April 8th, 2012 10:54 EST
Pakistan`s President Zardari`s Visit to India: Implications for Kashmir Issue
The stage is set for the visit of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who is scheduled to travel to India on April 8. His itinerary as reported in the media indicates that he is scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during a luncheon meeting, before he departs to Ajmer to visit the famous Sufi shrine of Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Though not much progress is expected during this short interaction between the two leaders, Zardari`s visit assumes significance in the backdrop of a series of positive developments in the bilateral relationship.
Particularly Kashmiris would be eagerly watching this visit, given the recent talk of both the countries relegating the Kashmir issue to the backburner, so as to facilitate forward movement in other areas. While the centrality of Kashmir issue to the Indo-Pak relations is something which needs no reiteration, it is equally true that both the sides have used the Kashmir issue, as per their mutual convenience, leaving an ordinary Kashmiri, high and dry.
Given the relatively peaceful 2011 in J&K and a simultaneous decline in the militant violence, an ordinary Kashmiri hopes that both the countries, would find it prudent to discuss the Kashmir issue and take decisive steps for its resolution. In this context, the recent invitations extended by the Pak Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to the Kashmiri separatist leaders of Hurriyat Conference, to visit Pakistan, to discuss the Kashmir issue, is also a welcome step, though similar invitations have been extended earlier also.
While the Pakistani leadership and establishment have reiterated their `moral, diplomatic and political` support to the Kashmiris, it has in reality done not much for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Though India is somewhat reluctant to talk to Hurriyat leadership, particularly the hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani faction, New Delhi has to realize that the longer it avoids talking to Hurriyat, more protracted the resolution of Kashmir issue becomes. Hence, it is imperative that India initiates the dialogue process with the separatist leadership of all hues. The separatists too have realized that in order to remain relevant in the Kashmiri political discourse, they have to show a little flexibility and the recent statements from Hurriyat leaders talking about local development challenges facing Jammu and Kashmir, are indicative of a trend in this regard.
It is in this background that an ordinary Kashmiri is perturbed by the recent media reports which have speculated that both India and Pakistan have decided to put the Kashmir issue on the backburner. If indeed this is the decision by New Delhi and Islamabad, then the repercussions of this would be terrible for an ordinary Kashmiri who was expecting to derive benefits out of the thawing relations between India and Pakistan.
Concomitant to this is the dawn of realization among the younger generation of the Valley, which has seen the worst of militant violence and excesses of state power, that even as the rest of India, is making strides in terms of economic development, their state has seems to be stuck in a time warp. This generation has realized that it can no longer this kind of life. Though there is a general disdain towards politics in most of the Valley youth that has not prevented them from venting their anger and frustration on social networking sites like Facebook.
While there are many vested interest groups, who would like to have a status quo on the Kashmir issue, one has to discern the fact that a meaningful resolution of the Kashmir issue, would play a significant role in bringing durable peace between the two South Asian neighbors and more importantly to the lives of ordinary Kashmiris. While there are many militant groups in Pakistan/PoK who keep on reiterating that they would not rest till they bring Freedom to Kashmir People.
Though there are no immediate indications or signals coming from either New Delhi or Islamabad that whether or not Kashmir issue will be discussed during Dr. Singh-Zardari meeting, it is imperative that both leaders pay cognizance to the feelings of Kashmiris. Though both the countries may prefer to talk about other issues which define the relationship, it is important to understand the fact that people in the Valley, are tired of instability in Kashmir and want to live a life which is full of economic prosperity and peaceful environment.
Pertinently the statement of J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in the J&K Assembly also needs a mention. Although Abdullah had only suggested to have a fresh look at confidence building measures related to Kashmir which according to him would boost cross-LoC trade and travel, it is noteworthy that the mainstream leadership in the Valley to does not want to put the Kashmir issue on backburner. For both the countries, this meeting presents an opportunity to move ahead on Kashmir issue. Who knows that a forward movement on Kashmir may bridge trust deficit between the two countries and Kashmir can become the foundation on which the rest of the bilateral relationship flourishes.
(This article by Adil Akhzer was first published on www.countercurrents.org).