Sunday, August 14, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Aug 14, 2016

Talks impasse Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed opposition leaders on August 12 in New Delhi at a meeting called to discuss finding a political solution to the ongoing unrest in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). His remarks regarding Pakistan’s role as a peace partner in the matter however, seemed to rest more on provocation than a sober approach to solving the IHK conundrum. He said India would like to discuss human rights issues with expatriates from Balochistan and Azad Kashmir living in exile in different countries. The first mentioned, a province of Pakistan, was obviously referred to in a crude attempt to equate Pakistan’s criticism of the ongoing repression in IHK with the situation in Balochistan, on the spurious ostensible ground of IHK being a part of and internal matter of India. The latter reference was in line with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s long standing and often reiterated stance that the only discussion New Delhi wanted with Pakistan was on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (i.e. Azad Kashmir) and its ‘return’ to India. His opposition audience though, seemed unimpressed by Modi’s posturing and told him to heal the shattered hearts of the people in the Kashmir Valley first. In an eerie echo of the dominant narrative in Pakistan since the horrendous Quetta blast, Modi ascribed the unrest in the disputed region to cross-border terrorism, ignoring in the process the toll of 50 people killed and 5,000 injured in the clashes between Kashmiri protestors and the Indian security forces since July 8, when unrest erupted over the killing of Burhan Wani. While the opposition backed the BJP government’s attempt to restore peace in the Valley, they demanded immediate confidence building measures be initiated such as discontinuing the use of pellet guns against the protestors that have led to at least 100 people being blinded and many others injured. They also suggested discussions with all groups in IHK and asked for the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to be lifted from civilian areas. In reply, the BJP government said it would consider the opposition’s suggestions, including sending an all-party delegation to IHK but only after the ground situation improves. Pakistan’s Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in the meantime proposed to India a dedicated dialogue on Kashmir since New Delhi was dragging its feet on a comprehensive dialogue. This proposal has followed the Pakistani envoys’ conference in Islamabad recently. The logic seems to be to try and nudge forward the dialogue frozen since 2014 (the year the BJP came to power). An agreement to revive the talks reached during Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore in December 2015 could not materialise because of the Pathankot airbase attack. The current uprising in IHK has added further strains to the troubled Pakistan-India relationship. Realistically speaking, and especially in the light of the New Delhi meeting mentioned above between the Indian government and opposition and the former’s hardline stance, it is unlikely that the offer of a dialogue dedicated to Kashmir will receive a positive response from New Delhi. Nevertheless, while Pakistan attempts to mobilise international opinion on the ongoing repression in IHK through the upcoming UN General Assembly session or by approaching Muslim countries, the perfectly sound and welcome initiative squarely puts the ball in India’s court. If it fails to respond to the proposal or rejects it, that will raise questions about India’s commitment to finding a solution to the long standing Kashmir dispute and its inability to deal with Kashmiri grievances of long standing and increasing intensity. Embarrassed or not by this exposure, the BJP government should heed at least the words of its own opposition leaders in reaching out to the alienated and angry Kashmiris in IHK so as to show, as former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh put it, a caring heart. An internal settlement with the Kashmiris in IHK can only facilitate a final solution of the problem amongst Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir.

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