The Labyrinth of Kashmir Talks

By K.N. Pandita

The role of undisclosed but otherwise well-known external actors in two-year old Kashmir talks is more than just facilitating it. To make then agree to a step-by-step movement forward is the real, and of course, the solid contribution of these external actors.

Respective stances have changed considerably. It is no more the core issue for Pakistani leadership and not the rhetorical integral part for the Indian Unionists as well. It is a dispute to be resolved through sustained dialogue.

Some progress has been made along the roadmap. Kashmir dissident leadership has been moving across the LoC to talk to the Pakistani leaders. They may not divulge what they actually talk but one can presume its outlines. They have been talking to the Indian leadership as well. Thus their long-standing demand that the Kashmiris are a party to the dispute has been virtually met. This is good for all sides.

Many positive steps have been taken on both sides to ease the tense relationship. After initial hiccups, the process of transiting through various points at the LoC has been stabilised and there is now more warmth and receptivity on the checkpoints on either side. This climate of friendship has also led to the easing of transit along the international border in the Punjab and Rajasthan. Easing visa formalities, and extension in the period of stay in each country are under consideration. The tragedy of terrorist attack on the Samjhota Express, seen as an attempt of disrupting growing cordialities will not be allowed to derail the peace process. After all both the countries are badly affected by terrorist outrages. Pakistan’s cynical, if not arrogant stand, so often repeated on many national and international fora, has finally boomeranged on her when its delegation sheepishly complained to its Indian counterpart of India’s alleged involvement in Balochistan uprising. Pakistan should not expect that she would not be paid in standard currency.

Progress, albeit slow, has been reported on Seer Creek and Siachin logjam. Both sides are determined to hammer out a mutually acceptable solution and it is a matter of time.

The real disturbing scene is the continued running of terrorist training camps in PoK and parts of adjoining NWFP. These facilitate infiltration of armed jihadis into the Indian part of Kashmir. With that situation in place, reduction in the number of Indian security forces in Kashmir logically becomes contingent upon shutting down the training camps and total termination of infiltration into Indian Kashmir. Even in this case, both sides have begun to understand the compulsions. What if General Musharraf comes out with the shocking statement that the armed jihadis are no more within his control, which is the unspoken truth? That is why India is now disposed to lower the key on this particular point.

Recent meeting between the high level delegations on the issue of containing terrorism is closely linked to forward movement on Kashmir talks. Indian spokesman has found time ripe to draw the bottom line of New Delhi’s approach to a final resolution of the tangle. Two basic points serve as benchmark. These are no redrawing of the map of the State, and no retracting from its traditional status in the State. As far as Pakistan is concerned, General Pervez Musharraf has already announced that his country is no more adamant either on the implementation of UN Resolutions or on the option of plebiscite. Obviously this new position disappointed the hardliners among the Kashmir dissidents like Ali Shah Geelani, who openly challenged the locus standi of the General to dole out his five –point formula.

Hardliners in Pakistan and Kashmiri dissidents fail to understand the damage done by armed jihadis to Pakistan’s cause in Kashmir. They also fail to grasp the fatigue that is fast overtaking these jihadis. General Musharraf’s willy-nilly involvement in playing second fiddle to the American operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban may have given him leverage with the Americans but it has exacerbated his domestic problems and made him vulnerable to intensification of jihadi–terrorist joint opposition. His antics of playing Dr Jakyll and Mr. Hyde has begun to become counterproductive and the unannounced visit of the American Vice President to Pakistan two weeks ago, and his plain speaking on the dubious role of the General, all have compounded his problems forcing him to appease the Americans by arresting the second most important lieutenant of Osama in Quetta.

Notwithstanding this scenario on the sub-continent that fairly embodies regional strategies, India has the compulsion of making rather imprudent concessions in Kashmir. These conditionalities are a subject of protracted negotiations between the Kashmir dissidents and the Union government. At the end of the day, New Delhi may find allowing the urge for imposition of strict Islamic code (sharia) by the radicals in the valley something not necessarily forbidding, and with that also the formal conceding of partial compromise on the norms of secularism and democratic dispensation in the State. This subtle manoeuvring has always been the main reason for the displaced Hindus of the valley to doubt the safety of their return to the valley. In New Delhi’s perception, this would not be too prohibitive a price to pay not only for retention of Kashmir as a federating unit but also for a phenomenon that will have impact on the instinctive behaviour of Muslim vote bank in national perspective.

From here we come to the scenario of cleavage in the ruling coalition in the State. In a sense, the differences between the two major components of coalition, namely Congress and PDP, are not ideological but only tactical. PDP President’s recent interaction with top leadership in New Delhi including the Prime Minister and the Congress chief is more significant and meaningful than what meets the eye. However, her interaction convinced her that in principle the Union government was not averse to her party’s demand for reduction of security forces in Kashmir but at the same time she had to modify the complexion of the demand by characterising it as “phased withdrawal” as against “demilitarisation”. The announcement of withdrawal of 11.000 troops of CRP from some segments in Kashmir following the stalemate over the issue between the coalition partners is a clear indication that the Union government does take into account international impact of PDP’s demand for demilitarisation.

This has led to a bizarre situation in powerful political party circles in Kashmir. The antics of the State Congress body of offering an olive branch to the opposition party, viz. National Conference, does not seem to have received New Delhi’s unqualified approval. Of the three prominent political parities in the State, it is only the PDP that has more proximity to the militant outfits. Why should not New Delhi use this conduit in the light of desperation that has overtaken General Musharraf at domestic front? Surely, Kashmir politics is a complicated affair and the talks have to go through a labyrinth that unfolds new and unknown vistas at every turn.

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