Moving forward on Kashmir

Daily Times

EDITORIAL

Moving forward on Kashmir

MAY 31, 2018

A glimmer of hope flickers on the Kashmiri horizon. Or at the very least, the promise of respite for the people of this disputed region. Thus, in a welcome and unexpected move, India and Pakistan have agreed to honour the 2003 ceasefire along the LoC and international border. Better late than never.

To be clear, the militaries of both sides are on the front-foot. The go-ahead, after all, was given by respective Directors General of Military Operations (DMO). That the incumbent Pakistani government has more or less come and gone may or may not be coincidental. But one thing is clear: those in uniform are ready and willing to deliver a cessation of violence. Which, of course, is a necessary prelude to peace.

The two countries’ media have described this as a significant breakthrough. And rightly so. After all, the 2003 ceasefire was the first of its kind to be brokered by Islamabad and New Delhi; ultimately extending all the way to Siachen. This opportunity to reset the button on cross-border violence must not be squandered. Especially given that this has, over the last two years alone, killed some 150 civilians and troops on both sides.

But delivering peace can never be left in the hands of armies. This is a theme to which the Indian political leadership has seemingly begun to warm; albeit with mixed results. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, for his part, insists on referring to the Ramzan ceasefire; while stressing that New Delhi’s hands remain untied when it comes to cross-border terrorism. That being said, Singh has also invited the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to talks while indicating that he is even willing to include Pakistan in this dialogue.

Such a gesture, to be sure, is not to be scoffed at. Yet Islamabad must take the lead from the APHC in this regard. Putting his cards firmly on the table, Syed Ali Shah Geelani has already advised the Modi government to recognise

Kashmir’s disputed status as a prerequisite for peace talks. This is not an unreasonable demand. Not when seven decades have passed. Moreover, framing contentions in their original form serves as a timely reminder that ceasefires alone will not resolve Kashmir. Rather, these provide the necessary breathing space to sit down at the negotiating table.

If India is willing to do this, Pakistan must reciprocate in kind. For tripartite dialogue is the only viable way forward; a reality recognised by the APHC. And if the Kashmiri people choose independence — both Islamabad and New Delhi will have to like it or lump it. For self-determination is a fundamental right. Even if the plight of the Kashmiris and Palestinians suggest otherwise.

And, lastly, as quaint as AS Dulat’s advice was to the Modi government — to roll out the red carpet for Pakistan’s COAS and see what happens — it must be remembered that militaries are ultimately ill-equipped to deliver peace. For the simple reason that they are not the elected representatives of the people. *

Published in Daily Times, May 31st 2018.