Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Kashmir has been low on expectations, it has not detracted from the seriousness of the fresh engagement between India and Pakistan. And which hopefully is expected to get a further boost during the upcoming meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries. Both S M Krishna and Shah Mahmood Qureshi have once again, a chance to transcend the accumulated bitterness and nudge the two countries on a path of renewed engagement and conciliation. The task is not easy. Certain new complexities have crept in.
Behind them still is the lingering hangover of the diplomatic freeze that followed Sharme-el-Shiekh agreement last year. PM Singh had to back out of the agreement to restart dialogue following the backlash in India against talking to Islamabad without any demonstrative progress in the action against the perpetrators of Mumbai attack. The subsequent contacts between the two countries have thrown up further challenges. The differences have cropped up over a number of issues, some of these of relatively recent nature. Pakistan has started talking more about the issue of water. In fact, the country has asked
New Delhi not to undertake the construction of any more power projects on the rivers in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, Pakistan has also started bringing in Afghanistan in the exchanges with India. India is being accused of trying to encircle Pakistan by creating a western front against the country. New Delhi, on the other hand, continues to focus on terror as the core issue. The country’s most important demand for Pakistan is to act against terror and dismantle the militant infrastructure in Pakistan administered Kashmir. Kashmir, though looming, over-archingly, over the relations between the two countries has meanwhile been relegated to the background. The Prime Minister’s recent visit to the state only further sealed this fact. His speech was a regurgitation of the old and rehearsed lines on Kashmir.
There is a lot that has happened since the time dialogue between the two countries was interrupted following Musharraf’s exit and subsequently by Mumbai attack. The two countries have returned to their age-old positions on the disputes, particularly Kashmir. Pakistan no longer talks about a Kashmir solution on the lines of Musharraf’s four point proposals. And the degree of the mutual confidence that existed during the later part of Musharraf’s tenure has given way to a deep sense of distrust. And meeting against this bleak context, Krishna and Qureshi have a massive job at hand. That is, they have to not only make possible a new sustainable process of dialogue but also reverse the environment of mutual recrimination and distrust.
This is more important considering the fact that it is after a long time that both the countries are ruled by the democratic dispensations with almost three years of their current tenures left. And this means that the dialogue if sustained through the treacherous turns of the sub-continental politics is likely to succeed. There is already a huge body of diplomatic work on Kashmir between the two countries that can be built upon and taken to the logical conclusion. But of course, sooner or later the Indo-Pak dialogue needs to be integrated with a robust Kashmir initiative for its enduring success.