A ray of hope seems to have eventually dawned on the horizon in Jammu and Kashmir with everyone interested in its future visibly upbeat. Both India and Pakistan seem to be slowly but steadily inching towards finding a final settlement to the hitherto intractable 57-year old dispute over the former princely Himalayan state. Some recent developments, particularly after the summit between the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, and the Indian prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on the sidelines of a cricket match, would suggest that both had realized the need to meet somewhere half-way from their well known and apparently irreconcilable positions on the issue.
What Gen Musharraf, in his own inimitable style and perhaps at the spur of the occasion, termed as a “fleeting moment” could certainly mean an historic opportunity that stares into the eyes of both the nations which, by now, are genuinely tired of more than half a century of their mutual intransigence, perhaps voluntarily or involuntarily driven by their respective jingoistic minorities, who have a vested interest in perpetual animosity and who would not easily countenance a situation where the two South Asian nuclear powers would begin living in peace. Viewed in the backdrop of the bonhomies marked by a slew of confidence building measures, particularly the Kashmir-centric ones, and the hesitant but steady progress on what is described as composite dialogue, the inference is all the more reassuring.
Even as some more time might be required to figure out what exactly the Pakistani president told the SAFMA (South Asian Free Media Association) function last week, he certainly suggested de-militarization of the region, grant of maximum self-governance and action to make the borders irrelevant. He even went to the extent of ruling out any solution to the dispute over the Muslim majority region on the basis of religion, something that had formed the basis of the sub-continent’s partition in 1947. Who can deny tens of millions of otherwise gullible people died in its bloody aftermath? The mistrust that marked the post-partition history of the sub-continent and even witnessed four wars has already cost the two countries darely. In fact, one of the wars they fought culminated into the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971.
In spite of some little glitter seen in their cities, the teeming millions inhabiting their countryside continue to live in abysmal sub-human conditions which, many of the discerning, would attribute to the avoidable arms build-up the two countries have been engaged in for over half a century now. The Pokhrans and Chaghais were no aberrations but manifestations of their respective defense imperatives, of course, at no mean a cost to their populace. How many people had to forgo their food, clothing and shelter, the schooling of their children, the treatment of their ailing dear ones, and be denied a better future just for the sake of the vanities of their self-serving leaders? In the rapidly changing geo-political environment, demilitarization of not only Jammu and Kashmir but the entire region could be the dream of every sane person having a stake in ever-lasting peace.
How our very own leadership, particularly in the separatist camp, perceives the emerging situation is, to put it mildly, baffling.
Undoubtedly, the public opinion on both sides of the political divide –” the mainstream as well as the separatists –” seems to be agreed, perhaps for the first time, that any lasting solution to the Kashmir issue can be found only on the basis of the urges and aspirations of its people. Even an apolitical governor picks up the refrain whose echoes are loudly audible not only across India and Pakistan, but more so across the world. At such a crucial juncture, however, the separatist leadership continues to sing in different, even divergent, voices.
While both India and Pakistan are eager to take all of them on board, their mutual bickering continues to dog the prospects, however bright. Unless their goals have degenerated into merely holding rallies to show their respective strength, there seems to be no reason why they should not close their ranks in the right earnest to represent the collective aspirations of the people, that too, at a time when both Islamabad and New Delhi are all set to grab the historic opportunity offered by what Gen Musharraf may have termed as a “fleeting moment”. Should they fail to read the popular pulse, they could well end up making themselves irrelevant much before the borders become irrelevant.