Friday, 10 July 2009

It is time to talk

It is time to talk
Dr Shabir Choudhry 10 July 2009

Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh are due to meet next week in Sharm El Sheikh, Egyptian Red Sea resort. Before their meeting Foreign Secretaries of the both countries will meet to work out a mechanism to kick start the peace process which became causality of the Mumbai carnage perpetrated by terrorists in November 2008.

True, it is time to talk, as that is the only way to resolve disputes and build bridges of trust and confidence. Both countries had many rounds of talks in the past, but have failed to make substantive progress on core issues; however they have made some progress on insignificant issues, although they have their own importance and can help to create conducive environment to resolve bigger disputes.

In fact, on some disputes both countries have been talking since 1947, as is the case with the Kashmir dispute; and with time the dispute gets more and more complicated. We people of Jammu and Kashmir want honourable and dignified solution to the dispute and that is no where in sight. It appears that both countries talk on Kashmir for sake of talks, and not to resolve this dispute.

Apart from that, approach of both countries to resolve the Kashmir dispute is erroneous and out of step with reality. They have treated the Kashmir dispute as a territorial one; whereas the dispute is related to fundamental rights of more than 17 million people, which include our most cherished and inalienable right of self determination.

The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh and President of Pakistan, Asif Zardari met in Russia on 16 June 2009; and in that meeting it was agreed that Foreign Secretaries of both countries should talk to agree on a mechanism to re start the stalled talks. It must be noted that the meeting was only a side show, held when the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Yekaterinburg was taking place, where both these leaders were present as Observers.

While referring to the meeting in Sharam El Sheikh, Pakistani Foreign Office Spokesman Abdul Basit in his weekly press briefing told journalists in Islamabad that, "We are going with an open mind and hope that the composite dialogue is resumed. We are going to be meeting with a constructive and a positive mind."

It is good to note that they intend to go there with ‘open mind’ and ‘positive mind’. But it makes people think with what kind of mind they used to attend the previous meetings and summits. Moreover what are they going to talk; and how their talk is going to be different to previous talks?

They make lofty claims to end terrorism - fight it tooth and nail, and normalise bilateral relations; but at the same time make plans to promote terrorism in a different geographical location. On one end talks were going on and Indian Prime Minister was received in Lahore where he made epoch making speech and wished to make a new start in South Asia; on the other hand plans to sabotage that process were being finalised in GHQ of Pakistan.
The ‘composite dialogue’ which continued for four years did not produce any tangible results. This resulted in frustration in some quarters; and some sections of the Pakistani establishment were expressing their disappointment and there was even some talk of revival of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. In Pakistani Administered Kashmir old training camps were being prepared to resume the old job.

Despite the fight against militants in Pakistan, very reliable reports from the local people reveal that militant activities along the LOC, especially in Neelam Valley has increased. This will ultimately result in more problems for the people of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the LOC. It appears for some sections of the Pakistani establishment, militant activities in Kashmir are still jihad; and it is terrorism only when bombs go off inside Pakistan.

Last year Mumbai terrorist attacks stunned many, both inside India and outside. Many feared Indian reprisals which could have escalated in to wider military confrontation. Thank God, common sense prevailed and matters did not get out of hand. However this terrorist act, which is believed to have been carried out by Lashker e Taiba, was more than enough to prematurely end the ‘composite dialogue’.

Lashker e Taiba and other terrorist outfits are alleged to have close working relationship with Pakistan’s elite secret agency. Indian claim is that LeT could not have carried out such a sophisticated mission without logistic help and support from this agency. Pakistan on the other hand denies the allegation and strongly asserts that they are also victim of terrorism and are fighting terrorism at home.

Now there is urgent need to start the dialogue process; and this realisation that dialogue must be given another chance is on both sides of the divide. Other friendly countries or those who have stake in peace and stability in the region are also urging both countries to resume the peace process.

The Americans once again feel that in order to eradicate terrorism and win war in Afghanistan, they need to pay some attention to the Kashmir dispute. America’s new Ambassador to New Delhi Timothy Roemer, while replying to Senate Foreign Relations Panel said: “I think it has been an extremely sensitive hotspot for the world and for the region, where we've almost experienced thermonuclear war on several occasions”.

He further said: “It is a delicate and sensitive issue… We would diplomatically encourage that the Pakistanis and the Indians first of all improve their relationship, their ties, their trade, their exchanges, to foster peace and more prosperity in that area between their two countries. Secondly, I think it's important to try to make sure that, where we can, in front of the scenes, behind the scenes, through diplomatic channels, encourage them to talk about this issue and hopefully resolve it between their two countries.”

Whereas I welcome the resumption of the peace process, both countries need to understand that they can resolve all their bilateral issues with this dialogue, but they will never be able to resolve the Kashmir dispute by bilateral talks. People of Jammu and Kashmir are principal party and the most suffering party; and until they are not part of the peace process there will never be any satisfactory solution to the Kashmir dispute and peace in the region.

While they are working out a new mechanism for the resumption of the peace process, they need to do take following points in mind:

1. Bilateral talks should lead to some kind of trilateral talks that people of Jammu and Kashmir are also engaged in the peace process;

2. Intra Kashmir dialogue representing all regions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir should be encouraged and facilitated that some understanding could be reached among them with regard to the future of the State; and that they can select their representatives who can take part in the dialogue to protect and promote interest of the people;

3. Concrete steps should be taken to reduce and eradicate violence and terrorism on both sides of the LOC that suffering of the people could come to an end;

4. And for this purpose terrorists and terrorist infrastructure must be uprooted both from Pakistani Administered Kashmir/ Gilgit and Baltistan and Indian Administered Kashmir that no terrorist action could jeopardise the pace process.

5. Army presence in Kashmir should be reduced that people are not intimidated and their rights are not trampled.

Writer is a Spokesman of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:

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