Good idea, bad timing in Kashmir: India missed the bus

Germany’s diplomatic initiative to use a grand cultural event in Kashmir as a sign of solidarity with its emerging strategic partner India, while maintaining its official position on the state as ‘disputed territory’ is a good move at a bad time.

delhi Updated: Sep 06, 2013 12:11 IST
Padma Rao Sundarji
Padma Rao Sundarji
Hindustan Times

Germany's diplomatic initiative to use a grand cultural event in Jammu & Kashmir as a decisive sign of solidarity with its emerging strategic and economic partner India, while maintaining its official position on the state as 'disputed territory' is a good move at a bad time.

Just over two years ago and for the first time in decades, the Kashmir Valley wore a fresh face. Tourist arrivals - 13 lakh in two years - broke records, there were 23 flight arrivals and departures every day.

"Protecting guests is not only our moral obligation but an article of faith," Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani had written in an open letter to tourists. Infiltration was down, the state economy was up, curfews were relaxed and army presence scaled down in urban areas.

A growing distrust of Pakistan due to its global notoriety was palpable; even hawks sheathed their talons and spoke of 'azadi' - albeit ill-defined - but not 'secession' The message was clear: if New Delhi played ball, Kashmir was game to enter into serious dialogue.

If the forthcoming concert of western classical music by Zubin Mehta slated Saturday had been held at the time, it would have been Berlin's masterstroke in more ways than one. Given the mellow mood, it would have allowed the organizers - the German embassy - but importantly its local logistical partner, the state government -to ease security and wager a free concert for all, not for a handpicked elite clutch.

But for reasons which have nothing to do with Germany and all to do with 'policy paralysis', Delhi failed to cease the moment. Predictably, SAS Geelani has declared that the Saturday concert will convey that all is well in the 'occupied state'. Some Kashmiri writers invited by the embassy have, in the interim, expressed regrets.

In an impassioned appeal to Kashmiris on Wednesday, German ambassador Michael Steiner assured them that the concert is a 'purely cultural one and does not alter the political position of Germany and the EU on Kashmir".

Many ordinary Kashmiris are indifferent towards the event as long as they can go about their businesses. But the J&K police says it will slam a curfew if there are disturbances to the party on the Dal.

Mr Steiner also promises now that the concert has the 'potential to make the world to look at the complex realities of Kashmir'. In reality, thousands of irate citizens will wait out the road blocks behind closed doors while global TV viewers will gaze not at them but at the beautiful extravaganza by a moonlit lake.

To New Delhi, any initiative that indicates an acceptance of J&K as a sovereign state of India can only be welcome. But at least when investors express serious interest in the northern state, it will be plain-speak and not a diplomatic forked tongue, that the emerging economy India will demand from its trade partners. For Germany, in many ways India's natural partner, that day ought to have been on Wednesday.

(The author is senior South Asia correspondent for various German media houses)

First Published: Sep 05, 2013 23:46 IST