Kashmir a core issue, needs to be discussed at political level


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•    Sooner the dialogue starts, the better
•    Indians always complain Pakistan made the dialogue process Kashmir-centric
•    If India had pursued dialogue we could have brought 4-point-formula to conclusion
•    Need to find a formula which would be acceptable to Kashmiris
•    BJP wanted maximum votes in Jammu and resorted to unprovoked firing at LoC
•    Siachen agreement exists and needs to be implemented, but Indian army is not allowing GoI to implement it
Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar is expected to visit Pakistan next month. This proposed visit is being termed as a fresh start of the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan. According to Pakistan’s former high commissioner to India, Aziz Ahmed Khan, in a brief interview with Mirza Khurram Shahzad, says, Jaishankar’s arrival will be an opportunity for both nations to take their previous parleys to a logical conclusion. Excerpts
Do you think Jaishankar’s visit would be productive, particularly in the current situation of Indo-Pak tensions at the border?
Not just productive, absolutely important. This was long overdue. Since the time Modi took over as prime minister and Nawaz Sharif showed a special gesture of going there for his inauguration, there were expectations that India would start the dialogue process immediately. It has already been delayed for far too long. So the sooner it starts, the better.
How useful would it be to restart the composite dialogue?
The two foreign secretaries can sit down and work out the schedule for the dialogue process, what would be the format of the dialogue, would it be resumed from where it was left off as the composite dialogue or whether India is going to propose a new format. There have been reports that India wants to change the dialogue format. This is very interesting considering that the format of the composite dialogue was agreed on India’s desire in 1997. The Indians used to complain that Pakistan made the dialogue process so Kashmir-centric that no progress could be made on other issues. They suggested it should be multi-pronged, and the lack of progress in one area would not impede progress in other areas. We agreed and it was proceeding fairly well.
What will be this new format?
Maybe they won’t like to call it composite dialogue or propose something else, but all issues will have to be discussed. How will they format it? Maybe they would like to raise discussion of some issues at the political level, like the Kashmir issue that can be discussed at the ministerial instead of the foreign secretaries’ level.
What is India’s issue with the composite dialogue?
There is no harm in changing that format. I think the Kashmir issue needs to be discussed at a political level. It’s a core issue, which has soured India-Pakistan relations, and we need to find a formula which would be acceptable to Kashmiris. During President Musharraf’s time talks were under way through the back channel. What that back channel was discussing was a framework for moving towards the final solution towards Kashmir. Basically, this was to find a framework in long-term large-scale CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) to provide relief to Kashmiris, reduce human rights violations in Kashmir, and also reduce the heavy presence of military in Jammu and Kashmir by demilitarisation of the region and formation of a joint mechanism so that Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC [Line of Control] could look at areas of common interest like tourism, trade and movement of people.
Was there any proposal to undo the LoC at that time?
The then Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh had once issued a statement that, “we will make LoC irrelevant”. It meant that movement across the LoC would be free and Kashmiris could meet each other, trade with each other, and could discuss their common problems. And when all this would happen, that would create an environment in which a final settlement would be easier.
Why was this not finalised?
In my personal view at one stage the Indians slowed the process and then the internal political situation in Pakistan got a little unsteady.
Why did the Indians slow down the process?
My guess is that they were just being overly cautious. Also, their attention was being distracted by some internal issues.
So the two countries stopped short of a final agreement on Kashmir because of India’s slow response?
If India had pursued [it] at that particular time, we could have brought that particular framework to a conclusion. I personally feel that India should not have slowed down.
Do you think India is serious about talks now?
There is no alternative but to be serious about talks.
Isn’t it just eyewash after President Obama’s successful visit to India and start of new Indo-US partnership?
As I see it, India’s immediate attention, soon after Modi took over, was on elections in three important states, particularly in Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir. They wanted to capture maximum votes in Jammu and that’s why they resorted to unprovoked firing to create the impression inside that we are taking a tough stand against Pakistan. I think it was very carefully crafted, although an unfortunate and risky policy, and it yielded results for them. I think Modi had it in his mind all the time that at an appropriate moment, he will start the process again. And he has got that opportunity.
Is there any chance that the two countries could achieve major success to solve their issues in near future?
I personally feel that if the Indian prime minister has the political foresight, we can move way ahead in resolving many issues. For example on Siachen, we have an agreement since 1989. The agreement exists and needs to be implemented but the Indian army is not allowing them [the Indian government] to implement it. I think if Narendra Modi has the political savvy to realise what a big game changer it would be in Pakistan-India relations, we should be able to implement that agreement. Same for the demarcation of boundary in Sir Creek; already the map exists and new survey maps of the area have been prepared and exchanged. The trade agreement is ready for signatures.
Why is the US insisting on the resumption of peace talks?
Everybody wants Pakistan and India to start peace talks, not just the US, because they feel that the only way to resolve issues is through talks.
Courtesy Dawn