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Fifth column

December 8, 2018

Engaging for Kashmir

Opinion

December 8, 2018

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent reiteration of Pakistan’s position that war was no solution to solve the festering Kashmir problem is quite timely and has generated some feeble hope that should, nonetheless, be seen as encouraging. Although this is not for the first time that a Pakistani head of the state has specified the obvious, this statement has renewed some anticipation for a political engagement that has been stalled for well over a decade now.

Farooq Abdullah, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and president of the National Conference, Kashmir’s oldest pro-India political party, welcomed Khan’s approach and said that the Pakistani premier’s recent statement on the Pak-India relationship has revitalised the optimism that a day might come when the people of Jammu and Kashmir will live in a free atmosphere. “I envision a time when my colleagues, friends and family members move around without security. Perhaps it is for that day, God has kept me going. I wish that day comes when India and Pakistan live in camaraderie”. Similar sentiments have been expressed by the pro-freedom political conglomerate, Hurriyat Conference, and resistance militant outfits in the past.

During the last 70 years of the Kashmir conflict, there have been several moments of hope for Kashmiri, generated both by wars and movements of goodwill and amity between the two competing neighbours. However, all such promises have proved consistently fickle and fleeting, making the Kashmiris’ desire for political rights more utopian and cumbersome at the same time. With every moment of hope that turned into despair, India further strengthened its stranglehold on Kashmiris – not only their desires and dreams but also their physical space, thus further limiting and restricting their room for manoeuvre.

Equally, every promise made to Kashmiris by Pakistan has turned out to be a dud. These range from the vague promises of ‘political, moral and diplomatic support’ as regurgitated by politicians and diplomats to sworn assurances of material support for the pro-freedom insurgency that has created unrealistic expectations while exacting extremely heavy sufferings on the besieged population. In addition, the militant insurgency has provided India with justification for unbridled militarism supported by aggressive nationalism under the guise of fighting terrorism, a euphemism employed against Muslim populations across the world, including by Muslims themselves, since 9/11.

The sad fact is that both India and Pakistan have failed miserably in their engagements – whether in war or so-called cold peace – to turn the status quo on Kashmir into a permanent settlement. This has created a need to provoke violence and harm through umpteen attempts, on both sides, to fuel unrest. Apart from the Indian success in the shape of Bangladesh, there has been no achievement to boast saving the wide-scale destruction, mainly for the civilian populations in such milieus.

While Kashmir stands out in this calculus of state-assisted mutual demolition and scoring against the enemy, if the history of the last 70 years is any indication, armed insurgency does not offer any solution. The latest insurgency that started in the early 1990s and was renewed in the post-Burhan Wani phase in July 2016 has turned Kashmir into a genocidal laboratory for India which fails to recognise its own promises and commitments towards Kashmiris. True, consistent Indian betrayals have created an overwhelming support for militancy amid a strong clamour for joining Pakistan, but such adventures also lead to further marginalisation of Kashmiris.

The only time there was any meaningful progress and hope for some solution was during the Musharraf-Vajpayee engagement. Sadly, the right-wing extremists of the then ruling BJP led by former firebrand leader Lal Krishna Advani produced a last-minute spoiler that ended any possibility of a breakthrough. India’s former external affairs minister K Natwar Singh recently said in an interview that India-Pakistan relations are “chronically accident-prone” while ruefully suggesting that there was no solution to the Kashmir problem. “The fact is there is no solution for Kashmir, everything has been tried. The other fact is that Indo-Pak relations are chronically accident prone. The future of Indo-Pak relations lies in the past. Both countries carry too much baggage... I don’t see any change in our relationship. It is cheese and chalk (sic)... as simple as that. It’s a great pity”.

Singh was further quoted having said: “What could they talk? You can’t give an inch, they can’t give an inch. You meet and shake hands but there is nothing substantial. As I said, we have all tried. It is not realistic because if we really became very close friends, there will be [a] question mark on the existence of the country.”

Singh, the octogenarian politician, reflects the traditional Indian thinking on Pakistan and Kashmir, as laid down and perfected by the Congress Party. According to this line, Pakistan was projected and cast as a failed state project not worthy of any acknowledgment – but rather as a dystopia. The Modi-led BJP, buoyed by its strategic relationship with the US and rising anti-Pakistan sentiment among the American power corridors, has dropped any pretence of engagement with Pakistan but for solving the cross-border terror that India has consistently blamed on its neighbour.

The Modi-era engagement has been extremely superficial – more geared towards a personal relationship with the embattled former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, rather than any meaningful engagement with the Pakistani state. The situation continues to be precarious as India is heading towards an election next year. Hatred for Muslims, Pakistan-bashing Pakistan and brutalisation of Kashmiris form the main staple for the ruling party.

Under these circumstances, Pakistan has an added responsibility to act with caution; the country should think about the long-term and strategic goals in the region rather than scoring tactical and timely brownie points. The recent opening of the Kartarpur Corridor is a good beginning but the irresponsible public statement by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi amply demonstrates how even the gestures of goodwill can be fractious and ‘accident-prone’.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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