Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Oct 25, 2017

India’s Kashmir interlocutor If anyone saw India’s move to appoint an interlocutor for Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) as a breakthrough, they could be forgiven for displaying in equal measure exhaustion, impatience and incorrigible optimism towards the seemingly interminable conflict. On October 23, 2017, Indian Home Minister Rajnat Singh announced that Dineshwar Sharma, a retired Intelligence Bureau chief, had been named to initiate a sustained interaction and dialogue with elected representatives, political parties, organisations and individuals, including the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), “to understand the legitimate aspirations of the people in Jammu and Kashmir”. Responses, most of them predictable, were not long in coming. Pro-Indian Kashmiri leaders, including the current and former Chief Ministers (CMs), seemed ready to embrace the BJP government’s decision, although not entirely without caveats. On the following day, an APHC leader, Maulvi Abbas Ansari stated the obvious: all three parties, India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris on both sides of the divide have to sit together for a solution to the long standing conundrum. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman called the step “not sincere and realistic”. He too stressed the inclusion of all three parties to make the dialogue “meaningful and result-oriented”. He then went on to reiterate that the aspirations of the Kashmiri people were well known for the last 70 years: the right to self-determination. He did concede however, that the announcement once again illustrates the futility of the use of force and the indispensability of a dialogue. The need of the hour, he concluded, was for India to end state terrorism and hold a dialogue in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people, with hopefully the international community playing its due role in this process. Current CM IHK Mehbooba Mufti welcomed the development, while former CM Omar Abdullah was more cautious, saying he would keep an open mind and wait to see the results. He did underline though that this was a a resounding defeat of those who could only see the use of force as a solution. The about turn on talking to all parties in IHK, especially the APHC whom New Delhi views as linked to Pakistan, comes on the eve of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ongoing tour of South Asia. Whether the timing is coincidental or meaningful, the fact remains that the Modi government’s brutality in IHK continues to act as a brake on the US’s desire for a strategic relationship with India. The Modi government’s reversal of its policy since coming to power three years ago of never entering into a dialogue with the APHC reflects also the difficulties the Indian state and its repressive machinery have come up against in IHK. Since the Indian security forces killed young Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani last year, there has been a continuous outpouring of unrest and protest in IHK. The knee-jerk reaction of the Indian security forces to this latest ‘intifada’ was to suppress all such manifestations with the unbridled use of force. Hundreds have been killed and injured by such draconian tactics, including many protestors losing their eyesight because of the indiscriminate use of pellet guns by the security forces to break up crowds. These ‘shotgun’ measures have only fuelled the fire of resentment and protest throughout IHK. The move to appoint an interlocutor appears to follow a rare meeting between Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood. Reports say Ms Swaraj discussed the current state of bilateral relations, alleged cross-border terrorism, quickly bringing to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai and Pathankot attacks and the possibility of Pakistan reviewing its position on Kulbushan Jadhav, the alleged Indian spy in Pakistan’s custody. More significantly, the outreach, according to Home Minister Rajnat Singh, is a follow-up of Modi’s Independence Day address in which he stressed that Kashmir’s problems can only be solved by embracing the Kashmiris and not by bullets or abuse. Singh’s assertion has weight that it indicates a shift in policy from handling the Kashmir issue only through the prism of security operations without a matching political overture. The logic of India engaging with the people of IHK as well as Pakistan and the people of AJ & K has remained unassailable over the years. Whether such a dialogue can attract the attention of the global powers and indeed lead to a solution to the conflict remains an open question. But it is far preferable to make moves towards an all-embracing dialogue rather than remain stuck in a big stick approach, as India has been doing. To that extent, the outreach should be welcomed in the hope that it contributes to an easing of tensions between India and Pakistan, cessation of hostilities and a restoration of the tattered 2013 ceasefire on the LoC, not to mention progress towards a solution that has the backing of all the stakeholders in this conflict.

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