4 June 2005
The Indian Express
New Delhi: There are some foreign policy experts in India who are greatly disturbed by the visit that the moderate faction of the Hurriyat is currently paying to Pakistan. They see it as evidence of the Centre's lack of a coherent Kashmir policy. They are right when they argue that New Delhi should have been more pro-active in engaging with the Hurriyat and maintaining a continuity with the dialogue process that the NDA government had initiated with one faction of the Hurriyat Conference. Having said that, we also need to view the current peregrinations of the Hurriyat team in perspective. First, it follows Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's April visit to this country in which he conceded for the first time the possibility of borders in Kashmir becoming irrelevant. He followed this up with the significant observation that the answer to the Kashmir problem does not lie in a religious solution. Given the fact that the General's observations were bound to ruffle the feathers of the hard-liners in Pakistan, they represented significant concessions. By allowing the Hurriyat to visit Pakistan, India has just given the Pakistan establishment some leeway in effecting an important change of course. There is also a striking symbolism in the visit. Many of these men who are currently visiting Pakistan and speaking about putting an end to violence and wanting to be involved in the peace process, were the very ones that the Pakistan Army had used to stoke the fires of insurgency in J&K in the lost decade of the nineties. Today, their very words are testimony to the changed ambience in J&K, a state that has seen a free and fair election and a significant reduction in the blood-letting. Of course visits of this kind are always a gamble, and of course there will be abrasive moments that will no doubt rankle. But on balance this visit does not compromise New Delhi's position in any significant way. Even the little flurry over proper travel documentation has been straightened out without loss of face. Significantly, leaders like Abdul Ghani Bhat have also indicated in Muzaffarabad that their current programme will be followed by talks with New Delhi. The Centre must take it from there.