Kashmir’s Misfortune

At a time when one seriously doubted whether the rapidly plummeting Indo-Pak relations could ever be salvaged, the sudden announcement that Indian Foreign Secretary Jayshankar would be visiting Islamabad came as a welcome relief. Even though this visit was part of ‘SAARC Yatra’, it nevertheless raised hopes that having realised the futility of ‘confrontation politics’, the two countries would discard their traditional acrimony and after resolving mutual differences through dialogue, start behaving maturely and living like good neighbours.

However, though Indo-Pak relations may appear to be fast improving and proceeding in the right direction, one must guard against over- optimism. This is because whenever India and Pakistan start mending fences afresh, certain provocative incidents sabotage these efforts. And this time too, there are strong indications that despite the outward show of bonhomie, neither side is willing to shed its ‘baggage of the past’ or breaking the stereotype. And the most disconcerting thing about this sorry scheme of things is that in this intermittent face-off between New Delhi and Islamabad, the Kashmir issue gets consigned to the backburner and so, it is ultimately the ordinary Kashmiri who actually suffers!

While announcing the itinerary of the Indian Foreign Secretary’s ‘SAARC Yatra’, the MEA spokesperson stated that "We stand ready to talk with Pakistan in accordance with the Simla Agreement on all issues including Jammu & Kashmir." On the face of it, this statement appears to be a goodwill gesture oozing with magnanimity. However, to a Kashmir watcher, the implied undertone in this message is loud and clear – by invoking the Simla Agreement, New Delhi has made it abundantly clear that Kashmir is a ‘bilateral issue’ and so, India will only talk with Pakistan on this issue and no one else- not even the Hurriyat!

While one may have expected that the Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit would be merely a ritual to exchange pleasantries and formally end the eight month long hiatus in Indo- Pak relations as well as create a conducive environment for future dialogue, it was not so. During their meeting, the two Foreign Secretaries also discussed serious issues of each other’s “concerns and interests.”After interaction with his Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jayshankardisclosed that he had “reiterated our known concerns on cross-border terrorism, including on the Mumbai case.”

Whether the propriety and timings of the MEA spokesperson talking about the Simla Agreement or Foreign Secretary Jayshankar raising concerns about cross-border terrorism and failure of Islamabad to bring the perpetuators of the Mumbai attacks to book was right, is debatable. Of course, this could well have been part of what PM Nawaz Sharif referred to in his Kashmir Solidarity Day speech as India’s “dilly-dallying tactics.” However, New Delhi seems to have succeeded in rattling Islamabad, for less than a week after the Foreign Secretary’s meeting, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit had a meeting with Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani at the latter’s residence in New Delhi. According to reports, Basit met Geelani to brief him about the recently concluded Indo-Pak Foreign-Secretary level talks as well as discuss the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir after the release of Masrat Alam. A few days later, Basit extended an invitation to the Hurriyat leadership for the Pakistan Day celebrations.

Readers would recall that it was due to Basit’s meeting with Hurriyat leaders in August last year that New Delhi unilaterally call off the Foreign Secretary talks and this decision raised tensions which soon escalated into a near complete breakdown of diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan. Amidst the hostile exchanges during that time, came a sane voice- Pakistan’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz admitted that “In this case (of Pakistan’s High Commissioner meeting the Hurriyat leaders) perhaps, the timing was not totally right because the substantial discussion on Kashmir was yet to start.”

So, why did the Pakistani High Commissioner decide to go and meet Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani and thereby once again run the serious risk of Indo-Pak talks being derailed?  When the Kashmir issue was not even discussed during the latest interaction between the Foreign Secretaries, where was the tearing hurry for Basit to drive down for a confab with SAS Geelani? While this inexplicable behaviour on the part of a career diplomat may baffle the uninitiated, Kashmir watchers would not have been surprised at all!

Basit has done exactly what any Pakistani High Commissioner to India would have done- he simply matched fire with fire by dealing an appropriate riposte to New Delhi’s Simla Accord, cross- border terrorism and Mumbai attack barbs. And by becoming a guest of SAS Geelani instead of hosting him at the Pakistan High Commission, Basit has succeeded in embarrassing New Delhi by deftly circumventing North Block’s directives on the hosting of Kashmiri separatists at the Pakistan High Commission. However, in doing so, he has unnecessarily also given New Delhi an opportunity to scuttle talks. 

