The recent cancellation of National Security Adviser (NSA)-level talks between India and Pakistan is a cause for both disappointment and deep concern. This statement may come as a shock to all those “experts” in the Indian media who have been projecting the Hurriyat as saboteurs of peace or who have been bizarrely claiming that we somehow emerged as a winner in the recent breakdown of scheduled talks between India and Pakistan.The stark reality is that it is we, the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have had to suffer the direct loss, pain, injustice and indignity of conflict and it is we who stand to suffer the most if Indo-Pak hostility continues.
We regret that the two countries have missed an opportunity to make a new beginning along the path of dialogue and negotiation.When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced in Ufa that they would resume a process of dialogue and engagement, we wholeheartedly and publicly welcomed it. We appreciated that the two Prime Ministers had agreed that “India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development” and, for this, they were “prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.” A peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue is obviously central to this and is the key to positively transforming relationships and to unlocking a new future of lasting peace, stability and prosperity for the entire South Asian region.
The fact that the two Prime Ministers agreed to start a process of talks, which could perhaps include high-level, backchannel talks away from the media glare, was a very positive development in our view. We saw this as a possible sign that reason was emerging over illusion. We expected that the opening of a process could lead to a situation where tensions might be ratcheted down and a measure of trust could be rebuilt. We hoped that a full-fledged and inclusive peace process could eventually begin in which the leaderships of the two countries and the people of Jammu and Kashmir could all start focussing on the arduous task of resolving conflicts. In hope of such a peace process, we offered our support and we were prepared to offer our patience to the process. We understand that fresh starts require encouragement and also take time to be built on.
The cancellation of the talks we are deeply concerned that the dangerous trajectory that the region has been heading along is being reinforced following this breakdown. It is highly alarming that the Government of India opted to make the discussions on the Kashmir issue and the role of the Hurriyat subjects of new, narrowly drawn “red lines”, new positions that impose a straightjacket on the future prospects for any meaningful peace process. This is what the stand laid out by Union Minister Sushma Swaraj on the Kashmir issue and Hurriyat essentially amounted to. Such a doctrine based on narrow-mindedness rather than enlightenment will get us nowhere.
The imposition of a so-called “red line” against meeting us raises serious questions as to whether there is really any intent on the part of the Modi Government to strive and work towards a resolution of the Kashmir conflict and the achievement of a lasting peace. When hurdles actually needed to be removed by both sides, why is the Government of India erecting a set of new barriers in the way of initiating a process of dialogue? Why this sudden injection of an entirely new level of inflexibility regarding the dialogue process?
Sadly, what we have seen in the last year or so from Prime Minister Modi’s government, is a hardening and narrowing of mindsets and an approach that is based more on machismo rather than a commitment to dialogue and a willingness to engage in serious problem-solving. In the last year, while the path of dialogue was being shunned and the situation in Kashmir became more tense and polarized, we have witnessed a litany of made-for-TV chest-thumping statements coming from the highest levels in New Delhi. Appallingly, when ceasefire violations and tensions were rising dangerously at the Line of Control (LoC) and innocent civilians were being killed in Jammu & Kashmir, we even had to listen to Prime Minister Modi himself giving bellicose statements, such as “[it’s] not the time for boli (talk) but for goli (bullets).” While we hold out a lingering hope that these were aberrations, if the kind of thinking on Kashmir we have seen over the last year and especially over the last few days has become the new norm in New Delhi, then I am very sorry to say that it will be a recipe for disaster. It can hardly offer a way forward towards renewed efforts at dialogue and peace in the region.
As he himself promised during his election campaign, We had hoped that Prime Minister Modi, as promised in his election campaign, would continue forward with the vision of peace and dialogue that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee espoused. Mr Vajpayee, had declared from the base of the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore that it was his dream and wish to resolve the Kashmir issue. He had affirmed the need for unconditional talks, reaching out to us as well as Pakistan and asked for talks to be held under the ambit of “insaniyat” [humanity]. He believed in complementary processes of dialogue, including the Delhi-Islamabad, Srinagar-Delhi, Srinagar-Muzzafarabad and Srinagar-Islamabad tracks. Mr. Vajpayee had the wisdom to realize that the Kashmiri leadership could be a partner for peace and a bridge between India and Pakistan. He facilitated our interactions and even our visit to Pakistan to meet President Pervez Musharraf so that we could help push the process forward. While a breakthrough on Kashmir eventually proved elusive, the steps Mr. Vajpayee took at least created the necessary space and context for all the parties to begin to engage in a process that was aimed at finding solutions.
The basic point here is that it is possible to initiate a peace process. India and Pakistan have found ways in the past to move forward while involving Kashmiris in the effort. Indeed, some useful progress was achieved in terms of reducing war risks and allowing people-to-people interaction across the LoC. Even some potentially workable ideas on a possible way forward towards a Kashmir settlement were developed. Those ideas could serve as a starting point for discussions even today.
The lessons here are clear. Moving forward and achieving progress requires an open mind, the courage to cooperate and accommodate, the willingness and maturity to be flexible, and the boldness to break out of old patterns and failed approaches. It took tremendous courage and a big heart for Mr. Vajpayee to take the steps without the solid parliamentary majority that the present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys. Involving and creating space for Kashmiris to be included in the process demonstrated an understanding on the part of Mr. Vajpayee that the road to peace runs through Kashmir and that, at its core, Kashmir is a human issue requiring a political solution. Indeed, only by humanizing the issue of Kashmir and listening to the people of Jammu and Kashmir is it possible for the two countries to start finding a workable solution.
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(Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is the chairman of the Hurriyat Conference [M].)