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September 20, 2016

Opportunity in adversity


September 20, 2016

The last two months have drastically changed the socio-political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir, bringing India and Pakistan to a confrontational mode. However, the resistance struggle inside Kashmir has established certain facts, which have created space for fresh thinking aimed to find a political solution of the longstanding issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

The upsurge as well as people’s resilience to face and resist suppression was unprecedented; particularly a deep involvement of the new generation in the conflict and the defiance showed by them. This has established that the unattended and unresolved Kashmir conflict has the potential to flare up time and again. The extraordinary use of the state apparatus to maintain control has exhausted its utility.

In fact, the current status quo does not offer any solution to the issue. Besides, the circumstances are suffocating, as aptly described by Basharat Peer in his recent interview to this newspaper. Permanent normalcy cannot be restored without making major changes in the current political and territorial settings.

The popular support for the resistance movement is beyond any doubt. Its indigenous character has widely been recognized across the world. Not even single credible evidence is cited to establish Pakistan as sponsoring the present uprising in Kashmir.

Despite the curfew and the pointless killings, people are defiant and not willing to concede. Traders, students, young people and political leaders unanimously maintain that if they yield they will not be able to pitch a strong fight to New Delhi in near future.

Apparently, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference calls the shots but for all practical purposes the young generation of Kashmir has taken charge of the current movement and responsibility for providing leadership.

The current spell of violence and protests narrowed the political space for the ruling People Democratic Party (PDP) to a great extent. Some observers publicly state that the PDP and its chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, are the major political casualty of today’s upsurge. If the current protests do not die down soon, it might leave Mehbooba with no other option than to step down. New Delhi might have to impose Governor’s Rule which may further complicate the situation.

Dialogue has been badly discredited. APHC leaders such as Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who had several rounds of talks with the Indian leadership, now refuse to get engaged in any such initiative. Syed Ali Gilani, who often takes hard-line positions, has emerged as a consensus leader of the resistance.

Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik are in prison where they were not even allowed to offer Eid prayers, let alone run political activities. In this context, the angry young generation, who is fully charged and alienated, is tilting towards radical political ideologies but who cares.

The last two and a half months have placed Kashmir not only back in Pakistani media headlines but have also again made it the focus of the decision-making process. Interestingly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who himself is an ethnic Kashmiri, has taken a very tough stance regarding Kashmir. In Islamabad, one can hardly find any difference between the political and military leadership regarding support to the Kashmir cause.

Some ex-diplomats even argue that supporting an armed struggle in Kashmir is not illegal. Islamabad seems to not be in much hurry to initiate any kind of dialogue with India. The route to resumption of dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi runs through Srinagar, as a senior government official told this writer.

It is a bitter truth that the international community has not paid much attention to the worsening Kashmir situation so far. The champions of human rights and civil liberties have largely kept mum over curfew, use of pellet guns and incessant killings. Even the Western media has not played its traditional role to highlight the suffering of the people, what to talk about exposing state repression. Despite all efforts, Islamabad was not able to garner reasonable international support.

The indifferent attitude exhibited by the BJP government indicates its political approach, priorities and strategy on Kashmir. It seems New Delhi is not going to initiate an unconditional dialogue process with the people of Kashmir or Pakistan, no matter what price they have to pay for this.

Dialogue over Kashmir runs contrary to the BJP’s political ideology and spirit. As often mentioned, domestic politics shapes the foreign policy agenda. The BJP does not want to display a conciliatory tone, fearing it may be interpreted as a sign of weakness by its opponents.

This hardening stance and posturing might lead to a human rights crisis, as no party is willing to budge from their stated positions. The people of Kashmir have witnessed prolonged curfews, immense bloodshed and unprecedented state oppression over the past few months and there is no hope insight for a return to normalcy.

The question that arises here is that how to break the current logjam and bring parties back to the negotiating table. There is no denying the fact that the onus is now on New Delhi. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to take confidence-building measures, leading to the initiation of the resumption of the comprehensive peace process to find a lasting political solution of Kashmir issue.

To begin with, an apology or at minimum, a regret over the loss of lives could be expressed promising to conduct an independent and impartial inquiry in order to establish an objective assessment of the situation by New Delhi can be an ice breaking step.

In the absence of the back channel, only national security advisers have mandate to engage with each other. The upcoming Saarc conference offers an opportunity to turn a new chapter in the history of bilateral relations.

Prime Minister Modi should not miss this opportunity to explore avenues for peace in the region. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif can use United Nations General Assembly’s platform to invite Modi to visit Pakistan and initiate a meaningful and result-oriented dialogue with Pakistani and Kashmiri representatives, particularly with the Hurriyat Conference later this month.

The zero-sum game is neither in the interest of the people of Kashmir nor those of India and Pakistan.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]