Centre must bring Kashmir policy back on track

When the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Peoples Democratic Party came together to govern Jammu and Kashmir, it was described as a positive beginning. None of the mainstream political parties had been able to secure and an absolute majority in the assembly elections. Despite representing conflicting ideologies, the PDP and BJP decided to form their maiden coalition government. Soon after his swearing in, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had admitted that the coming together of PDP and BJP was like the meeting of “the North Pole and the South Pole”. He went on to add that “history has given us a chance to work for bringing peace and development in the state”.

But it did not take long for both sides to show signs of drift on some of the controversial issues. The first such issue was when within hours of taking the oath, Chief Minister Sayeed, to the annoyance of BJP, credited Hurriyat and militant outfits with creating a conducive atmosphere for holding Assembly elections. It was followed by the observation of an unprecedented shutdown in the BJP-dominated Jammu region over the shifting of AIIMS to Kashmir without the party’s support. The Centre had to intervene to resolve the issue.

In the past few months, there has been slide in the state’s political and security environment. Reflecting the trend at the national level, the polarization between the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-majority Jammu region has further deepened.

Even as the army has been able to considerably check infiltrations from across the border, there has also been a spurt in the number of Valley youths joining militants groups. Commenting on the worrisome trend of increasing number of the Valley youths joining militancy in Kashmir, Director General of Police K Rajendra Kumar said, “Some youths have chosen the wrong path and joined militant ranks. We tried our best to motivate young blood to shun the path of violence”.  

The Kashmir problem, on which India and Pakistan have fought wars, can only be settled through bilateral talks.  While announcing Rs 80,000 crore flood relief package during his visit to Srinagar on November 7, Modi invoked former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s slogan of “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat (democracy) and Insaniyat” for solving the Kashmir tangle, and brought development into the discourse. Reacting to Modi’s Rs 80,000 crore package, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said, “25 years of militancy were not for seeking economic packages. Kashmiri people protest and come onto the streets to seek a political resolution of the Kashmir issue”. He was not wrong.  

The first attempt made to hold high-level bilateral talks between India and Pakistan proved abortive. New Delhi cancelled the meeting, rejecting Islamabad’s move to hold consultations with Kashmiri separatists a day prior to the bilateral talks. It is a practice Islamabad has followed for years. The event marked the end of the resumed attempts to hold talks and normalize relations between the two countries. The failure to hold bilateral talks needs to be seen in the backdrop of two similar attempts made by Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh during 1999 and 2007 which had proved abortive.

In February 1999, Vajpayee and his then Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif had signed the “Lahore Declaration”. In their one-on-one meeting, they had also committed “to break the deadlock on Kashmir and resolve the dispute –once and for all”. But the attempt did not come to fruition due to Pervez Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure. 

In 2007, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s dictator Pervez Musharraf finalized a four-point formula to resolve the Kashmir problem. According to Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mohamad Kasuri, when the agreement neared finalization early in 2007, the process was overtaken by the rapid political developments in Pakistan that set off Musharraf’s downfall.

The issue of resolving India-Pakistan problems needs to be seen in the backdrop of Islamabad’s insistence that Kashmir should be a priority item of the bilateral agenda. New Delhi, meanwhile, wants the bilateral talks to be centered on Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism. On assuming power, both Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif had promised that Pakistan’s soil would never be allowed for carrying out terrorist activities in other countries. But Pakistan has not only failed to honour its commitment but also suffered at the hands of homegrown terrorists.

Terrorism has now become a global menace, with the Islamic State threatening to expand their violent activities worldwide. In Kashmir, IS black flag carrying supporters are already visible in demonstrations held by separatists. On December 3, the Indian media reported that IS’s new “Black flags manifesto” vowed to expand its fight to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and (several other countries). The manifesto states that “President (!) Narendra Modi is a right-wing Hindu nationalist who worships weapons and is preparing his people for a future war against Muslims”.

It is in the context of the IS’s threat to expand its terror activities in India and Pakistan that both nations must resolve their bilateral issues including Kashmir and terror. On assuming the prime 
ministership, Modi had declared “neighbourhood first” as his policy. It is high time he works towards achieving the objective by normalizing India’s relations not only with Pakistan but also with Nepal. 

(The views expressed are strictly personal)
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