Core issue not core of talks

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Three wars and 60 years gone by but Indian and Pakistan have focused attention on solving Kashmir only twice despite a long history of dialogues. It may still be a long while before relations between them are “normalized” to an extent that the principle reason of the animosity, a divided Kashmir, reaches a stage of final disposal. Iftikhar Gilani sketches the trajectory of Indo-Pak dialogue.

Despite the issue of Jammu and Kashmir bedeviling relations between India and Pakistan and source of three wars, experts believe that over 60 years, the “core issue” was discussed “substantively” with an eye on final settlement, only twice, between, 1953-54 and later during 2004-06.
Just days after the arrest of Sheikh Mohamamd Abdullah on August 9, 1953, fearing unrest in Kashmir Valley, archival records show Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru met his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Muhammad Ali Bogra.

The two leaders emphasized  that this dispute would be settled in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiri’s by a fair and impartial plebiscite, the plebiscite administrator should be appointed by the end of April 1954, the preliminary issues that had so far held up progress towards a plebiscite should be decided and actions in implementation thereof should be taken, and with this object in view, committees of military and other experts should be appointed to advise the two Prime.

Ministers and progress could only be made if there was an atmosphere of peace and cooperation between the two countries.
After this meeting, both prime ministers exchanged 27 letters and  telegrams. But in 1954, when Nehru was assured that Kashmiri anger in the wake of arrest of Sheikh has been controlled, he refused to abide by the commitment. He blamed Pakistan for wreaking direct talks by entering into a USA-led alliance in May 1954.

“It is with profound regret that I have been led to the conclusion that our talks regarding Kashmir have failed,” he concluded his letter saying, “I hope and pray that the conscience and wisdom of men may yet perceive the great injustice and dangers inherent in the continuance of this disastrous dispute.”
Though, India and Pakistan continued their talks, but more about negotiating to establish normal relations after hostilities. The engagement led to a paradigm shift when AtalBihari Vajpayee travelled to Islamabad in January 2004, who alongwith Pervez Musharraf opened a window to seek final resolution of Kashmir issue.  

During 2005 at the height ofthe peace process, both sides exchanged non-papers on Kashmir, stipulating their positions, as well as red lines.
At the end of Foreign Secretary level talks held in  New Delhi, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran admitted that both sides discussed Jammu and Kashmir “substantively”  almost after half-a-century. Though, he did not disclose contours of the solution, his approach paper (he later released after retirement) and Musharraf’s four-point formula had already set the pigeons out.

A joint statement issued after that meeting said the two Foreign Secretaries had a detailed exchange of views on Jammu & Kashmir and agreed to continue the sustained to find a peaceful and negotiated final settlement.

Five years down the line, which saw dialogue interrupting first due to July 2006 train bombings, and later in November 2008 terrorist attack in commercial capital Mumbai, on eve of the visit of Pakistan’s young and first woman Foreign Minister HinaRabbaniKhar, India says, it was ready to “pick up threads”. But, officials in New Delhi maintain that their hunch was that Pakistan was not ready to hold these threads,  the way Musharaf had sewed them, pointing out that Islamabad has returned to old “rhetoric” of implementing UN Resolutions to exercise right to self-determination.

“This is unacceptable and undesirable,” say Indian officials. But, in the same breath, officials participating in the talks, say the progress on Jammu and Kashmir will take a time now, as they were looking forward to put in place “modest steps” and attempt to set up contacts and trust at institutional levels, before taking up the issue again “substantively”.

ForeignSecretary NirupamaRao recently said the “prism” through which Pakistan sees terrorism “has definitely been altered”.

“I think when they speak of the fact that non-state elements in this relationship need to be tackled, we must look at safe havens and sanctuaries, that we must look at fake currency, we must look at all the aspects that are concerned with the business of terror, I think that is a concrete development.”

However, Rao also laid stressed that India should not be expecting dramatic breakthroughs in just one or two round of talks. Rejecting the notion that India has softened its stand on terrorism, official sources emphasized on building the relationship as well while seeking steps to deal with the core concern of terrorism.

Ahead of ministerial talks on Wednesday, officials on both sides have lined up some cross-Line of Control (LoC) confidence building measures (CBMs) to boost trade and travel within the divided state.But they are not ready to discuss  Jammu and Kashmir “substantively”.

(Iftikhar Gilani works with Tehelka group of newspapers)

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