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Between the line

Kashmir clouds India-Pak talks
July 07 , 2010


WITH such positive talks between India and Pakistan at Islamabad, the tragic happenings in Kashmir seem more than a coincidence. That youth in the valley is angry for not getting their due is known to all. Their pelting of stones at the security forces has been going on for more than a year. Still why should Kashmir be on boil when relations between India and Pakistan is on the mend? It is also a strange coincidence that hundreds of devotees should get stranded after having reached Kashmir for the Amarnath Yatra. Apparently, there was no understanding of the problem of unemployment or grievance that had alienated the youth. The state political parties only ran each other down without caring for the anger piling up.

Syed Gilliani, who has the image of an extremist, uses the killing of one young man at the hands of the security forces to incite the people to come on the streets. The Hurriyat Conference gives a call to start “something fresh, something organized.” Political parties also jump into the arena. All this develops into a huge protest in four cities, Srinagar, Sopore, Anantnag and Baramulla.

Inept Kashmir Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) which has only guns, not the lathis or the tear gas at their command to tackle protests, aggravates the situation. The use of force against the protesters agitating against the successive killings in the firing was probably too excessive and what the security forces did was without restraint. This is a matter to be looked into by an inquiry committee. Yet the fact remains that the extremists in Kashmir strike whenever the atmosphere of goodwill begins to prevail after some kind of equation between India and Pakistan. The pro-India elements have become irrelevant. They, in any case, are too elitist, seldom mixing with the common Kashmiris. Chief Minister Omar Farooq Abdullah leads the exclusive club. But their distance with the people is only contributory factor in what is happening in the state, not the factor itself.

The factor is the belief of Gillani and the Hurriyat that violence alone can lead to a solution in Kashmir. That the problem has been hanging fire for a long time needs to be tackled quickly goes without saying. But the extremists, including the Hurriyat, only stall the issue by instigating violence. They should have themselves come on to the streets to lead the protests in a peaceful manner to focus attention on the unresolved issue of Kashmir. They should understand that no discussion is possible at gun point.

One welcome development of talks at Islamabad has been that nobody, except few hawks, has brought in the name of Pakistan in the happenings in Kashmir. The credit goes to the government and the political parties at this end. This means that the talks between the two foreign secretaries and Home Ministers, in that order, have reduced to some extent the deficit in confidence which New Delhi has been seeking.

I do not know whether Home Ministers P Chidambaram and Rahman Malik discussed Kashmir. But at least the two foreign ministers should do when they meet at Islamabad later this month. India’s Army Chief General V.K. Singh has also emphasized on “political initiatives” in Kashmir.

The talks at Islamabad have made two points clear: one, New Delhi has re-enunciated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance in Egypt that the terrorists’ attack would be kept separate from the talks. Many experts in India tried to quibble over the meaning but there is no ambiguity now. Two, the core issue between India and Pakistan or, for that matter, before the SAARC countries was terrorism.

The separation of two points was clear when the two foreign secretaries who prepared the agenda for the forthcoming talks between their foreign ministers kept away from discussing terrorism. But they did discuss Kashmir. My information is that Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao asked her counterpart whether the ground covered on Kashmir through the back channel held good. Pakistan foreign secretary had told me at Delhi that the two countries would go forward from the undertaking reached through the back channel. This should set at rest the doubts some Pakistani quarters raised that a democratic government was not bound to follow what was achieved during General Pervez Musharraf’s regime.

Chidambaram, who played to the gallery when he spoke to journalists at Delhi, was more responsible and vividly sober in his remarks at Islamabad. For him to say that he did not doubt the intention of Pakistan should be slap on the face of retired Indian foreign secretaries who continue to follow the hard line they had taken during their careers to bring the two countries practically to a point of no return. They are openly critical of Manmohan Singh who has taken the bold initiative to talk to Pakistan despite the BJP criticism. He, like former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajapyee, has realised that there is no alternative to peace.

New Delhi expects more arrests in Pakistan after the disclosures by David Headley whom the Indian intelligence agencies met at Chicago. Manmohan Singh has reportedly drawn President Barrack Obama’s attention to Headly’s confession.

Chidambaram has rightly reminded Pakistan of the status of the Most Favoured State India extended to it many years ago. If Pakistan were to respond to it, Chidambaram’s ideas on trade and investment between the two countries could be implemented. India, with a bigger market and investment potential, can retrieve Pakistan from the lack of openings and latest technology which puts its industry at a disadvantage.

Action against Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Sayed remains India’s litmus test to assess Pakistan’s steps towards normalization. His cries of war or jihad against India is not what bothers the government and the people so much as his vast network which made the 26/11 possible and which has not accepted Pakistan’s policy to befriend India.

In fact, Islamabad’s declaration to have a region-wise plan to combat the Taliban will mean a strong against Lashkar which, along with the Taliban, is under the discipline of Al-Qaida. Some elements in Pakistan consider it their duty as Muslims to support fundamentalism. But religious values are antithesis of what the Lashkar represents. Today’s world, including the Muslim nations, wants religion to inculcate values, not to incite violence.

One practice both New Delhi and Islamabad should adopt is to ensure that their rulers meet the opposition leader when they visit each other’s country. India has been able to establish it for visiting Presidents or Prime Ministers who call on the top person in the opposition. The Pakistan government should also do so by including Nawaz Sharif on the list of dignitaries during the visit of top Indian leaders.

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