Talking Kashmir glamorously

Talking Kashmir glamorously
It’s not all about style, it’s about substance too

She sent heart burns to India’s glamour world and made many stunning and glittering models envious. Pakistan’s 34-year old foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar on her arrival in New Delhi instantly attracted unprecedented media attention reminiscent of 18 year old Benazir in Shimla in 1972, accompanying her father Z.A. Bhutto. As put by an international news agency she was greeted with a ‘flurry of flattering headlines.’ The media in New Delhi largely focused on her beauty, dress and fashion. A largely circulated daily   put a screaming headline, “Pak Puts on Its Best Face”, tabloids in the capital and other metropolises assessed the dress sense of the visiting foreign minister. Debate about her ‘Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, oversized Hermes Birkin bag and classic pearl jewellery’   blazed   from cover stories in the newspapers   to   social networking web sites, the Face Book and the Twitter. Hundreds on social networks debated over cost of her bag and sunglasses. Some making quite unsavory remarks about her pomposity also targeted Pakistan leadership for sending an ‘inexperienced’ minister for discussing tricky and complex sixty three year old dispute that had caused two direct wars in the past and has been perpetually threatening peace in the region.
Many within Pakistan have been questioning the credentials of the young minister for leading country’s foreign affairs when it is confronted with most serious challenges. The relations of Pakistan with USA are not only being all time low but most acrimonious.  With date for   endgame in Afghanistan approaching fast the South Asian scenario is changing faster than expected. The United States is looking for new strategic partners in the region.  It is for the first time US is looking at India as a stronger partner in the region.  It also does not want to distance from Pakistan but at the same time is interesting in arm twisting its old partner in its fight against Communists and    war on terrorism to the extent of crippling it economically and militarily. She has also taken over at a time when many US allies in Islamic World have not been sympathizing with Pakistan nor have been enthusiastically supporting it in international forums.

The United States is looking at India as its ally in Asia  was made more than obvious by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her recent visit to India. In her recent visit at Chennai, she asked India to don the role of an ally of USA in the regional forums like ASEAN. She called upon New Delhi to play role of leader in Asia to shape the future of Asia Pacific. She very tacitly asked India to have greater engagements in Afghanistan in the  coming months. To safeguard its interests in the region the US wants to see New Delhi pitted against Beijing and at the same time wants to see it palsy-walsy with Islamabad.      To quote Hillary: ”This is the time to seize the emerging opportunities of the 21st century and India should pro-actively play the leadership role to shape the future of the Asia-Pacific…India’s leadership has the potential to positively shape the future of the Asia-Pacific…and we encourage you not just to look East, but continue to engage and act East as well."  Statement of Hillary Clinton did not go well with Pakistan and it provoked a strong reaction from Prime Minister Gillani that his country was not going to accept hegemony of any country in the region. But at the same US has been nudging the two countries for holding a dialogue for resolution of their disputes.

Taking over foreign affairs by young female Pakistan Minister at this juncture is a challenging task. It is a challenge even for the most experienced. Putting Ms. Khar a management graduates from US with just five months in an office that has been held by veterans in the past is a gamble in itself. Some opinion makers in Pakistan believe that this may be true she does not have the expertise or the experience to provide leadership in foreign policy but she will learn. “For the moment, her main task is to articulate her brief coherently, which she seems to have done in Delhi. Add to this her dazzling media persona and she has the necessary ingredients to be a success.’

It has been amidst these huge challenges that she visited New Delhi. It is relations with India that have all along provided warp and woof to Pakistan foreign policy. Talking Kashmir in New Delhi has been the toughest task that any foreign minister of neighboring country has been doing.  But ironically media in the capital instead of focusing on the talks remained obsessed with dress, wardrobe and accessories of the visiting minister. If one believes the media, more particularly the satellite television channels the visit has only ended up at a glamorous note leaving behind some moot points for the fashion designers. But, seen in right perspective in the recent past on ‘substantive level’, the atmosphere of Pakistan-India dialogue has never been this good.

The young minister spoke soft but very subtly talked tough. A day before the commencement of formal talks, the Pakistan foreign minister set agenda for talks by inviting Kashmir leaders for a meeting in Pakistan High Commission at New Delhi. She not only heard the views of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Muhammad Umar Farooq and others in the camp but made some candid observations about her country’s Kashmir policy. She placed at rest the rumors that Pakistan wanted to revive and pursue General Musharraf’s ‘out of the box solution’ or four-point formula under a different ‘brand name’ and wanted to take Kashmir leaders on board. Besides subtly disowning the four-point formula she also reiterated her country’s principal stand on Kashmir.

Ostensibly the meeting was arranged for eliciting the views of Kashmir leaders about the latest situation in the state but in essence it was   aimed at sending signal about the ‘centrality of Kashmir dispute to Pakistan’.  India did take an exception to this move of the visiting foreign minister.  It attracted some negative comments in the media also. But   important to note was that this time media hype did not assume tidal dimensions but was comparatively low.  But in Islamabad some commentators hailed the move and had a word of appreciation for Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi and his team of diplomats for arranging the meeting. But the most positive aspects of   the move were that it did not overshadow the talks.

Many important issues confronting the two countries were covered in the meeting without making much headway on any of them.  Nothing big was   resolved in the meeting. But the most distinctive aspect of the talks that augurs well for the future dialogue on most contentious issues   was avoidance of blame game.  Pakistan avoided any reference to New Delhi’s alleged role in Baluchistan and equally India did not bring in the recent Mumbai blasts on the table. The eleven point joint statement issued following the meeting between the Minister of External Affairs of India and Mister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan when read between the lines suggests that dialogue has been more or less Kashmir centric.

The minister discussed terrorism and agreed     that it poses a continuing threat to peace and security and there was need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism but as indicative from strengthening of Kashmir related Confidence Building Measures (CBM’S) that included expanding Cross-LoC travel   on both sides of the LoC by  including  visits for tourism and religious pilgrimage suggests that the there is progress with regard to Kashmir.
 The beauty of the meet was that Pakistan Foreign Minister did not mention Kashmir at the joint press conference but it was her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna who referred to this problem stating:  On Jammu and Kashmir, we will continue discussion with a view to find a peaceful solution by narrowing down divergences and finding convergences." I see this gesture as indicative of the mood in New Delhi for finding an amicable resolution of the problem for bringing in lasting peace and greater cooperation between the two South Asian players.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)