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Opinion

March 9, 2015

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The climb-down

Seven months after India abruptly called off foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan in a huff over a meeting of the Pakistan high commissioner in Delhi with leaders of the Kashmir freedom movement, the two officials met in Islamabad last Tuesday.
The Indian side portrayed the meeting as part of the new Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar’s trip to Saarc countries to talk about Saarc business, during which bilateral issues also came under discussion. The truth is the other way round: the trip was designed primarily to provide a guise for bilateral talks with Pakistan, and Saarc was only used as a fig leaf to conceal the fact that the Modi government has climbed down from the lofty position it took when it cancelled the bilateral meeting last August.
Most of the discussions during Jaishankar’s visit to Pakistan were on bilateral matters, though Saarc was also touched upon in passing. There was no joint statement or joint press availability after their talks, but in separate remarks to the media, the foreign secretaries signalled that the two sides would continue their contacts. As Sartaj said, there was no “breakthrough”, but then none had been expected. Nevertheless, an important first step has been taken to finding a common basis for the resumption of a regular bilateral dialogue, though India publicly remains coy about the prospect.
While Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz stressed the “importance of maintaining dialogue” in his press statement, Jaishankar pointedly avoided the issue in his brief prepared statement released to the media. In the statement, he “reiterated [India’s] known concerns on cross-border terrorism, including on the Mumbai case” but progress in the ongoing trial of the Mumbai accused was not made a precondition for a regular dialogue.
There was also no suggestion by the Indian foreign secretary that the resumption of dialogue was in any way linked with Pakistan forswearing talks with leaders of the freedom

movement in Kashmir. This is a far cry from the Indian demand last August that Pakistan had to choose between talks with India and talks with the Kashmiri ‘separatists’, or the Indian statement that these contacts amounted to unacceptable interference in India’s internal affairs.
Besides calling off talks with Pakistan, India also tried to exert military pressure by resorting to massive and sustained firing across the Line of Control and the Working Boundary. Jaitley, then India’s defence minister, also in effect threatened to escalate cross-border firing further when he publicly ‘reminded’ Pakistan of India’s conventional superiority and its ability to inflict “pain” that would be “unaffordable” for Pakistan.
Lately, Indian firing across the LoC and WB has waned. Modi has also sought to strike a somewhat conciliatory tone to Pakistan’s civilian government – distinct from the military leadership which it sees as the source of all trouble – by making two telephone calls to the Pakistani prime minister and by sending a minister of state to attend a ministerial meeting in Islamabad last month of countries participating in the Tapi gas pipeline project.
The Modi government’s strategic goals towards Pakistan and on Kashmir have not changed but it seems prepared to be somewhat flexible on the tactics. This is reflected in signs of a rethinking on talks with Kashmiri ‘separatists’. In the ‘common minimum programme’ of the PDP-BJP coalition which assumed office in occupied Kashmir earlier this month, the BJP has now signalled a willingness to engage in a dialogue with the Hurriyat leadership.
The joint programme notes in this connection that the earlier NDA government led by Vajpayee had initiated a dialogue process with all political groups, including the Hurriyat Conference, in the spirit of ‘insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat and jamhooriyat’ and promises to follow the same principles to “initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders … to build a broad-based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K”.
Vajpayee of course did not let these vaunted principles come in the way of the use of brute force to suppress the Kashmiri people’s struggle for self-determination, but they served a useful purpose in attracting the moderate faction of the APHC to a dialogue. Modi no doubt also hopes in due course to engage that faction in a similar dialogue, but has no intention of making any concessions that will meet the aspirations of the Kashmiri people for self-determination.
The change in the Modi government’s stance is due to a realisation that it overplayed its hand when it broke off talks with Pakistan over the issue of the high commissioner’s meeting with the Hurriyat. In their collective fury at the Pakistani diplomat’s meeting with “those who want to break India” (Jaitley’s words), Indian policymakers evidently failed to make a correct assessment of the ground realities.
A contributory factor in the Indian miscalculation was that on his trip to India to attend Modi’s inauguration, Nawaz did not meet Kashmiri leaders, breaking a long-established tradition. Instead, in a clear sign of his personal priorities, he spent time closeted with Indian business magnates and Bollywood stars. Earlier, in his public statements on Kashmir Solidarity Day in 2014, Nawaz had scrupulously refrained from mentioning the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination and the Security Council resolutions on the disputed territory. The Indians can therefore be forgiven for thinking that Nawaz was so keen to curry favour with Modi that they could even dictate to him if and when Pakistani leaders and officials should meet Kashmiri leaders.
Left to himself, our prime minister would probably have ditched the Kashmiris in response to the Indian demand that Pakistan choose between talks with India and the ‘separatists’. But Nawaz’s hand was forced by the public outrage in Pakistan at the sheer impertinence of that demand. Much to the chagrin of the Indians, his remarks in the UN General Assembly last September on India’s denial of the right of self-determination to the Kashmiris and of human rights abuses by Indian occupation authorities were therefore among the most direct delivered by a Pakistani leader in the world body for many years.
The Modi government no doubt realises that to start and sustain even a sham dialogue with the Hurriyat, Delhi needs also to enter into talks with Pakistan on an agenda that includes Kashmir. It is therefore only a question of time – and of Delhi finding an appropriate face-saving formula to step back from the position it took last August – before Pakistan-India bilateral talks on Kashmir resume.
If and when the time comes for talks with India on Kashmir, the government must be careful not to repeat the blunders and follies committed by Musharraf. The then military dictator’s four-point proposal would have amounted to recognising India’s illegal occupation of the state, signing away the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris, and trashing the UN Security Council resolutions, all with little tangible gains for Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Not only that, Musharraf did not even wait for negotiations to commence before declaring that he was “laying aside” the Security Council resolutions. During the years when the back channel dialogue was going on, Musharraf also stopped raising Kashmir in the UN General Assembly.
The PDP-BJP joint programme for Occupied Kashmir, which has been prepared with the blessing of the Modi government, makes it clear that the projected talks with Pakistan on Kashmir will be limited, as far as India is concerned, to so-called ‘confidence-building measures’ (CBMs), such as increased people-to-people contacts and civil society exchanges, expanded travel and trade, opening of new routes and enhanced connectivity.
Pakistan also has an interest in pursuing talks on ‘CBMs’ but must always keep the issues of self-determination and human rights abuses at the front, top and centre of the Kashmir dispute. Since India is not prepared to discuss these issues bilaterally, Pakistan must raise them forcefully in all appropriate international forums such as the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. Doing so is essential not only to remind the international community of its commitments and responsibilities towards the Kashmiris and of the legitimacy of the Kashmiri people’s struggle, but also as a message of encouragement and hope to the freedom movement in occupied Kashmir, which is even more important.
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.
Email: [email protected]

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