The Kashmir imbroglio poses a multi-faceted challenge to our polity trapped in an increasingly polarised discourse that’s oxygen for separatists in the Valley. In turn, religio-cultural nationalism finding echo elsewhere, including Jammu, feeds as much on the Kashmiri chants for azadi.
If not politically doused, the indigenous nature of the Kashmiri rebellion could outshout pro-India voices in the border state. Besides parties such as the PDP, the National Conference and the Congress, its consequences would be deleterious as much for India’s Kashmir diplomacy.
It’s déjà vu in many ways on the diplomatic front! The events are a throwback to the 1990s when New Delhi had its back against the wall; Islamabad sermonizing it to create “climate that’s propitious for talks.” Another oft-repeated Pakistani argument those days was: There can’t be business as usual with India so long as there are human rights violations in Kashmir.
Against this backdrop, the January 1-3, 1994 foreign secretary-level talks ran into unprecedented Pakistani intransigence. So much so that the newly elected Benazir Bhutto regime refused to affirm possibility of the next round of talks--despite New Delhi making a break from the past to flag Kashmir among the issues on the table.
“I think it has become something like those days,” agreed SK Lambah, India’s envoy to Pakistan during the period. “Then it (the militancy) was Pak-sponsored; now it’s Pak-supported.”
If the ostensibly homegrown upsurge--with which elements in Pakistan are desperate to identify--strikes deeper roots, Islamabad’s artful “moral, political and diplomatic” formulation that camouflages its sinful support of cross-border terror, could gain credence with the international community. It’s the worst-case scenario needing pre-emption through dialogue within—such as the 2006 round-table the moderate Hurriyat chose not to attend.
“We can’t afford not to communicate with an entire generation of youth in the Valley,” noted another Pakistan expert seeking anonymity. “It’s Kashmir’s intifada (a term used for the Palestinian uprising against Israel). Qualitatively it’s worse. Unlike in the 1990s, we cannot entirely blame it on Pakistan,” he argued.
The Centre has done well by reaching out to the Opposition Congress and the National Conference that have legislative presence in the state. But the dialogue has to be taken forward in a structured manner, bringing as many disaffected stakeholders in its ambit as possible.
In fact, the talks, if and when they happen, could draw from the ideologically-divergent two-party coalition’s Common Minimum Programme (CMP). There should be no dispute over its text that commits the BJP to Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in the Constitution, or the preamble that reads: “The PDP and BJP have entered into a governance alliance based on an agreement and agenda which is an effort towards seeking a national reconciliation on Kashmir…”
A pre-requisite for “reconciliation” to become even fleetingly real would be an all-party consensus on a restrained discourse in the upcoming assembly polls. For the talking points clogging airwaves these days are divisive: terror strikes in Bangladesh, Zakir Naik’s salafist influence on Muslims; alleged Hindu exodus from Kairana, AMU’s minority character, Common Civil Code and the Kashmiri upsurge.
If it reworks its political idiom, the BJP can, in tandem with other pro-India parties, calm down the Kashmiri youth. The choices before it run counter to its majoritarian appeal, very much dove-tailed to which is its historical position on Kashmir.
In the crisis lies the opportunity to prevent Kashmir from sliding into another abyss. And win perhaps the trust of Kashmir’s estranged youth--whom Pakistan doesn’t allure the way it used to in Benazir’s 1990s.