Sunday, March 18, 2012

New Delhi’s forgetfulness

Kashmir just happens to be right on top of Government of India’s ‘to forget’ list!


Like human beings, sentient and forgetful, states (governments, to be more accurate) also sometimes tend to forget or pretend so. The (successive) government(s) of India has a habit of forgetting things: issues, promises, duties and priorities. This is not only regarding the question of Kashmir, but about almost everything that needs political courage and willingness. Kashmir just happens to be right on top of Government of India’s ‘to forget’ list!

Some of the major preconditions that New Delhi had stated from time to time to take steps to resolve the Kashmir conflict are the following: Pakistan stops doing what it has been doing in Kashmir, things improve in Kashmir and that Kashmiri separatists be willing ready to negotiate less then perfect solutions (or move from their absolutist positions). New Delhi would argue that once these things happen and the stage is set, it would take steps to address the deeper political questions regarding the Kashmir conflict. Looking at the political developments in and around Kashmir these days, I a of the opinion that most of these pre-conditions have been more or less fulfilled thereby setting the stage ready for New Delhi to take the next steps.

Let’s examine these arguments in some detail. The internal situation in Kashmir has undergone a dramatic change. Cross-border infiltration into the Kashmir valley and the levels of violence there have come down drastically and this is borne out by the data provided by the Government itself. Things are getting back to ‘normal’ in Kashmir the way New Delhi wants it. The Kashmiri separatists are seemingly moving away from their puritanical stances. I am not just talking about Sajad Lone here whose mainstream political party, People’s Conference, is steadily gaining popularity in the Valley especially among the youth. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who has been referring to civic problems and political corruption in his recent Friday sermons, stated two days ago in Geneva that “APHC is willing to forgo international facilitation provided both the governments of India and Pakistan agree that the APHC leadership will be fully associated with the peace process at a later stage.” Yaseen Malik too has indicated time and again that he is not only willing to negotiate with New Delhi and but is also willing to look at all available options. Hardliner Syed Ali shah Geelani recently held a series of meetings in New Delhi with Indian leaders and members of Indian civil society perhaps realizing that his puritanical position does not have many takers anywhere including in Pakistan.

It is widely understood by now – and I have written about it at length in my earlier columns – that Pakistan has clearly changed its policy on Kashmir. The Indo-Pak exchanges on Kashmir are also reasonably positive. Indeed the contemporary Indo-Pak engagements on Kashmir are guided by the following baselines: that neither party will push for altering the existing borders; that they will try and increase greater linkages between the two sides of the erstwhile Princely state of J&K; Kashmir issue should not be allowed to play spoilsport in Indo-Pak relations; and that they will pick up the bilateral political dialogue from where it was left off in 2007 as and when they agree to start serious negotiations on Kashmir. This simply means that there are a number of Indo-Pak meeting points on J&K, which can be further worked on.

Moreover, Indo-Pak relations have also been steadily improving in the past few years. Number of Kashmir-specific CBMs were signed last year which are likely to be strengthened in the days to come. The recent visit of the Indian commerce minister Anand Sharma to Pakistan and the general improvement in Indo-Pak trade relations have to be seen as a step in the right direction. While Pakistan has been reducing the heat on Kashmir India is seen as reducing its anti-Pak rhetoric on Afghanistan. Indeed, after rubbing India on the wrong side by not inviting India to the 2010 Istanbul conference on Afghanistan, India was brought on board last year.

All this means that most of New Delhi’s prerequisites for initiating a political dialogue on Kashmir with the Kashmiris have since been met. And yet there seems to be no initiative from New Delhi to address the Kashmir question. Political pundits in New Delhi argue that given the impending elections in Pakistan and India and the domestic political turmoil in both the countries, it is unlikely that the two governments will initiate anything new on Kashmir. Given the fragile political existence that the UPA government has today, it would be very unwilling to touch the Kashmir issue. In fact, for months now, no one has talked about the Kashmir interlocutors and their report. It is almost as if New Delhi has forgotten the ‘K’ word. And this was the worst fear of the Kashmiris - that the Government of India will forget about Kashmir and move on with newer priorities when things cool down in and on Kashmir. While that can be seen as smart politics, the danger lies in the fact that the history of the insurgency in Kashmir shows that unforeseen incidents can sometimes destroy this fragile peace and all that has been ‘gained’ in and on Kashmir could then go completely waste.

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