Monday, July 5, 2010

Kashmir in the picture By Kuldip Nayar

With such positive talks between India and Pakistan recently, the tragic happenings in Kashmir seem more than a coincidence.

That the youth in the valley are angry for not getting their due is known to all. But why should Kashmir be on the boil when relations between India and Pakistan are on the mend?

Kashmiri leader Syed Gilani took advantage of the killing of one young man at the hands of the security forces to incite the people to come on to the streets. The Hurriyat Conference gave a call to start something new. Political parties jumped into the arena. All this developed into huge protests in four cities – Srinagar, Sopore, Anantnag and Baramulla.

An inept Kashmir police and the Central Reserve Police Force which has only guns at their command to tackle the protests aggravated the situation. The use of force against the protesters agitating against successive killings in the firing was excessive and what the security forces did was without restraint. This is a matter to be looked into by an inquiry committee.

Yet the fact remains that extremists in Kashmir strike whenever an atmosphere of goodwill begins to prevail after some kind of engagement between India and Pakistan. Pro-India elements have become irrelevant. They, in any case, are too elitist, seldom mixing with the common Kashmiris. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah leads the exclusive club. But their distance from the people is a contributory factor — not the factor itself.

Underlying the situation is the belief of the Hurriyat leaders that violence alone can lead to a solution in Kashmir. That the problem must be solved quickly goes without saying. But the extremists only stall the issue by instigating violence. They should have themselves come on to the streets to lead the protests in a peaceful manner to focus attention on the unresolved issue of Kashmir. They should understand that no discussion is possible at gunpoint.

One welcome development of the Islamabad talks was that nobody, except for a few hawks, implicated Pakistan in the Kashmir happenings. This means that the talks between the two foreign secretaries and the home ministers, in that order, have reduced to some extent the deficit in confidence which New Delhi has been seeking.

I do not know whether Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Interior Minister Rehman Malik discussed Kashmir. But at least the foreign ministers of the two countries should do so when they meet in Islamabad. India’s army chief has also emphasised political initiatives in Kashmir.

The talks at Islamabad have made two points clear: one, New Delhi has again enunciated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance in Egypt that the terrorists’ attack would be kept separate from the talks. Many experts in India tried to quibble over the meaning of this but there is no ambiguity now. Two, the core issue between India and Pakistan or, for that matter, before the Saarc countries is terrorism.

The separation of the two points was clear when the two foreign secretaries who prepared the agenda for the forthcoming talks between their foreign ministers refrained from discussing terrorism. But they did discuss Kashmir. My information is that Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao asked her counterpart whether the ground covered on Kashmir through the back channel held good.

Pakistan’s foreign secretary had told me in Delhi that the two countries would go forward from the undertaking reached through the back channel. This should set at rest the doubts some Pakistani quarters raised that a democratic government was not bound to follow what was achieved during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime.

Chidambaram, who played to the gallery when he spoke to journalists at Delhi, was more responsible and vividly sober in his remarks in Islamabad. For him to say that he did not doubt the intention of Pakistan should be an eye-opener for retired Indian foreign secretaries who continue to follow the hard line they had taken during their careers to bring the two countries practically to the point of no return. They are openly critical of Manmohan Singh who has taken the bold initiative to talk to Pakistan despite criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party.

New Delhi expects more arrests in Pakistan after the disclosures by David Headley whom the Indian intelligence agencies met in Chicago. Manmohan Singh has reportedly drawn President Barack Obama’s attention to Headley’s confession.

Chidambaram has rightly reminded Pakistan of the status of Most Favoured Nation India extended to it many years ago. If Pakistan were to respond to it, Chidambaram’s ideas on trade and investment between the two countries could be implemented. India, with a bigger market and investment potential, can help Pakistan overcome the lack of openings and technology which puts its industry at a disadvantage.

Action against Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed remains India’s litmus test to assess Pakistan’s steps towards normalisation. His cries of war or jihad against India are not what bothers the government and the people so much as his vast network which made 26/11 possible.

In fact, Islamabad’s declaration to have a regional plan to combat the Taliban will mean a strong effort against the militants. Some elements in Pakistan consider it their duty to support fundamentalism. But religious values are the antithesis of what the Lashkar represents. Today’s world, including Muslim nations, wants religion to inculcate values, not to be used to incite violence.

New Delhi and Islamabad should ensure that their rulers meet the opposition leader when their officials visit each other’s country. India has been able to establish it for visiting presidents or prime ministers. The Pakistan government should include Nawaz Sharif on the list of dignitaries during the visit of top Indian leaders.

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

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