A Missed Bus

  • Happymon Jacob
  • Publish Date: Feb 10 2016 4:32PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 23 2016 10:45AM
A Missed Bus

The Kashmir issue is a political orphan today. No one wants to touch it: be it the international community, Pakistan or the government of India. Not even the civil society in New Delhi talks about it anymore, as it once did. Everyone has political priorities of higher orders to deal with. Make no mistake: When Pakistan raises the Kashmir issue, which it does at the drop of a hat these days, it is only to spoil India’s party which the latter is so fond of hosting from Madison Square to Wembley. For the political establishment in Pakistan, Kashmir is a headache, and for its army, it’s just a convenient tool to embarrass India who is constantly in the pursuit of great power status. While post 9/11 led to the steady reduction in the American enthusiasm for the Kashmir cause, Paris will ensure that the European humanitarian interest in Kashmir will be put on the backburner. Self-interest and national security have started playing a major role in contemporary Europe’s self-definition and global political priorities.
In short then there is no promising future in so far as the political resolution of the Kashmir issue is concerned. Let me explain this a bit further.
 
The conflict over Kashmir

 

The Bangkok breakthrough, arrived at in early December, has brought Kashmir back on the India-Pakistan bilateral agenda once again, albeit as one among the several issues to be discussed and resolved. New Delhi had got its way in Ufa when it cleverly managed to get Kashmir off the bilateral agenda, but its happiness of pushing the Kashmir issue under the carpet did not last long when back home the Pakistan army put the Sharif government under pressure to backtrack on it, which it eventually did. So while New Delhi has grudgingly agreed to get Kashmir back on the agenda, it continues to be delighted that Pakistan’s insistence on consulting the Kashmiri dissident leadership on the Kashmir question before any bilateral talks with India has not succeeded: since the bilateral discussion venues were Bangkok and Islamabad, there was no way Islamabad could have met the Hurriyat before the meeting. Small bilateral victories in high-stake games; aren’t they!!
Much of the above is really the contemporary ‘trivia’ about the Indo-Pak ‘Tu Tu Main Main’ is over Kashmir. The big picture on the India-Pakistan conflict ‘over’ Kashmir is that there is unlikely to be any serious discussion on the matter between the two sides for a number of reasons. For one, Pakistan has, albeit informally, long given up on its stated position on the Kashmir question. More so, it simply does not have the material or political will to act on its absolutist positions vis-à-vis Kashmir: Islamabad badly needs an exit route out of Kashmir, and is silently looking for one. And yet it is unwilling to publically say so for fear of domestic backlash, as is to be expected. Secondly, India has not only realized that Pakistan does not have the willingness to wrest Kashmir from its custody, but feels no moral or political obligation to resolve the Kashmir issue. Thirdly, avoiding a potential nuclear conflict is what matters to the international community today more than anything else. The emerging geopolitical realities of the international order then are likely to set the Kashmir issue aside.
 
The conflict in Kashmir

 

The conflict in Kashmir is more complicated than the conflict over Kashmir. Definitionally, the conflict in Kashmir, to me, is about three things: the constitutionally mandated limits of New Delhi’s sovereignty over Kashmir, the political rights of the Kashmiris, popularly called Azadi, and, more importantly, the preservation of the human rights and dignity of ordinary Kashmiris. Where are we on that count? Islamabad, in my opinion, was never really interested in how the Kashmiris lived in the Valley apart from showcasing the sufferings of the Kashmiris for its own narrow strategic ends. For New Delhi, Kashmir is yet another insurgency that it has on its hands to deal with. It is indeed one among the many conflicts that it is faced with. The difference of course is the role that Pakistan plays. The Pakistan dimension also explains why the media and the strategic community are interested in the issue at all. The international community, on its part, has already begun to view the Kashmir conflict through a realist prism, eschewing any moral talk on human rights.
And yet, the conflict in Kashmir is comparatively easier to resolve than the conflict over Kashmir. But does the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi have the wisdom and moral courage to respect the genuine political aspirations of the Kashmiris? I doubt.
 
The lost opportunity

 

There was a time when the conflict over Kashmir looked unbelievably close to a settlement. Both Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraff were inching close to a credible solution about close to a decade ago, apparently after due consultations with the Kashmiri dissidents via the backchannel. But that golden moment is gone, so is the immense enthusiasm that accompanied it. Political realities have undergone radical changes, and new ones have emerged. The resolution of the conflict over Kashmir would have had a great positive impact on the conflict in Kashmir as well. Once the Indian armed forces are asked to vacate the Kashmiri civilian space and the borders between the two sides are open for trade and travel, Kashmiris would have made peace with New Delhi, or so I believe – that indeed was the essence of the agreed upon Kashmir formula between the two sides. I am not sure who to blame for missing the Kashmir bus, but the lost opportunity will haunt us for a long time to come.
 
The future

 

While the increasing political unrest in Kashmir, including that of a new wave of youngsters joining militancy, may be just another day in the not-so-peaceful life of the Indian state, this will surely have lasting implications which could potentially pose huge threats to India’s national security. New Delhi is on a politically weak position in Kashmir, but it simply does not seem to realize that plain fact. For one, the increasing radicalization of the youth in Kashmir is worrying as at this point of time we have no idea where this is going to lead us to, at a point of time in history time when apocalyptic forces like the Daesh are spreading their poisonous ideologies around the world. Unlike the 1990s, when the Kashmir militancy was, to a great extent, led by ideologically driven, and principled leadership, we are today heading towards a certain headless movement, which makes it all the more disconcerting.

Adding to all this confusion and turmoil are the unreasonable stances taken by leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani who declared a few weeks ago that gun continues to remain an option for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Such statements could potentially enhance the unrest in the Kashmir Valley. Moreover, Geelani’s assessment of what gun could achieve for Kashmir under the current circumstances is deeply flawed. Well, that discussion can be for some other time.

As I pointed out in the beginning of this essay, the Kashmir issue is a political orphan today, and that is indeed one of the greatest political tragedies of our times.