Pakistan’s reality check on Kashmir

“On the issue of Kashmir, we have to see if our efforts and our strategy in the past have produced desired results. Now the question is, the attitude and formulation we adopted over past 60 years, if we continue sticking to them, will they give us a resolution even after next 65 years? The answer to that is a resounding no. When I say we did not succeed, I mean to say both countries," Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to DNA’s Iftikhar Gilani.

A day before the foreign minister level talks between India and Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar made this significant statement about her country’s policy on resolving the Kashmir dispute. However, this was ignored by all the stakeholders as well as media in India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. Hina’s statement takes Pakistan back to a nuanced approach adopted by former President Parvez Musharraf, though the current dispensation in Islamabad led by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had apparently divorced the “changed track” set out by Musharraf by spelling out his much famed four point formula to resolve the vexed issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Not only did Hina hinted at this “changed mindset” in Islamabad, but the immediate former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani also told NDTV’s Barkha Dutt that they were looking at Musharraf’s formula and had been working at “tightening the loop-holes in it”.

One can say that Hina has emphatically made it clear that past 60 years had not yielded desired result for Pakistan as for as its Kashmir policy is concerned. In other words, Pakistan’s stated policy of sticking to United Nations resolutions and the demand for Right to Self Determination had not helped it to see Kashmir getting resolved. This “struggle” not only involved intense diplomatic efforts but also an active support to armed rebellion in Jammu and Kashmir and three full fledged and one low scale war with India. Killing of thousands of people coupled with thousands getting maimed, widowed and orphaned did not bring much change in the situation except that Kashmir was recognized internationally. Unprecedented abuse of human rights and disproportionate presence of armed forces in Kashmir made its people to suffer to the hilt. But with the September 11 attacks on United States of America and subsequent so called “war on terror”, Pakistan’s diplomacy received a hard beating, thus again pushing Kashmir issue to backburner. Its problems on home turf increased to an unimaginable level and the extremists took a heavy toll on Pakistan’s internal stability. This not only left Pakistan to fend within its own territory but also gave India an “opportunity” to use the US and its allies against Islamabad. This eased its situation on Kashmir front, which of late Delhi has been seeing as a “less troubled” area.

Hina’s statement cannot be seen only in the backdrop of above-mentioned facts. But it could be based on a reality check with which Pakistan’s establishment has been handling Kashmir for last few years. A slewed role for Pakistan’s powerful Army and ISI must have helped Islamabad’s political set up to think on more pragmatic lines. That is why Hina emphasizes that past 60 year’s formulations and adaptations had not yielded any result and in next 65 years such a strategy would not take both the countries to a logical goal. By all accounts it is a very positive development with which both countries need to move forward, though without compromising on the basis of the dispute. Hina’s statement, however, should not apply to Pakistan only but it throws up a lesson for New Delhi also to adopt a more pragmatic approach towards the resolution of Kashmir dispute. Its mishandling with the internal dimension of the problem has given severe jolt to any genuine process in the past 60 years and a level playing field for stakeholders inside Kashmir is must for linking it with the pragmatic part of external dimension.

Notwithstanding her assertion that Kashmir remains a core concern for Pakistan, Hina has clearly indicated that Pakistan needed to review its policy over Kashmir. However, she is cautious enough, keeping in view the opposition from hardliners—both in Pakistan and Kashmir. In the same interview to Iftikhar Gillani she maintained that it was time to find convergences without compromising on the centrality of the issue. "Let me first clarify, movements on other issues should not be misinterpreted, that we have compromised on the centrality of Kashmir issue. For us, the issue means rights of Kashmiri people and also to stop ammunition to hate mongers, who are out to destroy our relations," she said repeatedly referring to hate mongers on both sides, who according to her should not get ammunition in the shape of keeping the issue (of Kashmir) as burning port. “We need to disarm them from this ammunition”.

What is evident from the tone and tenor of Pakistan Foreign Minister is that Islamabad has hooked itself back to Musharraf’s four-point formula though not owning it publicly. The much talked about formula had been favoured at various levels not only in India and Pakistan but also in Kashmir where the Hurriyat Conference faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had publicly endorsed it. The extremist line adopted by hardline leader Syed Ali Geelani was well understood at that time. But for any changed policy on Kashmir, Islamabad needs to take the hawks on board. Kashmiris were genuinely disappointed over “no mention” of Kashmir in the just concluded talks, but if this “silence” is for a broader solution then wait could be worthwhile.

In the past, however, Kashmir was discussed substantively in the bilateral dialogues and the Confidence Building Measures across the Line of Control where in sharp focus. After a major breakthrough in November 2003 with the ceasefire along LoC, a new chapter was opened in the relations between two countries with focused attention towards Kashmir. It was followed by the historic resumption of bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawlakot. The dialogue continued in February 2005 but was derailed with 2006 train bombings in Mumbai, which later came to know was the handiwork of home grown militants. Both countries were back on the table and the November 26 attack in Mumbai derailed everything. Its origin was traced to Pakistan. In all these cases whether the home grown terror in India or the terror linked to Pakistan, Kashmiris have been made to suffer.

Besides a mellowed approach on Kashmir from Pakistan, delinking the issue of terrorism from the ambit of composite dialogue has in a sense helped both countries to create an atmosphere of reconciliation. Both sides repeatedly maintained that they stick to their guns on Kashmir and terrorism but the movement forward on easing the visa regime and other cross border issues could be a well beginning for addressing all the issues at a larger well. In any case Khar’s statement should not be addressed in isolation but it needs to be looked at with a broader perspective in the backdrop of losses gains of past 60 years.

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