Comment

Adding new hurdles to a deteriorating peace process

The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference delegation in New Delhi on January 23, 2004. The Hurriyat leaders from left are Abdul Gani Bhat, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Fazal-Haq Qureshi. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference delegation in New Delhi on January 23, 2004. The Hurriyat leaders from left are Abdul Gani Bhat, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Fazal-Haq Qureshi. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

The > recent cancellation of NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan is a cause for both disappointment and deep concern. This statement may come as a shock to all those “experts” in the Indian media who have been projecting the Hurriyat as saboteurs of peace or who have been bizarrely claiming that we somehow emerged as a winner in the recent breakdown of scheduled talks between India and Pakistan.The stark reality is that it is we, the people of Jammu & Kashmir, who have had to suffer the direct loss, pain, injustice and indignity of conflict and it is we who stand to suffer the most if Indo-Pak hostility continues.

We regret the two countries have missed an opportunity to make a new beginning along the path of dialogue and negotiation. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Sharif announced in Ufa that they would resume a process of dialogue and engagement, we wholeheartedly and publicly welcomed it. We appreciated that the two Prime Ministers had agreed that “India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development” and, for this, they were “prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.” A peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue is obviously central to this and is the key to positively transforming relationships and to unlocking a new future of lasting peace, stability and prosperity for the entire South Asian region.

The fact that the two Prime Ministers agreed to start a process of talks, which could perhaps include high-level backchannel talks away from the media glare, was a very positive development in our view. We saw this as a possible sign that reason was emerging over illusion. We expected that the opening of a process could lead to a situation where tensions might be ratcheted down and a measure of trust could be rebuilt. We hoped that a full-fledged and inclusive peace process could eventually begin in which the leaderships of the two countries and the people of Jammu & Kashmir could all start focusing on the arduous task of resolving conflicts. In hope of such a peace process, we offered our support and we were prepared to offer our patience to the process. We understand that fresh starts require encouragement and also take time to be built on.

“Red Lines”

The cancellation of the talks we are deeply concerned that the dangerous trajectory that the region has been heading along is being reinforced following this breakdown. It is highly alarming that the Government of India opted to make the discussions on the Kashmir issue and the role of the Hurriyat subjects of new, narrowly drawn “red lines”, new positions that impose a straightjacket on the future prospects for any meaningful peace process. This is what the stand laid out by Sushma Swaraj on the Kashmir Issue and Hurriyat essentially amounted to. Such a doctrine based on narrow-mindedness rather than enlightenment will get us nowhere.

The imposition of a so-called “red line” against meeting us raises serious questions as to whether there is really any intent on the part of the Modi Government to strive and work towards a resolution of the Kashmir conflict and the achievement of a lasting peace. When hurdles actually needed to be removed by both sides, why is the Government of India erecting a set of new barriers in the way of initiating a process of dialogue? Why this sudden injection of an entirely new level of inflexibility regarding the dialogue process?

Sadly, what we have seen in the last year or so from Prime Minister Modi’s government, is a hardening and narrowing of mindsets and an approach that is based more on machismo rather than a commitment to dialogue and a willingness to engage in serious problem-solving. In the last year, while the path of dialogue was being shunned and the situation in Kashmir became more tense and polarised, we have witnessed a litany of made-for-TV chest-thumping statements coming from the highest levels in New Delhi. Appallingly, when ceasefire violations and tensions were rising dangerously at the LoC and innocent civilians were being killed in Jammu & Kashmir, we even had to listen to Prime Minister Modi himself giving bellicose statements, such as “[it’s] not the time for boli (talk) but for goli (bullets).” While we hold out a lingering hope that these were aberrations, if the kind of thinking on Kashmir we have seen over the last year and especially over the last few days has become the new norm in New Delhi, then I am very sorry to say that it will be a recipe for disaster. It can hardly offer a way forward towards renewed efforts at dialogue and peace in the region.

As he himself promised during his election campaign, We had hoped that Prime Minister Modi, as promised in his election campaign, would continue forward with the vision of peace and dialogue that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee espoused. Mr Vajpayee, had declared from the base of the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore that it was his dream and wish to resolve the Kashmir issue. He had affirmed the need for unconditional talks, reaching out to us as well as Pakistan and asked for talks to be held under the ambit of “insaniyat” [humanity]. He believed in complementary processes of dialogue, including the Delhi-Islamabad, Srinagar-Delhi, Srinagar-Muzzafarabad and Srinagar-Islamabad tracks. Mr Vajpayee had the wisdom to realise that the Kashmiri leadership could be a partner for peace and a bridge between India and Pakistan. He facilitated our interactions and even our visit to Pakistan to meet President Pervez Musharaf so that we could help push the process forward. While a break through on Kashmir eventually proved elusive, the steps Vajpayee took at least created the necessary space and context for all the parties to begin to engage in a process that was aimed at finding solutions.

The basic point here is that it is possible to initiate a peace process. India and Pakistan have found ways in the past to move forward while involving Kashmiris in the effort. Indeed, some useful progress was achieved in terms of reducing war risks and allowing people-to-people interaction across the LoC. Even some potentially workable ideas on a possible way forward towards a Kashmir settlement were developed. Those ideas could serve as a starting point for discussions even today.

