Prime Minister Narendra Modi has earned enormous goodwill in India, among neighbours and from the international community for his creative initiative of inviting the SAARC countries’ heads of government for his swearing-in ceremony. Three of the neighbours, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, had special concerns because of the statements made by Modi during the election campaign. The first two seemed to go back quite satisfied with the bilateral talks on May 27. As for Pakistan, the reports are not very clear.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared that he had had “useful and constructive” talks with the prime minister. But the fact that he did not mention the “K” word during his brief address to the media seems to have drawn criticism back home in Pakistan. Even Hina Rabbani Khar, former foreign minister, whose party, the PPP, had supported Nawaz’s acceptance of Modi’s invitation, feels that the Pakistan prime minister had erred in not mentioning Kashmir in his public statement in India. This writer has no means to ascertain whether Nawaz raised Kashmir during his one-on-one meeting with Modi, but that is not relevant for the Pakistani media and the anti-India establishment in Pakistan.
Be that as it may, India cannot wish away the Kashmir question by refusing to talk about it with Pakistan. The dispute regarding the state of Jammu and Kashmir exists. We ourselves unwisely took it to the United Nations, where it remains an item on the agenda of the Security Council. The fact that the Council has not discussed it for decades does not mean that it will not be discussed if the situation in J&K deteriorates to the extent of threatening international peace and security. Even the Simla Agreement of July 1972, which we seem to swear by, speaks of a “final settlement” of the Kashmir issue.
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For reasons best known to those in government, every time Pakistan mentions the Kashmir issue, we go on the defensive. The very word “Kashmir”, if uttered by Pakistan, signifies hostile intent, and we withdraw into a shell. There is no reason for such a reaction. It is as much in our interest to discuss Kashmir as Pakistan suggests it is in its, perhaps more so. After all, it is Pakistan which sits in illegal occupation of one third of the state. We should be the ones anxious to raise the Kashmir issue. We have deployed a large number of troops along the Line of Control and elsewhere in the state, we have been spending a large amount of resources to maintain the force and to minimise, if not eliminate, the infiltration of terrorists from across the LoC, we have been suffering casualties, we have earned the ill-will and hostility of large sections of Kashmiri society, we are often put on the back foot on charges of human rights violations by our NGOs. There are enough reasons for India to try to put this problem behind it.
Perhaps we are apprehensive that Pakistan will bring up the UN resolutions in a discussion of this question. Let it do so. There is nothing to stop us from telling them that there is no way we would be willing to talk about those outdated resolutions, and Pakistan knows this. Referring to them only proves that Pakistan is not serious about finding a solution. In any case, the UN resolutions demanded that Pakistan pull all its forces, regular and irregular, out of the entire state before the question of ascertaining the wishes of the people is even considered. It is Pakistan which rendered the implementation of the UN resolutions impossible.
The only realistic solution, of course, is to turn the LoC into an international border. States must have borders between their territories. Good fences makes for good neighbours. If Pakistan agrees to this, it will not be doing us a favour; it will be legitimising its occupation of a part of our territory. Pakistan might also argue that India does it no favours by accepting the LoC as the border since it is simply not possible for India to regain this territory through the use of force or in any other way. True enough. The solution will be in our mutual interest and in recognition of ground realities.
Experts say Pakistan will never agree to the LoC solution. In that case, what does Pakistan want to talk about in a composite or any other form of dialogue? Confidence-building measures? They have been discussed often enough and many CBMs have already been agreed upon and implemented. India has to call Pakistan’s bluff and not be on the defensive on this matter.
Much has been said and written about the Manmohan-Musharraf formula worked out in back channel dialogues. Whatever is available in the public domain suggests that there were four points to this formula. Three of them referred to cross-border trade, visits to places of religious worship and facilitating visits by relatives on both sides. All these are CBMs and already in place. Such movements of goods and people have been taking place, though the pace could be improved and the impediments reduced. The formula also binds the two sides to respect the sanctity of the LoC and does not call for territorial change. But the two countries had already committed to respecting the sanctity of the LoC 42 years ago.
A word of caution on the back channel. The Indian special envoy did a most commendable job. But the government cannot assume that a formula arrived at through the back channel will necessarily be endorsed by the Parliament and people of this country. (We cannot second guess how Pakistan will handle this matter.) If the government takes the opposition parties into confidence at every stage and obtains their approval then, of course, the formula would be endorsed by Parliament. One does not know if the UPA government had such confidential talks with the opposition during the years of back-channel negotiation. Also, given the history of our relations with Pakistan and its determined efforts to carry out acts of terrorism in different parts of India, we should be extremely wary of giving any opportunity to Pakistan’s agencies to operate in our part of Kashmir. The consultative mechanism, one of the points agreed upon in the back channel talks, will enable them to do so, even if it is meant to deal with cultural and related matters.
Back channel envoys should have precise mandates and guidelines. It cannot be talks for the sake of talks. Such talks can easily be managed through open channels. Nor should such a mechanism be employed merely to draft CBMs. Why be secretive about building confidence and trust? Secret diplomacy ought to be about really serious matters, not for people-to-people contact and cultural matters, important as these subjects are. The two principals — in this case, the prime ministers — ought to agree first on what they expect from the secret channel. Should the talks be aimed at “resolving” the issue? Should they be to eliminate, once and for all, cross-border infiltration and terrorism and devise mechanisms to achieve this? Each back channel emissary should receive the same mandate and set of instructions from his prime minister. Otherwise, the exercise will yield conflicting results.
The writer is India’s former permanent representative at the UN, is adjunct senior fellow, Delhi Policy Group. Views are personal