Is India genuinely willing to move on Kashmir?

There is a radically altered atmosphere in Pakistan India relations. Not only is there unprecedented level of interaction among the people of Pakistan and India but also even the Indian politicians are keen to ‘smoke the peace pipe’ with Pakistan. This is a new chapter in the atmospherics of the two nuclear-armed and war-going states. How do we move from atmospherics into action; from rhetoric towards creating new realities; from changing our conflict-ridden history to solution-seeking present? Pakistan’s government has taken strides in that direction, even while being criticized for ‘surrendering’ to India.

A major achievement of Pakistan’s policy of flexibility towards India has been that the political logjam on the Kashmir dispute has been broken. Kashmiris today are not any worse off than they were before January 2004. The decades old status quo has been shaken and that too with Indian willingness. While guarantees for solutions are a far cry but the new situation has all the possibilities of working to the advantage of the Kashmiris. Perhaps the only valid criticism of the current government’s Kashmir plus India policy would be that when a civilian Prime Minister embarked on the same route the Establishment read in his moves anti-Pakistan designs.

The most recent illustration of this the transformation of atmospherics is the visit of the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders L.K.Advani.For the record Advani was the BJP hardliner of the Agra days who had followed a dual track towards Pakistan. He was indeed the one who had proposed in a cabinet meeting that General Parvez Musharraf be invited to the summit in 2001. The Pakistani High Commissioner Ashraf Qazi’s special interaction with Advani, courtesy the Indian journalist Karan Thapar had convinced Advani that inviting Musharraf would be in India’s interest. Subsequently upon President Musharraf’s arrival in Delhi when Advani, then the Home Minister went to call on the visiting president he took with him a list of terrorists he wanted Pakistan to hand over. It was an unlikely welcome call! Despite the hard stance taken by the Advani camp Vajpayee and the Foreign Minister Jaswant took the summit proceedings to the point of a draft declaration. The Advani camp and sections of the Indian MEA did not let it carry it through. The summit collapsed. Advani had sought primacy if not sheer equivalency of emphasis between terrorism and the Kashmir dispute.

But now we are in different times. Advani said he had ahead a very satisfying meeting with President Musharraf. The Indian leadership, across the mainstream Indian political spectrum is following the Musharraf line. Talking “irreversibility of the peace process,” the people as custodians and the compelling factor in promoting peace. None other than Advani himself has declared that in Pakistan. Today in India the Congress and BJP both support India’s current Pakistan policy. As Advani reminded the Pakistanis that the real breakthrough came under the BJP Prime Minister Vajpayee following the January 6 statement he was vehemently stated that for the two nuclear neighbors “peace is the only option.” India’s mainstream politicians are now leading the peace chant in the area of public diplomacy.

Why this ostensible change of heart in the Indian politicians? Advani’s simple answer would be Pakistan’s commitment on not supporting “terrorism”. Prime Minister ManMohan Singh said on May 28 to journalists for him the peoples’ development that Pakistan-India peace would follow is a key compulsion. Essentially since the early nineties the Indians have always been clear that India needed Pakistan’s help to solve “its Kashmir problem”- a fact that India’s former RAW chief A.S Daulat acknowledged in a 2002 meeting in Delhi. He was then working in the Prime Minister Vajpayee’s office on Kashmir. India needed Pakistan to accept LOC as an international border. India now understands this cannot happen.

However post 2004 multiple ‘home truths’ on both sides have finally got leaderships on the two sides engaged in seeking ways to resolve Kashmir. India would not have come to the negotiating table if it could have used state-terrorism or Washington’s pressure on Pakistan to resolve the dispute. Similarly if armed struggle alone would have resolved Kashmir accordance with the Kashmir or Pakistani wishes India would have had no Pakistan to negotiate with. However as historical records testify all Pakistani government beginning from Liaquat Ali Khan, military ruler Ayub Khan and Zia Haq all attempted to engage a reluctant India in dialogue over Kashmir. But when India agreed with Nawaz Sharif as the counterpart, Pakistan’s internal decision-making structures derailed the process.

However now we are back on track. Positive developments, on Kashmir in addition to normalization of ties, have been numerous. These include the visit of the APHC, the planned meeting of the APHC with the Indian Prime Minister ManMohan Singh, the resumption of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service without passports, opening up of new bus routes between Azad Kashmir and Jammu districts, greater Kashmiris interaction, similar sound bytes on the importance of solving Kashmir are being heard from the two leaderships. In fact Musharraf, Mahmohan and even Advani is now saying that news ways forward on Kashmir must be found and that there is clarity on the objective to resolve Kashmir, that the timing is ripe for a solution, that it can be found during Musharraf-“Manmohan tenure.

These entire factors have brought a degree of relative interim relief in the civic zones of Kashmiri life under Indian occupation. Despite the confusion that exists in their minds regarding the final outcome of the Pakistan-India peace process, they patiently await the end game. After decades they discern a comprehensive move towards addressing the question of their political future.

But many questions rankle them. The continued killings by the Indian occupation forces, the continued presence of the Occupation forces, the brutal laws curbing civil and political liberties, the torture of political ‘suspects’, the imprisonment, the long incarceration of political prisoners without trials, the prolonged pain of mothers whose sons have disappeared, all require rapid response from the Delhi. For the Kashmiris ManMohan Singh’s future promises that “the sky is the limit in terms of what can be done to resolve Kashmir” and that “demilitarization is a possibility” must translate into early action.

Pakistan’s interlocutors in Delhi have yet to concretely demonstrate through actions that they their vision of a Kashmir solution is premised on the two facts that Pakistani critics of the present Pakistan policy often identify. One extracting a commitment of zero cross-LOC infiltration in IHK and two while continuing the ‘peace talks’ use all the Indian might to crush the Kashmiri freedom movement by destroying the armed struggle and administratively crushing the political struggle. Unfortunately the ongoing killings by the security forces, of almost a dozen Kashmiris a week, tend to lend some credence to this criticism.

If this current interaction momentum has to be seized to concretely and irreversibly push the process of resolving the Kashmir dispute forward then the dialogue must yield results for the Kashmiris. And that means more than just allowing the APHC to travel across the LOC. On the ground political space and civil liberties for the Kashmiris to are necessities.

There are issues however that Pakistan and India must both agree on as they continue to explore possibilities on solutions; perhaps more through the back channel than the bureaucratic channel. One that in addition to the APHC there are other political players in the Kashmir area. In Kashmir in addition to the APHC the two Kashmiri parties include the Mahbooba Mufti’s Peoples’ Democratic party and Omar Abdullah’s Kashmir National Conference Party. Yet the APHC remains the torchbearers of the Kashmiri determination to decide their political future. Similarly the Kashmiris of the Valley and surrounding Jammu districts who have been involved in the armed struggle will also be legitimate voices in determining the political future of Kashmir.