Back to Square One

Just on the eve of the much awaited India-Pakistan foreign secretaries’ meet, Pakistan High Commissioner’s action to invite Hurriyat leaders for consultation was anything but provocative, aimed at not only disrespecting India’s sovereignty but also jeopardising the so-called peace process. That India would call off talks, otherwise long overdue, and express its displeasure was the logical conclusion. The situation is now back to square one. There is every reason to believe that Pakistan’s un-diplomatic behaviour is caused by both domestic political compulsions as well as external factors. Hurriyat leader Mirwaz Umar Farooq’s reaction that there was nothing wrong in meeting of the separatists with the Pak envoy was too clever by half. That separatists want integration of Kashmir with Pakistan is a fact of life. That India will not accept any such proposal, notwithstanding diplomatic niceties of high-level or low-level parleys, in the foreseeable future, is also a fact of life. To talk the truth in plain language is better than to hide it under the vague communique couched in beautiful words. Some people have long been suggesting a middle course—a two-Kashmir formula—which is however, not acceptable to Pakistan. They think Kashmir is just the extension of communal award granted by the British in 1947. In the Kashmir dialogue the voice of the Kashmiris doesn’t carry any weight. If the advocates of right to self-determination in the Kashmir valley are silent spectators it is because, Pakistan, the financial and military backer of separatists, like India is equally hostile to it.

India’s territorial dispute with China is not a minor one but China knows well how to handle contradictions correctly and defuse tensions, without losing an inch. So they are always trying to improve bilateral relations through trade and cultural exchanges without giving any impression at any point of time that they have diluted their stance on the contentious boundary—the Line of Actual Control (LAC). It is not really the case with Pakistan. They want to settle the Kashmir issue to their satisfaction before improving bilateral relations and allowing free movement of people across the border. They are not interested in advancing cooperation in less sensitive fields, seeking steady progress in negotiations regarding a permanent border though both sides share a Line of Control (LoC), not LAC. If somehow New Delhi and Islamabad succeed in hammering a deal over Kashmir, they could always create new areas of contention. Tensions between India and Pakistan go beyond simple territorial disputes. The very idea of Pakistan project depends to a large extent on projecting India as a permanent enemy. What was true in 1947 is equally true in 2014. Whenever they are in trouble at home they stir up ‘nationalism’ and communalism to the extreme. But nationalist fever in most cases get out of control which makes bilateral relations difficult.

Right now Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Canada-based Cleric Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) are giving trouble to the beleaguered Pakistan Muslim League (N) government of Nawaz Sharif. The government’s efforts to pacify the anti-government protesters have failed. The opposition’s ‘Revolution March’ ends in demanding resignation of Nawaz Sharif and formation of a national government. Sharif’s popular mandate only a few years back is now being interpreted as a fake mandate, if not manipulated. Pakistan is in turmoil. Sharif is the symptom, not the disease. Maybe, they want diversion. And the best bet is India vis-a-vis Kashmir. Maybe, they are trying to shift attention from domestic dissatisfaction to Indo-Pak talks.

Whenever there are attempts to normalise relations between the two countries some elements work overtime to derail the peace initiative. In Pakistani politics the military is the last word though civil administration these days is allowed to function with limited political space. Not a single day passes without allegations and counter-allegations of violation of cease-fire along the LoC. Villagers on both sides of the fence know how Pakistani Rangers and Indian Security Forces keep the border alive by periodically exchanging fires while making their lives miserable and mocking at peace diplomacy. It is their permanent policy, not to allow people to live in peace and cultivate the urge for neighbourly good relations. After all two parallel lines never meet.

Meanwhile, the people of Kashmir have reached a political stalemate. To be fair the Hurriyat, the civil face of the militants and jihadists does not really represent the majority of Kashmiris. Their Azadi agitation will vanish in the thin air if armed groups stop their operations. There are many voices that are opposed to the Hurriyat. Kashmiris are isolated. No political party, left or right, is interested in Kashmir, as if it is a perennial law and order problem. Once there were some leftist forces in the valley but today their marginalisation is total. Left parties have no specific policy on Kashmir other than what is known as the official line—Kashmir is an integral part of India. Surprisingly enough, at no point of time communists supported the idea of Kashmir’s self-determination, not to speak of separation. Nor are they enthusiastic enough about extension of the special status that Kashmir enjoys today. In truth this special status, more precisely Article 370, has its origin in an old law of the erstwhile ruler of Kashmir—the Maharaja Hari Singh. As the sub-continentals cannot clinch the issue through another war, Pakistan is continually hoping somewhat against hope that some day America or China would intervene in its favour and Kashmir would be another province of Pakistan. In the changed geo-political  context it is unlikely to happen. Not very long ago China didn’t support their Kargil adventure. Strangely, even so-called moderate political outfits in Kashmir that participate in elections and enjoy parliamentary privileges both locally and nationally never tries to expand the ambit of special status which might have strengthened the demand of self-determination. Militants understand the language of gun but it becomes useless against the state’s military machine.

Vol. 47, No.8, Aug 31 - Sep 6, 2014