A speech in Srinagar this week by Ambassador Satinder Lambah, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy, served two valuable purposes. It is probably the closest to an official Indian account we might ever get of the secret talks on Kashmir between empowered representatives of India and Pakistan in the UPA decade. It was also a message to the incoming government that tough rhetoric against Pakistan is no substitute for a sustained engagement on all issues, including Kashmir.
Until now, Lambah had refused to divulge a word about the talks he conducted with the representatives of General Pervez Musharraf, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. At his press conference in January, the PM had revealed for the first time that India was close to an “important breakthrough” in the talks with Musharraf just before the general’s power began to ebb in 2007. Although he presented them as his personal views, Lambah laid out the five broad principles at the heart of the Kashmir settlement that India explored with Pakistan during 2005-07. These were: freezing the current territorial disposition in Kashmir; changing the nature of the Line of Control by allowing freer movement of goods and people across it; granting substantive and similar levels of autonomy for the two Kashmirs from Delhi and Islamabad; creating a consultative mechanism between the two Kashmirs to deepen trans-LoC cooperation on a range of issues; and reducing military forces on either side of the LoC after violence and terrorism come to an end.
It is a pity that Singh and Musharraf could not clinch this bold agreement. The Lambah solution for Kashmir is possibly the best the two sides have come up with. Neither India nor Pakistan loses from this arrangement and the people of J&K have everything to gain. While underlining the benefits of a Kashmir settlement, Lambah was politely reminding the super hawks in Delhi’s strategic community that all prime ministers, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP, negotiated with Pakistan on Kashmir. The big question for the next government, then, is not whether it should engage Pakistan and discuss Kashmir. India’s new political leadership must necessarily build on the positive and bipartisan diplomatic legacy of Vajpayee and Singh.