Wednesday, March 18, 2015

India Pakistan dialogue needs to take off

PDP-BJP govt in place in J&K

ASHOK B SHARMA
 
Relations between India and Pakistan have seen many ups and downs with intermittent breaks in friendship and outbreaks of tensions at the border or infiltration of terrorists. The relationship between these two major economies in the region has stalled the development process in South Asia. New Delhi’s move to resume the stalled dialogue process has given a ray of hope. At the behest of Prime Minister Modi, Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar began his SAARC Yatra, during which he met his counterpart Aizaz Ahmad in Islamabad. Initial talks have been fruitful, as per reports.

Last year, the dialogue process was called off as the Pakistani envoy in New Delhi, Abdul Basit, chose to meet the separatist Hurriyat leaders ahead of the scheduled talks, contrary to India’s insistence. This time, Basit called Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and briefed him about the recent secretary level talks.

Islamabad had always taken the route of talking to Hurriyat leaders and informing them about the developments in relationship between the two countries, whereas India wants to bring home the fact that as per Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration there is no scope for any third party intervention when Kashmir issue is discussed between the two countries. The only instance in recent times when Islamabad deviated from its chosen option was during the visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during the oath taking ceremony of Prime Minister Modi.

However, after the derailment of talks last year Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had indicated that talks may resume in the near future saying “in diplomacy there is no full stop, but commas.” To give a fillip to the resumption of talks, Prime Minister Modi has planned to use cricket diplomacy in the region at a time when India’s prospects looks brighter in the World Cup tournament.

Another significant development that can be catalyzed to develop better relationship between the two countries is the conclusion of free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir, where people came out to vote in large numbers for the first time since 1987 polls. The total recorded voter turnout at the conclusion of the five phases of the polls in 87 constituencies was 65.23%. In the first two phases voter turnout was 71% and in the final phase it was 76%. The separatists believe that the mandate has no bearing on the Kashmir dispute and does not overshadow the “right to self-determination”. India maintains that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir is full and final. Whatever may be the interpretation, the fact is the people have voted for a change and the development of the region is also one of their aspirations.

A survey conducted by the Pakistan’s leading English daily, Dawn shows that 60.23% of the respondents approve of the elected PDP-BJP coalition government in the state. It is the writing on the wall for Pakistan to keep their intentions about the Kashmir issue on the backburner and allow the elected government in the state to function freely keeping with the aspirations of the people. Instead of raking up the Kashmir issue, Pakistan should now concentrate on trade and development issues with India and for further integration of the SAARC region. If there can be trade, economic and cultural cooperation between India and China despite the boundary issue, why can’t it be so between Islamabad and New Delhi?

Critics say that the verdict of the J&K people is fractured and indecisive. But the reality is that the polity of J&K is fractured. Three major regions of the state – Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh – have their own aspirations. It is true that J&K has been functioning as a single integrated unit for more than one and a half century, though the entity is not a natural conglomeration. Separatist elements are concentrated parts of the Kashmir valley. To do justice to the regional imbalance the carefully drafted Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the PDP-BJP coalition has tried to address the problem of the three regions. In the Union Budget, the government has assured setting up of a super specialty medical institute and hospital (AIIMS) in the valley and an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Jammu. The Udampur-Katra rail link has been operationalized in July 2014 and works are on for Katra-Qazigund link. This would facilitate connectivity to the state.

As BJP is the ruling party at the Centre, and incidentally has also for the first time emerged as king maker in J&K, it is expected that Prime Minister Modi will have extra handle to effectively move towards meeting the aspirations of the people and developing good relations with Pakistan. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has admitted Prime Minister Modi having a vision for South Asia and he expects his vision for J&K to materialize.   

Playing to his political gallery in the valley, Mufti has credited the success of peaceful elections to Pakistan and the Hurriyat, though the Union government says that security forces checked infiltrations at the border and maintained peace in the state, while voluntary voter turnout facilitated the success. The PDP has called for handing over the mortal remains of the convict in Parliament attack, Afzal Guru, and released accused separatist leader Masrat Alam. As coalition partner, BJP has urged the setting up of a joint steering committee to decide on the release of such prisoners. But Mufti intends to convert the complex challenges in the state to an opportunity, “Politics is an art of possibilities and managing contradicts. My job is to work with contradictions and protect political rights as well.”

BJP has acted sensibly to keep the contentious issue of the demand for removing Article 370 on the backburner. The mutually agreed CMP says “the present position will be maintained on all the constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K including the special status in the Constitution of India.” It has urged normalisation of relations with Pakistan, people-to-people contact on both sides of LoC, initiating dialogue process with all political groups, including Hurriyat, review of security laws to enable the Union Government to take a final view on the continuation of AFPSA in some areas, return of land to rightful owners, except in cases where land is required for specific security needs, return of Kashmiri Pandits with dignity to the valley, and one-time settlement for refugees from PoK.

This is the opportune moment for Mufti to work for the development of the state. It is also the right time for India to strike the right chord in its relationship with Pakistan. But Islamabad should refrain from actions that upset the plans for development in J&K and deter effective integration in South Asia.

(Ashok B Sharma is a senior Columnist writing on strategic and policy issues in several Indian and international newspapers and magazines. He frequently writes in The Daily Observer, Bangladesh and The Diplomatist magazine. He can be reached at ashokbsharma@gmail.com His mobile phone no +91-9810902204)

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