The lessons here are clear. Moving forward and achieving progress requires an open mind, the courage to cooperate and accommodate, the willingness and maturity to be flexible, and the boldness to break out of old patterns and failed approaches. It took tremendous courage and a big heart for Mr. Vajpayee to take the stepswithout the solid parliamentary majority that the present BJP enjoys. Involving and creating space for Kashmiris to be included in the process demonstrated an understanding on the part of Mr. Vajpayee that the road to peace runs through Kashmir and that, at its core, Kashmir is a human issue requiring a political solution. Indeed, only by humanising the issue of Kashmir and listening to the people of Jammu & Kashmir is it possible for the two countries to start finding a workable solution.

Sadly, in the stand that was put forward by Sushma Swaraj on Saturday, we see a marked departure from the type of statesmanship and courage that Prime Minister Vajpayee once demonstrated. Where is the “insaniyat” in insisting that others can not meet us, in arresting us and in the attempt to silence us? By seeking to completely quarantine us are we not being dehumanised? Doesn’t the attempt to impose a new doctrine of narrow bilateralism, which asserts that Kashmiris are not even a party to the Kashmir issue, amount to dehumanising it? For Kashmiris who have been watching all of this unfold, there are real concerns about whether more repressive, undemocratic and militaristic approaches are to be expected in future.

At another level, the inflexibility that prevented the NSA-level talks from going forward bordered on the absurd. The type of “red lines” which have been drawn by New Delhi on Kashmir makes one recall that anecdote described in Jonathan Swift’s satire “Gulliver’s Travels”, where runaway narrow-mindedness leads to a situation where two countries got hopelessly embroiled in unending cycles of war over the correct way to break an egg — at the little end or the big end.

The bigger picture was forgotten in all the media frenzy. Whether it is addressed head-on or as part of a broader Indo-Pak peace process that has seven baskets of issues or ten baskets of issues, whether you call it “composite” or “resumed” or “structured, whether X meets Y before or after Z or at a later stage, whether the issue is approached at the little end or the big end, whatever the procedures and steps involved, at the end of the day the Kashmir egg has to be cracked. Inevitably, a solution to Kashmir has to be found through a process that includes the people of Jammu & Kashmir. At the end of the day the goal is to achieve lasting peace in South Asia. How can “redlines” on dialogue possibly serve that purpose? Suffice it to say that, except for a few vested interests, right now everybody is a loser as a result of the failure of leadership and imagination that was witnessed over the weekend. Indeed, the common people of Jammu & Kashmir, India and Pakistan all lose as long as this intransigence persists and this deadlock continues.

Two possibilities

Prime Minister Modi needs to have a serious rethink on his government's Kashmir policy. There are two possibilities. Prime Minister Modi can choose to adopt the same old default policy approach that has allowed the Kashmir issue to linger on for more than six decades. Or he can adopt a visionary detour and pursue a serious political and diplomatic effort to resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all. Rather than narrowing the space for dialogue, Prime Minister Modi needs to focus on his responsibility to lead the region out of deadlock and away from the risks of dangerous escalation and confrontation. Instead of thinking about the next cycle of state elections, he needs to think about the future generations of South Asia. Ultimately, leadership is about finding solutions not evading them.

As for us, we support the way of dialogue. We are firm in the view that there is no military solution and negotiation is the way. This is why we welcomed Prime Minister Modi’s initial gesture to invite Prime Minister Sharif to his inauguration and this is why we hailed Prime Minister Sharif for having the courage to accept the invitation to come to New Delhi. This is also why we openly welcomed the decision of the two Prime Ministers in Ufa to make another attempt at a dialogue. It is because of our belief in the path of dialogue that we expressed our dismay at the collapse of talks in August 2014 and we do so now again in August 2015. These setbacks are all the more concerning to us because the Government of India has unnecessarily made us — the Hurriyat — the reason (and perhaps excuse?) for avoiding serious dialogue.

The type of ‘red lines’ drawn by New Delhi on Kashmir recalls Jonathan Swift’s satire Gulliver’s Travels, where runaway narrow-mindedness locks two countries in unending cycles of war over the correct way to break an egg.

There is consensus on the need for an unconditional process of dialogue in Jammu & Kashmir. Even the pro-India political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference want New Delhi to initiate such a process with Pakistan and with us. All Kashmiris believe in an inclusive peace process and believe that any negotiated solution should represent the will of all the people of Jammu & Kashmir, including all five regions of the state on both sides of the LoC.

We believe that the time is ripe for a bold move forward. If something is not done now — during relatively quieter times — to initiate a process of dialogue, it will become near impossible later if there is further escalation or a crisis. From our point of view, there must be a serious, result-oriented and time-bound process of dialogue between the leadership of India and Pakistan, and of Jammu and Kashmir. Let this process start sooner rather than later. Perhaps the best thing all the parties could do right now is to try to keep the media out of it. If we are all serious then all the parties should start engaging quietly away from the cameras. Let all of the parties engage actively with one another to at least exchange their views. Let the dialogue be unofficial and without conditions, but let each party seriously introspect as to whether they can be partners for peace and explore whether they can find partners in others to end this horrible conflict once and for all. We must all try our best and exhaust the possibilities to seek a peaceful solution. Perhaps together we will be able to find some way to take a historic step forward towards a real peace process.

Historical opportunities for peace are not to be missed. What is Prime Minister Modi waiting for? Is he interested?

(Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is the chairman of the Hurriyat Conference [M]. )


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