Do JK leaders have any tangible road map to discuss with PM? – I

The Kashmir rant of Prime Minister Imran Khan that Pakistan would not hold talks with India until New Delhi reverses its decision of scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. India abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 on August 5, 2019 and bifurcated it into two Union territories.

On the other hand all powerful Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said that “it is time to bury the past and move forward” when it comes to his country’s relations with the neighbor and arch-rival India. “Unless India retreats from the steps taken on August 5…, the Pakistani government will not talk to India at all,” Khan said.

Same rhetoric is echoed by Kashmir’s mainstream political Parties. On the eve of acceptance of the New Delhi invite, Ms Mehboba Mufti after conclusion of the GAKD meeting briefed the media about the decision to participate in the meeting with PM Modi on 24th June with a caveat that if India is talking to Talibans then New Delhi has to talk to all political opinions and stakeholders and also to Pakistan. She declared that Kashmiri leaders going for talks will not compromise on the basic demand of restoration of articles 370 & 35-A those were made inoperable on 5th August 2019.

Political pundits in Pakistan and Kashmir people know that Modi’s Government will not restore the pre-August 2019 legal status in Kashmir; Modi might be open to a pragmatic definition of what constitutes a ‘conducive environment in Kashmir, and blend the hot pursuit against the terrorists with a political process by holding an election at the end of the year 2021 and eventually restoring J&K’s statehood.

Delhi has initiated the political engagement with the leaders of Jammu and Kashmir for the first time since the state was bifurcated in August 2019, In the last couple of weeks, well before Delhi announced its outreach, Islamabad went into a diplomatic overdrive on the basis of an orchestrated rumours to draw the world’s attention to what it claimed as India’s “new plans” to further divide Jammu and Kashmir. That is how Pakistan pursues her flawed diplomacy.

In the past, it was Pakistan that kept India at tenterhooks on Kashmir. It is now Pakistan’s turn to face an astute and robust India. In the last few years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to restructure India’s Pakistan policy, including on Kashmir. Many have questioned the merits of his policy, but he has certainly dusted the script that had been in place for India-Pakistan relations for decades.

Peeved with Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism and proxy war since the early 1990s, Delhi’s mood swung violently between pushing the peace process and getting into a political sulk after every major terror attack. Delhi inevitably returned to peace talks after a brief interval. That is Modi’s typical diplomatic mantra.

Modi initially was eager to gain the initiative in the complex diplomatic/political/military dynamic with Pakistan. Modi’s decisions to begin his first term in May 2014 by inviting then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony and landing at the end of 2015 on a few hours’ notice at Nawaz Sharif’s family home outside Lahore. Such goodwill gestures were accompanied by Delhi’s refusal to accept visiting Pakistani dignitaries meeting Kashmiri separatists in India.

In the wake of the Pulwama terror attack in February 2019, Modi ordered the Indian Air Force to carry out a raid on a terror camp at Balakot in Pakistan. Pakistan’s response the next day led to the first aerial combat between the two air forces. The PM had a bigger surprise when he returned to power in 2019 with a bigger majority in the Lok Sabha. In August that year, he got Parliament’s approval for making Article 370 inoperable and changing the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, separating Ladakh from it, and declaring the two entities as union territories.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, expressed both surprise and shocked. After Imran Khan had publicly rooted for Modi in the 2019 elections, by saying that a strong Indian leader would be better placed to deliver peace. An angry Pakistan turned to diplomacy rather than force in putting India in the dock. While China, Pakistan’s ally and a party to the Kashmir question, sought UNSC intervention, Delhi blocked the move with support from France, Russia and the US. Pakistan also drew a blank at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

As tempers cooled by late 2020, India and Pakistan announced a ceasefire on the Line of Control in February. In March, army chief, General Qamar Jawed Bajwa, called for a reorientation of Pakistan’s national strategy away from “geopolitics” to “geo-economics”, and underlined the importance of good neighborly relations with Afghanistan and India.

While Kashmir is now on the bilateral agenda, Pakistan has a big problem. India’s August 2019 move in Kashmir is stuck in Pakistan’s political throat. It can neither swallow it nor spit it out. Pakistan’s current Kashmir debate is about finding a way out.

In his March speech on geo-economics, Bajwa had talked about the importance of India creating a “conducive environment” in Kashmir for a “meaningful dialogue” between the two nations. While Bajwa has put the onus on India for changing the Kashmir dynamic, the phrase “conducive environment” has enough flexibility to either move forward or walk back to square one. Imran Khan, however, has often shredded that creative ambiguity by insisting on the full reversal of India’s August 2019 decisions on Kashmir for the resumption of the peace process.

Analysts in Pakistan know that Modi’s Govt will not restore the pre-August 2019 legal status in Kashmir; they might be open to an idea of conducive environment” in Kashmir, by holding an election and eventually restoring J&K’s statehood.

Delhi owes itself a new and mutually acceptable political accord with Kashmir’s political class. India’s success on that front will inevitably and irrevocably alter the terms of India’s engagement with Pakistan on Kashmir. It is a settled narrative when Kashmiris are with India; Pakistani so-called rant on Kashmir fails. Therefore it is imperative that hearts and minds of all the stakeholders including exiled population has to be won over by New Delhi especially by Modi Government. PM Modi’s all-party meeting is a huge opportunity for Kashmiri leaders to build better future for people. 

(To be continued…)

(Author is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, Chairman-Kashmir (Policy and Strategy) Group. Feedback: [email protected])

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