IT is a very bizarre scenario. With endgame drawing closer in Afghanistan there are new dynamics at play in South Asia comparable to the post-cold war period that had seen United States distancing itself from Pakistan – it held in “tight embrace” after the Soviet invasion. In the emerging scenario it seems that developments with regard to Kashmir are not going on the expected lines.
After 2008 many in US had started looking at Kashmir as gateway to peace in Afghanistan. Not only Barnet R Rubin and Ahmed Rashid had seen ‘resolution of Kashmir as key to the peace in Afghanistan but there were many others within the Congress and the State Department that shared their views. Some within and outside Pakistan establishment also played upon this thinking for till the death of US-Afpak envoy Richard Holbrooke. But, Pakistan did not pursue this thinking that vigorously at diplomatic and other levels with the United States- it only issued ritualistic statements on occasion. However thinking survived till death of Richard Holbrooke and afterwards underwent a paradigm shift. Is Kashmir now out of the Afghanistan endgame is an important poser. Ostensibly, it seems as the dates for drawdown are approaching the situation in Afghanistan is becoming more complex. The United States seems apprehensive that it cannot withdraw from this war ravaged country from the point of strength. But Afghanistan would prove as good a Waterloo for it as proved for the Soviets. After the US withdrawal some analyst believe that a ‘new game of dominance in the region will start, this game of dominance can see India and Pakistan as key players- this could lead to escalation in the ‘longstanding tension between the countries.
In this intriguing and complex situation in the region some recent developments with regard to India Pakistan relations and Jammu and Kashmir call for discussion and analysis in their right perspective for understanding their impact on future course of events on Kashmir. These include India-Pakistan interlocutors meeting at Bangkok, Pakistan offer MFN status to India and dialogue between Kashmir leaders and New Delhi.
On 16-17 October 2011 some important voices from India and Pakistan met in Bangkok for the seventh round of Chaophraya dialogue. The Chaophraya Dialogue is a joint India-Pakistan track-two initiative undertaken by the Jinnah Institute, Pakistan and Australia India Institute (AII) at Melbourne to encourage informed dialogue on Indo-Pak relations and enlarge bilateral stakes in peace. The Jinnah Institute is headed by former Pakistan Information Sherry Rehman and Australia Indian Institute is headed by former Vice Chancellor of Jammu University Amitabh Mattoo.
India was represented by Amitabh Mattoo, , G Parthasarathy, A S Dulat, Happymon Jacob couple of others and Pakistan team included Sherry Rehman, Aziz Ahmed Khan, Nasim Zehra, , Tanvir Ahmed Khan, Humayan Ahmed Khan, Arif Kamal and few others. During the two day brainstorming dialogue the teams from both the sides covered important areas concerning the relations between the two countries that included India-Pakistan bilateral dialogue, issue of Jammu and Kashmir, Afghanistan, Terrorism, Trade and Economic Integration. Seen in right historical perspective of the relations between the two countries all the issues discussed in the meeting are rooted in Kashmir and largely revolve around Kashmir but in this column I will be only reproducing points resolved regarding Kashmir. The joint communiqué issued at the end of the conference reads about Kashmir:
They observed that Jammu and Kashmir remains a principal issue in India and Pakistan relations, and therefore called for renewed endeavours to address the issue;
They noted that India and Pakistan are beginning to move forward on Jammu and Kashmir but underscored the need to look beyond the traditional security-centric approach and implement the agreed CBMs in letter and spirit;
They recommended that the dialogue – official and back channel – should vigorously be pursued keeping in mind the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir who should not be sidelined.
Notwithstanding the joint communiqué recognizing the primacy of Kashmir dispute to India and Pakistan relations nothing substantial has been said that could be seen as a step forward towards resolution of the problem. But what emanated from discussions initiated by former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Tanvir Khan on the facebook is that India team was more concerned over Afghanistan and some Pakistan delegations were of view that “a robust economic relationship—–trade, pipelines of energy, investment– may transform the nature of intractable disputes and make them amenable to solution.’ Indian team convinced Pakistan delegation the dialogue with Kashmir leaders was progressing. “A clear implication was that Pakistan was irrelevant”, read one of the posts on the wall of Tanvir Khan.
The question arises has Pakistan become irrelevant with regard to Kashmir or it purposely wants to wriggle out of Kashmir imbroglio has sparked a debate in Pakistan after Pakistan Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar informed the National Assembly last week that the government had, in principle, decided to give India MFN status and a formal announcement was likely any time. True, ‘the main opposition party, parliamentary panel on Kashmir and pro-establishment political outfits opposed the move in unison’ and expressed doubts that this “concession to India would ever make it change its stance on Kashmir”. It remains to be seen if the government pays a heed to the opposition or listening to Hillary Clinton’s advice on Friday.
In this catchy situation New Delhi has been dropping hints through media about it starting a dialogue with Syed Ali Shah Geelani and resuming dialogue with APHC led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other groups that were talking to New Delhi. The newspaper reports also suggest that New Delhi has softened its attitude towards Syed Ali Geelani and as indicative from his not agreeing with UJC asking for having no dialogue with Delhi he also seems in a mood to engaging in a dialogue with New Delhi provided modalities are worked out.
To cap it: It is a tricky situation that calls not individualistic but collective approach by Kashmir leaders.