Just last month, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan had reiterated Kashmir’s importance by calling it the “jugular vein of Pakistan.” Striking an emotional chord by saying that “Kashmir runs in my blood,” Sharif also declared that Kashmir and Pakistan are “one entity in all respects and no power on earth can separate the two.” And herein lies the dichotomy- if Islamabad is really as concerned about the early resolution of the Kashmir issue, why did High Commissioner Basit put Indo-Pak dialogue on Kashmir into jeopardy just in order to settle scores with New Delhi? If Islamabad wanted to repay New Delhi in the same coin, it could have always found other ways to get even!

Such perfunctory actions on the part of Islamabad are really disconcerting and give rise to serious doubts on Pakistan’s sincerity towards resolution of the Kashmir issue and its Kashmir ‘report card’ too is not very encouraging-while Islamabad deserves full marks for its rhetoric on Kashmir, it fares rather badly when it comes to any meaningful progress or achievement regarding its resolution.

Thus, the time has come for the Hurriyat to dispassionately analyse as to whether its decision to place all its eggs in Islamabad’s basket is right. Though the Hurriyat may not accept it, but the fact is that due to its overdependence on Islamabad for resolution of the Kashmir issue, it has lost its own identity as an independent organisation and is now seen as more of the stooge of Pakistan than true representatives of the people of Kashmir!

Some experts contend that Islamabad’s half hearted efforts to seriously engage New Delhi for resolving the Kashmir issue could well be part of its well thought out strategy of ‘having the cake and eating it too’. Islamabad proclaims that it is wholeheartedly committed to see the Kashmir issue resolved in accordance with UN resolutions and is willing to walk the extra mile in this regards. Yet, Islamabad has never for once hinted that it is ready to fulfill its own obligations that are mandatory pre-requisites to the holding of a plebiscite in J&K- like that of vacating the areas of the State under its occupation! 

Over the years, hostile propaganda by both New Delhi and Islamabad has turned Kashmir into a hallowed symbol of ultra-nationalism in the two countries due to which neither side can afford to make any concessions on this issue. Readers may recall that despite being extremely practical and most easy to implement, Musharraf’s ‘Four Point Formula’ on Kashmir, (which he claimed had been accepted by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) was shot down by all and sundry without even being debated as it required all sides to be more accommodative and make some compromises.

No wonder governments in both countries have always preferred not to touch the Kashmir issue even with a bargepole. Instead, it makes better sense for both New Delhi and Islamabad to let things be as they are and just keep pretending that they are fully committed to the early resolution of the Kashmir issue and are seriously working in this direction. This drama has been played over and over again so many times that one can actually foresee as to what will happen next.

And as I write, a police station in Kathua district as well as an army installation in the Samba area of Jammu has been attacked by militants. This was the only thing missing in the present ‘pre- talks drama’ being played out and now that it has happened, the ‘picture’ is complete and so I can safely make five very accurate predictions:

·         First, Islamabad and New Delhi will trade accusations – while the former will deny any involvement in this attack, the latter will threaten to call off talks, declaring that ‘terrorism and talks cannot go hand-in-hand’.

·         Second, despite the Kashmir issue continuing to remain in the backburner, Hurriyat leaders will still reaffirm their complete faith that Pakistan is leaving no stone unturned to resolve the Kashmir problem and expressing their gratitude for the same, will patiently wait for Islamabad to take the next step!

·         Third, the Line of Control (LoC) will witness heavy exchanges of fire and both armies will accuse each other for violating the cease fire agreement.

·         Fourth, tensions will reach a point of no return and talks will be postponed indefinitely. Pakistan will launch a diplomatic ‘offensive’ to get the international community to censure India’s obduracy on Kashmir and  make an oblique reference that non-resolution of the ‘K” issue could led to a possible nuclear showdown. India will raise the cross border terrorism bogey and accusing Pakistan of being   the ‘epicenter of global terrorism’ send an indirect message to the international community that it must act against Pakistan. However, no one will be impressed by what either of the two is saying!

·         Fifth, just like every bygone year since 1947, no progress whatsoever regarding resolution of the Kashmir issue will be made during this year – thanks to Indo-Pak acrimony as well as the complete absence of any strategy with the Hurriyat to take the movement for the ‘right to self determination’ forward!