J&K biggest beneficiary of India-Pak warm ties

After years of estrangement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise Christmas Day stopover in Lahore has breathed fresh life into frosty relations between nuclear armed neighbours India and Pakistan. The new-found bonhomie between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif is throwing surprises one after another.

The process started with Modi-Sharif meet on the sidelines of the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris on November 30 last year, where the leaders agreed to hold a dialogue on all outstanding issues, including terrorism and Kashmir.

The breakthrough resulted in several high-level contacts following a prolonged period of ups and downs in ties between the two countries after the dialogue process was stalled in the backdrop of Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008. New Delhi had earlier insisted that talks should focus on terrorism while Islamabad said any dialogue should be without conditions and include the Kashmir issue.

The Kashmir issue has been among the topics India and Pakistan are discussing ever since the Composite Dialogue commenced in 2004. It remains so even as the dialogue is now set to be resumed with a new tag – Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue.

However, this time there are enough indications that Islamabad has agreed not to cause an embarrassing situation for Modi by holding any kind of consultations with Kashmiri separatist leaders and inviting them to Pakistan High Commission for dialogue before talking to New Delhi.

However, Pakistan's Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s statement last September that without resolving the issue of Kashmir, Indo-Pak peace was not possible, gave clear indications that civilian leadership would have to take Pakistan army on board in a much broader manner. The terror attack on Pathankot air base has brought in a new element in the ties but the Pakistan government, unlike in the past, has displayed intentions of acting as per information provided by New Delhi.

As Kashmir issue is more political in nature, will Modi walk the extra mile like A B Vajpayee to reach out to all shades of opinion in Jammu and Kashmir, remains to be seen. Separatists in Srinagar have already welcomed Modi’s visit to Lahore, with moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq terming it “a positive move” and hardline faction leader Syed Ali Geelani saying they have no objection to improved relations between India and Pakistan.

Some of the top separatist leaders have expressed their desire to be part of talks involving New Delhi and Islamabad on Kashmir. Mirwaiz has been saying constantly that dialogue is the only way for resolving the differences between the two nuclear-armed neighbours and a solution to the Kashmir issue. It is upto New Delhi now whether it is ready to hear the dissenting voices or move ahead while ignoring them.

Ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) has, over the years been, advocating for better Indo-Pak relations. Late chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had said just before his death that resumption of the dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad would lead to an accomplishment of his party’s agenda. According to sources and media reports, Mufti was pitching for the inclusion of separatists in the dialogue process on the same pattern as was done during Vajpayee and UPA-I regimes.

Kashmir main hurdle
The PDP has often said that Kashmiris are the ultimate beneficiaries of the changing international scenario for peace and reconciliation in the region. Mufti used to say that unless all the stakeholders are taken on board, peace and development was not possible in the state. Mufti’s predecessor and NC chief Omar Abdullah has been reiterating that resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue was must for peace and resolution of Kashmir issue.

These voices are a good omen for Indo-Pak dialogue as Kashmir has remained  the main hurdle between the two countries over the last nearly seven decades. However, there are voices within the state which say that any Indo-Pak rapprochement without Kashmir is meaningless.

Violence and bloodshed are occurring in Kashmir intermittently. The gunfights, bomb explosions and even stone throwings, and the displaying of the flag of international terror group Islamic State (IS) makes big news in media.

Cynics in Kashmir believe that it is not easy to have a true rapprochement between the two countries who have been at each other’s throats right from their creation in 1947. But one needs to analyse all aspects of the relationship before making a final judgement. Not moving ahead is not an option because that standoff would further complicate the situation.

Srinagar cannot be left off the road between New Delhi and Islamabad. The arch between the two capitals will be fragile and in danger of collapsing if the youth of Kashmir feel that the two countries would betray them. Some of these youth are equipped with smartphones and the IS version of Islam comes to them instantly.

There can be no policing on the thought process, as many of the strategists may suggest. There is a need for Modi’s BJP, which shares power with the PDP in the state, to take feedback from the state government on political issues confront-ing J&K to find a durable solution to the problem.

To be realistic, one has to admit that the rapprochement is practically impossible without removing the sore of bleeding Kashmir. Will both the sides agree to leave Kashmir alone or agree to convert it geographically as well politically into the “Switzerland of the sub-continent”, only time will tell. There is no doubt that J&K would be the biggest beneficiary of the peace parleys between India and Pakistan.

The state is the greatest sufferer as far as militancy is concerned and, therefore, any process which seeks to restore peace in the subcontinent and the region will certainly have the most important benefit for J&K. Modi and Sharif need to find a path where India and Pakistan can have a common view and a solution for the Kashmir issue. No one can do it better than these two leaders.

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