Wait and watch Is Kashmir missing in the story

Has the stalemate on Kashmir ended? Is there any forward movement towards the resolution of Kashmir? These posers, which have gripped the public mind, have spawned after the APHC through a statement for the press made the news public about Pakistan government inviting Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and some leaders of his faction of the multi-party combine to Pakistan. Pakistan High Commissioner, Shahid Malik extended invitation from Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani to Mirwaiz Umar during their meeting at New Delhi. In the proposed meeting in Islamabad Mirwaiz and his colleagues are to hold discussions with Pakistan leadership on prospectus of Kashmir resolution. So far, there has not been any official announcement by PFO, if the invitation is exclusive or all-inclusive- if Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Muhammad Yasin Malik have also been invited for the discussions.

Since 2008, ostensibly there has not been any headway or forward movement on Kashmir between Islamabad and New Delhi. During the year 2006, there was a lot of news about the two countries having arrived at an agreement on Kashmir, to be signed in May 2007 by Prime Minister Singh and President Musharraf.  The veracity of these reports continues to have a question mark. The PPP led government has denied the reports. After departure of Musharraf, there has not been any major Kashmir specific initiative. India and Pakistan during past three years have met umpteen times at various levels including at Prime Ministers level but a Kashmir specific meeting is yet to take place. Kashmir figured in discussions is undeniable, but primary concern during   discussions between leaders of the two countries has been the trade and commerce. In fact, there has been change in Pakistan policy towards India as against Foreign Office now the trading community of the country drives it. If the grapevine within the Hurriyat Conference is to be believed Kashmir problem is now no more on the ‘taskbar or desktop of Pakistan Prime Minister’s or President’s offices,’ it is now just looked after by the Kashmir desk in the PFO.

Historically speaking it is for the first time that Kashmir is largely missing from the political narrative of the country. Much before India and Pakistan were born as independent dominions or Jammu and Kashmir emerged as ‘dispute’ between the newly born counties, Kashmir has been part of discourse of the All India Muslim League. ‘As early as 1918, the League adopted a resolution in its Delhi session against brutal tax and corvee imposed on people of the state and called for its abolishing. There has been hardly an annual session of the League where a resolution   was not been adopted about Kashmir. Or Kashmir was not been part of deliberations. In 1932 Lahore session, Kashmir dominated the address of the Dr. Iqbal, then President of the League. The speech of Jinnah in 1938, about Kashmir at annual meeting of the League is suggestive of the Leagues involvement in Kashmir. Even after 1971 Kashmir continued to provide warp and woof even the political narratives of all mainstream political parties in Pakistan.  Truth is that since 2008 it is conspicuous by its absence from the political discourse of the country. Not only   the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League (N)   have pushed it to the footnotes of their party agendas but even ardent “Kashmir supporters” like the Jamat-e-Islami maintain a low key.

It is not only   missing from the  narratives of the political parties, even  the reports of the track two dialogue between the two countries suggest that it is trade between the two countries that has remained in focus.  The two countries have been talking on track two for past three years. Opinion makers including retired foreign office veterans, civil society actors, academics and political leaders   have been meeting outside the capitals of the two countries in places like Bangkok. The 7th round of the Chaophraya Dialogue which has been the latest one was held in last October.  This is a joint   track-two initiative undertaken by the Jinnah Institute and Australia India Institute (AII) at Melbourne to encourage informed dialogue on Indo-Pak relations and enlarge bilateral stakes in peace. The process has so far led to six rounds of dialogue but at no point of time was Kashmir discussed. Instead, if a New Delhi based columnist of this newspaper was to be believed Pakistan delegations were averse to talking about Kashmir.

In this scenario, inviting Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and his associates for discussion to Islamabad has rightly set man sitting on the shop fronts thinking. Groping in the dark, he is caught up in a web of questions….`Whys and whats’????.

Surprisingly this invitation came at a time when the APHC (M) has also changed its task-chart and decided to agitate over the economic and social problems confronting the people. And when there is a lot of kite flying in media in Srinagar about Pakistan having offered ten-year moratorium on Kashmir to New Delhi in lieu of some Kashmir specific CBM’s including withdrawal  of AFSPA, allowing  of free  movement and trade across the LoC and opening of LoC at various other points etc. It may be a wild guess, but people are within their rights to speculate and see the invitation as part of the “President Zardaris new Kashmir” gamble after one by Musharraf having met its waterloo.

The wise man’s mantra in the obtaining situation is wait and watch. Many see similarity between 1971 situation and today- it may be farfetched comparison. There however is a lesson for the leadership in the post 1971 developments that worked as a catalyst for the 1975 Indira-Sheikh Agreement- that has gone into history as political fiasco by the Plebiscite Front leadership. The inheritors of the six-point accord after thirty-seven are yet waiting to the see agreement executed in letter and spirit.

Though a surmise but deserves to be thought over, if the then leadership had understood the essence of wait and watch mantra perhaps situation would have been different.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)