Friday, November 28, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Nov 29, 2014

Summit breakthrough? The gloomy mood that had gripped the 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was dispelled somewhat on the last day by the public display of bonhomie between Prime Ministers (PMs) Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi when they not only shook hands warmly, but smiled for the cameras to lay to rest the prognosis of a failed summit. However, realistically speaking, the fact that one agreement on a regional electricity grid was signed while two more on road and rail connectivity could not, reflects the long road ahead before South Asia (SA) can revel in a newfound closeness. Whereas the foreign office in Islamabad refuted suggestions Pakistan was the sole country playing an obstructionist role on these agreements, it argued that it was the remaining “internal processes” that had yet to be completed and therefore the agreements could not see the light of day. Even if we take the foreign office’s statement at face value, how is that in one day the ‘internal processes’ on electricity connectivity were ‘completed’ while the other two were not? One may be forgiven for some scepticism. Perhaps it was the thaw between the PMs of Pakistan and India on the last day to which the electricity grid agreement is owed rather than any ‘rapid’ progress on the ‘internal processes’. Be that as it may, the smiles wreathing the faces of all the SA leaders when Sharif and Modi shook hands reflects how precarious is the SAARC project. While the breakthrough on the electricity grid can only be welcomed, given that the region can greatly benefit from energy surplus countries passing on its benefit to energy-deficient neighbours, there are reminders of just how difficult South Asian integration still is. Apart from the pending road and rail agreements, two incidents, one a renewed exchange of fire between Pakistani and Indian forces in the Charwah sector and a rebel attack in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) near the Line of Control (LoC) underlined on the vey day the chink of light became visible in Kathmandu that a considerable distance still has to be traversed by Pakistan and India before normalisation of relations, peace and development for mutual benefit can follow. For one, the festering conflict on the LoC and Working Boundary urgently needs to be defused, the broken off Pakistan-India dialogue resumed, and ways and means found for a political solution for the vexed question of Kashmir. That dispute not only is a legacy of partition, it is difficult of resolution because of the trajectory the dispute assumed since then. India has long ago abandoned any notion of a plebiscite to allow the Kashmiri people the right to decide whether they wanted to remain with India or Pakistan despite the solemn commitment of then PM Nehru and his initiative to take the problem to the UN Security Council. India has steadily retreated from what proved to be an embarrassing international commitment that it feared would lead to Kashmir acceding to Pakistan. For years now, and particularly after the Simla Accord of 1972, India has been adamant that Kashmir is an integral part of India (implying there is nothing to discuss). However, facts are stubborn things and the long running unrest in IHK refutes India’s complacent stance on any given day. India awaits an enlightened leadership that would recognize the problem for what it is, and even if it was not prepared to allow the Kashmiris their right to decide their destiny, would engage with the Kashmiri leadership to find a political solution. Pakistan has long indicated (implicitly) that it has realistically acknowledged the unlikelihood of the plebiscite ever taking place and stated from time to time that any solution acceptable to the people of Kashmir would be acceptable to it. Unfortunately, India has not taken up Pakistan’s offer with a long-term vision to remove the canker of this long running sore and move to more productive areas of interaction with Pakistan and SA generally. Recriminations regarding the past do not help anything of course. Statesmanship from Islamabad and New Delhi could defuse the Kashmir thorn in their side and open the door to the integration delineated in the SAARC summit’s 36-point final communiqué. But for that to happen, the requisite political will is a sine qua non.

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