Millennium Post

Indo-Pak dialogue must continue

Indo-Pak dialogue must continue
Relations between India and Pakistan have seen many ups and downs in the recent past. Periods of intermittent breaks in friendship followed by outbreaks of tensions at the border and infiltration of terrorists have come and gone like the four seasons. The strained relationship between these two major economies in the region has stalled the development process in South Asia. New Delhi showing its willingness to resume the stalled dialogue process has infused the geopolitical scenario between the two with a ray of hope. At the behest of Prime Minister Modi, the Indian Foreign Secretary-Subrahmanyam Jaishankar began his SAARC Yatra. In the process he met his counterpart Aizaz Ahmad in Islamabad. Initial talks have been fruitful as per reports.

Last year the dialogue process was called off as the Pakistani envoy in New Delhi-Abdul Basit chose to meet separatist Hurriyat hardliners ahead of scheduled talks between the two countries, contrary to India’s wishes. This time also Basit called the Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and briefed him about the recent secretary level talks. Islamabad has always taken the route of talking to Hurriyat leaders and informing them about the developments in relationship between the two countries, whereas India wants to drive home the fact that as per the Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration there is no scope for any third party intervention as far as the Kashmir issue is concerned. The only instance in recent times when Islamabad deviated from its chosen option of looping in Hurriyat leaders was during the visit of the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the oath taking ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

However, after the derailment of talks last year Indian Foreign Minister-Sushma Swaraj had indicated that talks may resume in the near future by stating“in diplomacy there is no full stop, but comas.” To give a fillip to the resumption of talks, Prime Minister Modi is planning to use cricket diplomacy in the region, this is diplomatically astute considering this comes at a time when India’s prospects looks brighter in the World Cup tournament.

Another significant development that can serve to develop a better relationship between the two countries is the conclusion of free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir, where people came out to vote in large numbers for the first time since the 1987 polls. The total recorded voter turnout at the conclusion of the five phases of the polls in 87 constituencies was 65.23 per cent. In the first two phases voter turnout was 71 per cent and in the final phase it was 76 per cent. The separatists believe that the popular mandate has no bearing on the Kashmir dispute and does not supersede the “right to self-determination of the people of the state of Kashmir”.

India maintains that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India is full and final. Whatever may be the varying interpretations of this position, the fact is that the people have voted for a change. Development of the region is also one of their aspirations. A survey conducted by the Pakistan’s leading English daily-Dawn shows that 60.23 per cent of the respondents approve of the elected PDP-BJP coalition government in the state. It is perhaps the writing on the wall for Pakistan to keep their intentions about the Kashmir issue on the backburner and allow the elected government in the state to function freely in keeping with the aspirations of the people. Instead of raking up the Kashmir issue, Pakistan should now concentrate on trade and development issues with India and try for further integration of the SAARC region. If there can be trade, economic and cultural cooperation between India and China despite the boundary issue, why can’t trade and cultural exchange intensify between Islamabad and New Delhi?

Critics say that the verdict of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is fractured and indecisive. But the reality is that the polity of J&K is fractured. Three major regions of the state – Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh – have their own aspirations. It is true that J&K has been functioning as a single integrated unit for more than one and a half century, though the entity is not a natural conglomeration. Separatist elements are concentrated in various parts of the Kashmir valley. To do justice to the regional imbalance the carefully drafted Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the PDP-BJP coalition has tried to address the unique problems plaguing the three regions. In the Union Budget, the government has assured setting up of a super specialty medical institute and hospital-a branch of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in the valley and an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Jammu.

The Udhampur-Katra rail link has been operationalised in July 2014 and works is progressing on the Katra-Qazigund link. This would facilitate greater connectivity to the state. As the BJP is the ruling party at the Centre and incidentally it is also a part of coalition government in J&K, it is expected that the Prime Minister Modi will have considerable authority to try and fulfil the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir while simultaneously developing good relations with Pakistan. The J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has admitted to Prime Minister Modi having a vision for South Asia and he expects his vision for J&K to materialise. Playing to the political gallery in the valley, Mufti has credited the success of peaceful elections to Pakistan and the Hurriyat though the Union government says that security forces were instrumental in checking infiltrations at the border and maintaining law and order in the state.

The massive voluntary voters’ turnout facilitated the success of this process. Mufti explicitly supports the handing over of the mortal remains of the convict in the Parliament attack-Afzal Guru and the recent release of the accused separatist leader Masrat Alam. The coalition partner-BJP has urged for setting up of a joint steering committee for deciding on release of political prisoners. But Mufti intends to convert the complex challenges in the state to an opportunity for development.
This is the opportune moment for Mufti to work for the development of the state. It is also an opportune time for India to strike the right chord in its relationship with Pakistan. IPA
Ashok B Sharma

Ashok B Sharma

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