The successful conclusion of the third Jammu and Kashmir roundtable has shown how systematically and carefully Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is proceeding on the subject of resolving the Kashmir dispute. The aim of the exercise was to put together all shades of political opinion, from the many sub-regions of the state, along with state and Union government officials, in a setting where a free and fair exchange of ideas could take place. The result is that we have a constructive exercise that has advanced ideas on promoting cross-border linkages, as well as set in motion policies that will benefit the average Kashmiri. The discussions centred around the recommendations of four working groups that had been set up in the last roundtable in May 2006. If implemented they could lead to the restoration of normal life for the average citizen of the insurgency-battered state. Other recommendations are aimed at enhancing cross-border linkages as part of the effort to resolve the dispute with Pakistan. Some of the work requires action by the state government, some by the Centre, and yet others jointly by India and Pakistan.
We need to be clear that the roundtable has yet to deal with the crucial issue of ‘autonomy’ or ‘self-governance’ or, to use the officialese, “Centre-State Relations”. The fifth working group led by Justice S. Saghir Ahmad is yet to come up with its recommendations. Being the most contentious of the issues, its task is bound to be complicated. But it is also critical to the roundtable process. But as Singh said, it would be wrong to pre-judge their efforts.
The Prime Minister has done the right thing by putting in perspective issues relating to the behind-the-scenes dialogue with Pakistan on J&K. Because it is confidential, it has given rise to several rumours. The PM has bluntly pointed out that the remarks from Pakistan “do not give the correct picture”, and that ought to set at rest speculation that a deal on Kashmir is imminent. To underscore that remark, he also added that “lasting peace will not come through instant deals”. Both countries have a lot of homework to do before they can restore peace and tranquillity in J&K. But this can only be done incrementally and without the passion associated with the issue.