When India invited Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Delhi for Narendra Modi’s swearing in, there was hope in Kashmir that the new dispensation would carry forward the peace initiative of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It didn’t last. Delhi soon took the confrontationist approach towards Kashmir and Pakistan, which is likely to be detrimental for all three parties.
The decision taken by Delhi to call off the foreign secretary-level talks with Islamabad just because we met the Pakistan high commissioner in Delhi is a move in the wrong direction and contrary to what the Vajpayee government stood for. The dialogue between India and Pakistan primarily focuses on Kashmir and there is no logic in keeping Kashmiris out of it. Delhi’s decision also goes against the basics of international law and justice.
For the past 60 years, Kashmiris have been fighting for their political rights. In the last 20 years, one lakh people have been killed, thousands widowed and orphaned, and close to 10,000 people have disappeared in custody. Kashmiris suffer for a cause, a right they were promised 67 years ago, both by India and Pakistan. Kashmiris have suffered because they wanted a say in the resolution of the issue. They wanted to be heard and their views reflected in any possible settlement. When India and Pakistan sit to discuss Kashmir, they are talking about people, and not cattle. It is our problem and it is about our future.
Delhi needs to understand that Kashmir is not like any other conflict, that it has a history and a context. Kashmir can’t be compared with any other internal dispute India has. Delhi came to this realisation when Vajpayee was in office. He talked about talks within the “ambit of humanity”. That prompted us to respond and we reciprocated the sentiment. We went to Pakistan, a trip that was facilitated by Delhi. In Pakistan, we discussed the four-point proposals, we talked about an out-of-the-box solution.
Pakistan believed that Kashmiri involvement could solve its problems too. Pakistani leaders believed that if Kashmir’s leadership agreed to an out-of-the-box solution, they could sell it within Pakistan as a resolution proposed and accepted by the people of Kashmir.
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It was a beginning that could have taken us all a long way. But the UPA government didn’t build on the initiatives taken by Vajpayee, despite the many opportunities that came its way. It seems the new government is heading in the same direction — towards a confrontation with Kashmir and Pakistan.
A confrontation is not going to lead us anywhere. At the peak of the armed resistance in Kashmir, the pro-India political parties, including the National Conference, had an anti-Kashmir stand. Even they have realised that the Kashmir dispute needs to be resolved. The Hurriyat clearly stands vindicated.
The Modi government must realise that Kashmir is a political problem and needs a political resolution. Delhi’s focus has been on addressing the grievances of the people through economic packages. There is a difference between grievances and aspirations, and that line needs to be drawn. The issue can’t be resolved just by offering sops or holding elections or through military power.
India must stop viewing Kashmir through the Pakistan prism. The people of India have been given to believe whatever happens in Kashmir is because of Pakistan. That’s far from the reality. They need to know that Kashmiris are unhappy, that there is anger against India.
It is unfortunate that an impression is being given that the Hurriyat is playing the spoilsport in the Indo-Pak dialogue. This is not what we stand for. The Hurriyat has only contributed to the talks process and will continue to do so. We have encouraged India and Pakistan to talk. We showed the way for a resolution by initiating a triangular dialogue separately with India and Pakistan.
The Hurriyat is a responsible forum. In fact, during our meeting with the Pakistan high commissioner we said Islamabad should not give up on its focus on engaging with India. When Sharif visited India, there was an internal discussion in the Pakistan embassy. They wanted us to meet and talk to Sharif. We refused. We told them India and Pakistan must first formalise the dialogue process and then the Hurriyat would come in. We acted responsibly. Now India needs to act responsibly.
There is the overall realisation in Kashmir, India and Pakistan that there can be no military solution, or a solution forced through violence to the Kashmir issue, and that the solution will come only through engagement. India, however, has discredited the dialogue process. It only believes in a militaristic approach. If a militaristic or economic solution to the Kashmir problem were possible, the dispute would not have lingered for so long.
This is the time to build on the processes. The problem with Delhi is it forgets Kashmir when there is peace there and firefights when a situation like that in 2008 or 2010 develops. India must change that mindset. Kashmir has seen a transition from violence to non-violence and it is for the government of India to decide whether it wants to take the path of dialogue or confrontation.
For us, dialogue is the only way forward. But Delhi must not push Kashmiris to the wall, where they have to look beyond dialogue for the resolution of the dispute. If Kashmir erupts in violence again then the Hurriyat will not be in a position to stop it. We hope India will not push Kashmir back to the 1990s.
The writer is the chairman of the Hurriyat Conference (M)