At around 8 am on Thursday, a police contingent arrived at my residence and parked a vehicle at the front door. This wasn’t new. I have lost count of how many times I have been made a prisoner in my own home. The purpose of this police action was to prevent me from travelling to New Delhi for a meeting with Pakistan National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz, who is coming to hold talks with his counterpart. They didn’t hide their intention. At around 11.30 am, the policemen left without giving a reason. I do not know what transpired during those hours before they decided to release us.
Though being a prisoner in one’s home is always a disturbing experience, the motive behind this instance is humiliating and illogical. We are being prevented from going to Delhi so that we do not talk to the Pakistan NSA. This meeting is being unfairly dubbed as a spoiler. The suspicions regarding our intention and agenda are completely unfounded and unnecessary. Our only purpose is to help strengthen the dialogue process between India and Pakistan, not sabotage it. There is no disagreement that Kashmir is an issue that has to be resolved, sooner or later. Indeed, if you look at the range of issues between India and Pakistan, they are all offshoots of the Kashmir issue. So if there is no dialogue on Kashmir, what is left?
There are two possibilities here. The government of India can make a bold and visionary break from the past to pursue a serious political and diplomatic effort to resolve the Kashmir issue. Or the leadership can choose to follow the same old default policy approach that has allowed the Kashmir issue to fester for more than six decades. We support the way of dialogue and reconciliation and it is that agenda we want to pursue when we talk to Aziz.
It is illogical and incorrect to see our efforts as an act of sabotage of the Indo-Pak peace process. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have suffered the most from Indo-Pak hostility. Dozens of civilians were killed in recent crossborder firings. If relations between these two countries do not thaw, there is every likelihood that the current standoff on the Jammu border will spread to other regions. Everyone knows how tenuous the calm along the ceasefire line in Kashmir is. A single spark could burn down the entire region and lay to waste all the diplomatic and political effort of the last decade and a half. Besides, hostility between the two countries always has a negative
impact on the ground in Kashmir. So, if India and Pakistan come closer, the people of J&K will be the biggest beneficiaries of that warmth.
If these two countries don’t come closer, how will the Kashmir dispute be permanently resolved? The ruling BJP’s own former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had adopted a dialogue-driven approach.
We had formal talks with another BJP stalwart, L.K. Advani, when he was deputy PM, and the foundation for that meeting was also the understanding that there is no way other than dialogue. This was just a decade ago. It was Vajpayee who went to Lahore and declared from the base of Minar-e-Pakistan that “It is my dream and wish to resolve the Kashmir issue.” It was Vajpayee who said that talks should be held under the ambit of “insaniyat”, without conditions, to resolve the issue, and reached out to us as well as Pakistan. It was the previous NDA government that facilitated our Pakistan visit so we could meet with then President Pervez Musharraf to help push the process forward. Both Vajpayee and Advani believed that the Delhi-Islamabad and Delhi-Srinagar tracks were essential to a resolution.
It is a pity that the current BJP government thinks in a completely different manner. When the foreign secretary-level talks were cancelled because the Pakistan high commissioner had invited us for an interaction ahead of that engagement, there was talk that the Indian government wanted to draw a new “red line” for the Hurriyat leadership. How can silencing us help the cause of peace between India and Pakistan? It is, in fact, the other way round. When the new government took over in Delhi last year, we had expected it to pick up the thread from where Vajpayee and Advani had left off and build on that. That has not been the case. It is clear that the current government’s policy is based on an unrealistic hope that the issue will cease to exist if they silence us. PM Narendra Modi has visited J&K several times and spoke about everything other than the Kashmir issue.
When the two PMs met in Ufa recently, they agreed that “India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.” Obviously, Kashmir is at the heart of this. The Hurriyat had welcomed the notion of backroom talks away from the media glare, and hoped that a process would eventually be built from those interactions. But nothing seems to have happened after that. Delhi’s insistence that the talks focus exclusively on terrorism doesn’t help.
Delhi operates on another flawed premise. When there is relative peace, its first reaction is that the Hurriyat has become irrelevant. But when the situation inside Kashmir isn’t calm, it offers talks and sends high-level delegations, even a joint parliamentary group. Why does only a spurt in violence draw Delhi’s attention to the Kashmir dispute? Why doesn’t it understand that it needs to build a process when there is relative peace?
I want to emphasise that there is a consensus on dialogue at every level in Kashmir. Even the official position of both pro-India political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference, is that they want Delhi to hold a dialogue with Pakistan and us specifically on the Kashmir issue. They have consistently endorsed the Hurriyat stand on dialogue. This indicates that every shade of political opinion in Kashmir is in favour of this process. This is because there is no military solution to the Kashmir problem and dialogue is the only possible and desirable option.
It is time for an immediate rethink in Delhi. Instead of viewing our meeting with Aziz with suspicion, the current dispensation should return to the Vajpayee approach and allow us to contribute to the Indo-Pak peace process. We have a vested interest in peace because we are the primary victims of Indo-Pak hostility. And there is no way to achieve lasting peace on the subcontinent without a resolution to Kashmir.
The writer is the chairman of the Hurriyat Conference (M)