Thaw In The Valley

18 November 2009
Times of India


New Delhi: Union home minister P Chidambaram had hinted some weeks ago that the government wanted to discuss Kashmir with the concerned parties outside the glare of media. Track II initiatives involving senior Indian and Pakistani officials are currently on in Bangkok. Indian officials and a section of the Hurriyat Conference have met in New Delhi though details of the discussions have been held back from the public. The intricate matrix of Kashmir talks involves representatives of New Delhi, Islamabad, and a section of the Kashmiri separatists. The political mainstream in the Valley and separatist groups working outside the Hurriyat platform are also contributing to the climate of debate by espousing their views in public forums in J&K. The separatist opinion in the Valley too has started to unravel. The Mirwaiz faction of the Hurriyat hopes that a tripartite dialogue involving New Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar is possible and could pave the way for a New Delhi-Srinagar pact endorsed by Islamabad. The contours of such a pact, it believes, could be worked out of General Pervez Musharraf's four-point proposal to resolve the Kashmir dispute. A radical section of the Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani is opposed to talks with New Delhi. The only solution acceptable to them seems to be a merger with Pakistan. A third section has revived the idea of an independent J&K. The political mainstream including the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party have come up with their own proposals arguing for various levels of autonomy to the state. However, it must be clear to everyone that a solution to the Kashmir issue has to be worked out without necessitating a change in the present national boundaries. Also, New Delhi and Islamabad can't be expected to accept any dilution of sovereignty over their territory. Similarly, the call to return to the pre-1953 status of Jammu and Kashmir is a non-starter, simply because the world has changed a lot since then. Institutional linkages built between Srinagar and New Delhi can't be undone even though these can be transformed to make the relations between the J&K state and the Indian Union truly federal. The focus of a political solution should be the demilitarisation of the region. This could happen simultaneously with the creation of reasonably open borders between Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. Trade and travel must be made easier so that trust is built between governments and populations across borders. The current dialogue process, hopefully, will help realise some of these achievable goals.