Kashmir' going out of focus, once again

SRINAGAR; Mar 13: Once again, an initiative to resolve the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan appears to be fading out; this time because of realignment of regional forces under the influence of global politics in the Asian region. Suddenly Kashmir seems to be going off the regional radar as Afghanistan comes into sharper focus. Interestingly, the post-cold war thaw looks to be making way for revival of cold war equations; as that between America and Pakistan and between India and Russia.

Exclusion of India from the American-blessed regional conference held in Turkey in January 2010, followed by the London conference in February to discuss Afghanistan and more recently the highly significant statements made by the visiting Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, all point to the contours of a new configuration on the horizon.

‘Kashmir’ did not figure in any of these path-breaking or path-making developments, unlike the refrain till not so long ago. For America, the key strategic concern is Afghanistan. This issue is intricately linked with the Pakistan’s own security and military concerns being adequately accommodated by the world’s only super power. That the high ranking US military officials recently asked India to be ‘more transparent’ about its presence in Afghanistan showed that Pakistan’s concerns about its ‘strategic depth’ are duly factored in.

India is no pushover of the past. It is an upcoming regional force to be reckoned with. That much was amply clear by what Putin said during his New Delhi visit: ‘We will not have any military or nuclear deal with Pakistan because of India’s concern.’ Russia has committed to construct 16 nuclear reactors in India besides providing immediately 29 modern MIG fighter planes for Indian Navy.

Earlier, India had been discretely trying to dissuade America from re-arming Pakistani military but only in vain. US aid to Pakistan, monetary as well as military, is a by-product of President Obama’s Afpak policy now into operation. Pakistan’s geo-strategic location is beginning to pay dividends once again.

The so-called Big Game on the global and regional stage has eclipsed earlier enthusiasm of western countries to ‘facilitate’ resolution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, if only to reassure Pakistan in order to gets its full military commitment to fighting its side of the America’s Afghan war. Another recent development that gave impetus to these moves was the about turn by the western powers. Vigorous efforts are now being made for ‘reconciliation (with) and reintegration’ of the Afghan Taliban into the Afghan society and government. Hamid Karzai’s recent visit to Pakistan, to proclaim that ‘India is a friend and Pakistan is our twin brother’, is a link in the same chain.

Putin, reciprocating Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s December, 2009 visit to Russia, left nothing to doubt as to how things were shaping in this part of the world. Strategists say that India-Russia line up is most likely to include Iran in near future. Iran is facing isolation with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and the central Asian republics coming under the US umbrella. Iran is also under increasing pressure from western countries over the nuclear issue.

Not that India and Pakistan had reached a stage where they could clinch the issue of Kashmir. But the recent breakthrough by way of the foreign secretary-level meeting in Delhi had created sufficient space for forward movement. Resumption of the stalled composite dialogue did not appear to be that far. Kashmir is central to the agenda of that dialogue process ruptured by the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Putin made it a point to share India’s deep concern over terrorist ‘training camps’ across the Line of control. It is unlikely that India would let go of this opportunity to press the point that ‘terrorism’ and not ‘Kashmir’ or ‘composite dialogue’ was the real issue to be discussed. Home minister P Chidambaram’s exhortation that Pakistan ‘reinvent itself’ fits into the pattern.
Two pointers suggest that whatever may be Pakistan’s posture, its priorities are changing too. Firstly, its internal security has put spotlight on the issue of ‘terrorism’ though from a different perspective. Secondly, the war cry over the issue of ‘river water’ is bound to reduce the intensity of the Kashmir issue in public discourse.

Observers say that once again the Kashmir-centric initiative looks to be getting jinxed. Whatever little progress was achieved since 2004 towards breaking the ice over Kashmir was comparable to the seriousness of proposals that were discussed way back in 1963. Tashkent summit, Shimla Agreement and Agra summit did not really yield much towards de-freezing Kashmir. It was only around 2004-5 that a breakthrough was achieved and a set of confidence building measures were put into action. Breaching the LoC barrier being the biggest of them all. Incidentally, the term ‘quiet diplomacy’ in relation to Kashmir was also mentioned first time in 1963 by Jawahar Lal Nehru while urging the US president Kennedy not to press for mediation. That initiative was lost after Nehru’s sudden death in 1964. Once again the destiny seems set to play its fateful hand.