people, both states seem to learn a lot from each other. 

So, even as things begin to move, it is not difficult to analyse why skepticism against an India-Pakistan peace process persists in Jammu and Kashmir on the two sides, where historical experience of politics of control and limited space of maneouvering has made the people wary and so has the cosmetic character of the CBMs. Caught between an arrogant state, intoxicated by the idea of being a powerful might in the South Asian block, and an unreliable state, with its wavering stand regarding people of Kashmir, it may still be a tough going for the world’s biggest nuclear flashpoint, threatened not just by the possibility of the hostility between these two mighty States, still unable to grapple with the reality of the inflammability of the situation and busy with their traditional bouts of mind games. It is also in peril due to the seething volcano of discontent within. Ignoring these messages on the wall would not only increase the psychological distance between Kashmir and these two states but also have extremely disastrous and irreversible consequences for all.