Hail Zardari's KashmirSpeak

7 May 2008
Szrla Handoo

Srinagar: Pakistan Peoples Party Co-Chairman, Asif Ali Zardari has come out with a significant statement on Kashmir. The statement assumes added significance since PPP in collaboration with the PML (N) led by Nawaz Sharif forming the government in Pakistan. Mr. Zardari has said that the Kashmir issue should be set aside to focus on other issues for improving relations with India. It shows that there is a growing realization in Pakistan that by making Indo- Pak relations hostage to the resolution of Kashmir issue, the two countries have suffered a great deal in terms of economic development Far from anything else, the subcontinent needs economic development the most and that is possible only if both India and Pakistan take a realistic view of the situation. As far as the ground situation is concerned, there is a perceptible change. The two countries are shedding their old inhibitions to come closer to each other. A lot of ground has been covered in de-freezing the relations. The international border is slowly becoming irrelevant with people from both sides crossing it in good numbers. Pakistani sportsmen, singers, social activists and a host of others are seen in India more frequently than one could ever imagine. So many Pakistanis have visited India for medical treatment in the last a few years. Journalists from the two countries are visiting each other’s country, whenever they wish to. Prisoners in each other’s country are being released at regular intervals. They include the fishermen who trespassed into each other’s territorial waters while fishing in deep sea. Trade is increasing fast. The atmosphere is so relaxed that even during the no holds barred electioneering in Pakistan there was no negative reference to Kashmir by any political party. Zardari’s statement fits well into the scenario and as such needs to be welcomed. One need not be surprised at the way the separatist parties in Kashmir have reacted to Zardari’s statement. Obviously, they expected him to take a tougher stand on Kashmir than his predecessors. Judging by the hardline stand taken by these parties over the issue for decades together it is only natural that they feel let down by the new leadership in Pakistan. At the same time it exposes their lack of understanding of the changing dynamics of Indo- Pak relations. While political parties in Jammu and Kashmir generally welcomed the election results in Pakistan, the National Conference Chief Omar Abdullah feels that an opportunity has been lost to settle the Kashmir dispute, since Musharraf was loosing control in Pakistan. Many people, including Omar Abdullah believe that the Kashmir issue could have been resolved during Musharraf’s presidency and once he is off the scene it will be difficult for public leaders to soften the stand taken by Pakistan on the issue all through. That may be true to some extent but can a ticklish issue like Kashmir that has been hanging fire for sixty tears now, be settled overnight? Is it not important for political leadership to carry public opinion with them which takes time? Musharraf did come out with a number of proposals during his presidency to sort out the dispute but we all know he was acting more to hog headlines in the world media rather than working sincerely to resolve the issue. Otherwise, how can one explain his coming out with ‘fresh’ proposals on Kashmir regularly through interviews to the media and at the same time promoting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir? The people of Pakistan have embarked on a mission to remove the control of Army and the Islamist fundamentalists in governance. They have a huge task ahead to restore the independence of the judiciary, which has been shattered by Musharraf by putting the Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry under house arrest and replacing half a dozen judges of the apex court by pliable favourites. Other national institutions including the Election Commission have been mauled beyond recognition. These too have to be restored to their original position if foundations of a true democracy are to be laid in Pakistan. This, indeed, is a huge task. Zardari’s advice is the only way to realize this. The differences between Benazir’s Pakistan Peoples party and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League( N), who had been sworn enemies, have already started surfacing. The two parties seem to have different perceptions on the issue of reinstating the dismissed judges of the Supreme Court. They are also miles away from each other as far as their willingness to work with Musharraf is concerned. If these differences perpetuate, the new Government may face trouble. That indeed will be a big blow to the democratic process in Pakistan. The country thus has huge tasks ahead. These can be achieved only by heeding Zardari’s advice. As far as India is concerned New Delhi desires to resume the peace process with Pakistan. The comprehensive dialogue must be resumed at the earliest to further promote trust between the two countries. Let the thorny issues like Kashmir; remain dormant for the time being. If Pakistan becomes a real democracy, that will lead to closer cooperation between the two countries in a spirit of give and take paving the way for resolution of all outstanding issues, including Kashmir.