India and Pakistan have seen many ups and downs with intermittent breaks in friendship and outbreaks of tensions at the border or infiltration of terrorists. The relationship between these two major economies in the region has stalled the development process in South Asia. New Delhi’s indication to the stalled dialogue process has given a ray of hope. At the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar began his SAARC yatra. In the process he met his counterpart Aizaz Ahmad in Islamabad. Initial talks have been fruitful as per reports.
Recall, last year the dialogue process was called off as the Pakistani envoy in New Delhi Abdul Basit chose to meet the separatist Hurriyat leaders ahead of the scheduled talks, contrary to India’s insistence. This time also Basit called the Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and briefed him about the recent secretary-level talks. Islamabad had always taken the route of talking to the Hurriyat leaders and informing them about the developments in relationship between the two countries, whereas New Delhi wants to bring home the fact that as per Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration there is no scope for any third party intervention when the Kashmir issue is discussed between the two countries. The only instance in recent times when Islamabad deviated from its chosen option was during the visit of the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during the oath taking ceremony of Prime Minister Modi.
However, after the derailment of talks last yearSushma Swaraj had indicated that talks may resume in the near future saying "in diplomacy there is no full stop, but comas." To give a fillip to the resumption of talks, Modi has planned to use cricket diplomacy in the region at a time when India’s prospects look brighter in the World Cup tournament.
Another significant development that can be catalyzed to develop better relationship between the two countries is the conclusion of free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir where people came out to vote in large numbers for the first time since 1987 polls. The total recorded voter turnout at the conclusion of the five phases of the polls in 87 constituencies was 65.23%. In the first two phases voter turnout was 71% and in the final phase it was 76%.
The separatists believe that the mandate has no bearing on the Kashmir dispute and does not overshadow the "right to self-determination". India maintains that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir is full and final. Whatever may be the interpretation, the fact is the people have voted for a change and the development of the region is also one of their aspirations.
A survey conducted by Pakistan’s leading English daily, Dawn shows that 60.23% of the respondents approve of the elected PDP-BJP coalition government in the State. It is the writing on the wall for Pakistan to keep their intentions about the Kashmir issue on the backburner and allow the elected government in the State to function freely keeping with the aspirations of the people. Instead of raking up the Kashmir issue, Pakistan should now concentrate on trade and development issues with India and for further integration of the SAARC region. If there can be trade, economic and cultural cooperation between India and China despite the boundary issue, why can’t it be so between Islamabad and New Delhi?
Critics say that the verdict of the J&K people is fractured and indecisive. But the reality is that the polity of J&K is fractured. Three major regions of the state – Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh – have their own aspirations. It is true that J&K has been functioning as a single integrated unit for more than one and a half century, though the entity is not a natural conglomeration. Separatists’ elements are concentrated in parts of the Kashmir valley.
To do justice to the regional imbalance, the carefully drafted Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the PDP-BJP coalition has tried to address the problem of the three regions. In the Union Budget, the Government has assured setting up of a super specialty medical institute and hospital, AIIMS and in the valley and an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Jammu. The Udampur-Katra rail link has been operationalised in July 2014 and works are on for Katra-Qazigund link. This would facilitate connectivity to the State.
As BJP is the ruling party at the Centre and incidentally it has also for the first time emerged as a king maker in the State, it is expected that the Prime Minister Modi will have extra handle to effectivelyin moving towards meeting the aspirations of the people and developing good relations with Pakistan. J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has admitted Modi having a vision for South Asia and he expects his vision for J&K to materialize.
Playing to his politicalin the valley, Mufti has credited the success of the peaceful elections to Pakistan and the Hurriyat whereas the Union government says that security forces aided to check infiltrations at the border, maintained peace in the State and voluntary voters’ turnout facilitated the success. Similarly is Mufti’s call for handing over the immortal remains of the convict in Parliament attack Afzal Guru and the recent release of the accused separatist leader Masrat Alam. The coalition partner, BJP has urged for setting up of a joint steering committee for deciding on release of such prisoners. But Mufti intends to convert the complex challenges in the State to an opportunity for development "Politics is an art of possibilities and managing contradicts. My job is to work with contradictions and protect political rights as well," he says.
BJP has acted sensibly to keep the contentious issue of the demand for removing Article 370 in the backburner. The mutually agreed CMP says "the present position will be maintained on allprovisions pertaining to J&K including the special status in the Constitution of India." It has urged for normalizing relations with Pakistan, people-to-people contact on both sides of LoC, initiating dialogue process with all political groups, including the Hurriyat, review of security laws to enable the Union Government to take a final view on the continuation of AFPSA in some areas, return of land to rightful owners, except in cases where land is required for specific security needs, return of Kashmiri Pandits with dignity to the valley, one-time settlement for refugees from PoK.
This is the opportune moment for Mufti to work for the development of the State. It is also the right time for India to strike the right chord in its relationship with Pakistan. Islamabad should also refrain from anything that upsets the plan for development in J&K and also deters effective integration in South Asia