As expected, the latest talks between India and Pakistan have not succeeded in bringing about a visible reduction in the trust deficit. It must be conceded however that the event had substantial symbolic value if only for breaking the stalemate that had paralysed diplomatic relations between the two countries since the tragic massacre of innocent people in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.
It appears that the two South Asian countries are in the grip of an inertia which they themselves helped create. Perhaps a leadership that was cognisant of the lessons of history would have taken more courageous (and unpopular) decisions to get past the many insurmountable barriers and ensured a working relationship between the two countries – a leadership that would have facilitated trade, commerce and travel between India and Pakistan. A people-based relationship would have, in turn, created an environment of trust and understanding which is vital for the settlement of Kashmir and other outstanding issues.
More than six decades of strained relations, at a colossal economic and social cost to millions of poverty-stricken people of the sub-continent, should have taught the decision makers many lessons. But nations seldom learn from history.
When will it dawn upon the Indian leadership that the ‘status quo’ in Jammu and Kashmir is not sustainable, and that structural adjustments are necessary for a durable solution to the conflict?
Equally importantly, Pakistan must realise that it is inconceivable that Kashmir be separated from the Indian Union. Any such move would never be acceptable to India because it would, in the eyes of many, mean the beginning of the unravelling of the Indian Union – considering that it faces Naxalite rebellion in 11 states.
A solution based on full autonomy for Kashmir within the Indian Union, along the pattern of Hong Kong vis-à-vis China needs to be explored and pursued. A complete autonomy solution, guaranteed by a special clause of the Indian constitution, would be in accordance with the wishes of its people including the “Hurriat Leadership”.
The same autonomy could then be applied to the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir. Boundaries would not change, but a solution that corresponds with the aspirations of the people would be found.
An accord on these lines would usher in a new era of trust. Old, rotten, cliches such as ‘India wants to dismember Pakistan,’ would be buried and a new generation of Indians and Pakistanis, fired by more positive mindsets would hopefully emerge.
An overwhelming majority of the teeming millions of both Pakistan and India want an immediate improvement in relations but are hostage to a cause which they have never accepted as rightful or expedient. How callous that a miniscule minority in both countries has succeeded in converting a façade of hostility into actual enmity which in turn has forced unnecessary wars on South Asia, with devastating implications for the millions who inhabit the region.
The question is, would India and Pakistan ever throw off the shackles of a tragic post-Partition era and set out on a road to sustainable prosperity? Would they ever begin to trade freely and create a huge common market which could eventually be joined by China and Iran?
Any accord on Kashmir would set the scene for all other disputes including water. Siachen and Sir Creek are two issues that are ready for resolution should the two countries show vision and courage. Any agreement on these two issues would generate an unstoppable euphoria and a conducive climate for the Kashmir peace process.
Together the two countries can change their destinies; together they can change the world.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: rustammohmand @hotmail.com