Shujaat Bukhari has just written an interesting commentary in this page yesterday on the calling off of the Foreign Secretaries-level talks by India in the wake of High Commissioner of Pakistan meeting the Hurriyat leaders from Kashmir Valley. What followed subsequently across the Line of Control should not be a mere coincidence – the disruption of ceasefire, affecting the regular schedule of the people living along the international border and the LoC.
While the suspension of the talks (let us presume, it is only a suspension, and not a complete calling off) is an important and worrisome issue, there is a bigger issue, that should be safeguarded by every party concerned. As Shujaat Bukhari has explained, the bonhomie between the two countries “had done wonders on re-engagement of people across Line of Control and giving relief to lakhs of people living on the borders.”
Both these achievements, undoubtedly are the biggest breakthroughs in the Indo-Pak context with reference to J&K in the recent decades. The ceasefire despite occasional problems, has been held until now. There were no major disruptions to the people and their livelihood along the border. The “life in bunkers” along the IB and LoC was in the process of becoming history until it erupted now.
Besides the return of normalcy to those villages, India and Pakistan have also agreed and maintained two important cross-LoC interactions through the bus and truck services. Of course, there have been multiple problems vis-a-vis the State and numerous demands by the civil society on both these interactions; however, these two interactions have not been completely disrupted.
Clearly, there are two issues in this context – the larger process between India and Pakistan, and peace in J&K. Despite the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and the subsequent problems with the Indo-Pak dialogue process, the peace initiatives along the LoC and across it remained intact.
Against this backdrop, the present stalemate be analysed. The new government led by Narendra Modi did send the right signal to the region, when it invited the Heads of the State to the inaugural ceremony. The new Prime Minister himself visited Bhutan and Nepal first, before undertaking any other foreign trips. During his Independence Day speech, he underlined need to revitalize the regional process. His Foreign Minister in the recent weeks has visited Bangladesh and Myanmar. The decision to hold Foreign Secretary-level talks is decided during this process, following a meeting between Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif.
How to interpret the cancellation of FS-level talks, amidst the above, which shows a regional push? One explanation could be – the new government is setting its own benchmarks in terms of what is acceptable and what is not. True, the High Commissioner of Pakistan has been meeting the Hurriyat leaders and vice versa, and the previous governments allowed or ignored it. This government considers it as unacceptable. According to a leading English daily, the Foreign Secretary of India did convey the message to the High Commissioner about the cancellation of the FS-level talks, if he goes ahead and meet the Hurriyat leaders.
At the bilateral level, what is clear after the recent episode is the challenge facing the Indo-Pak process in moving ahead. However, this problem in taking the bilateral process should not affect the existing piecemeal peace established during the last decade in J&K.
Given the problems in the bilateral processes between the two countries, what has happened now is nothing new or totally unexpected. The bilateral process has always been chequered and driven by the leadership in both countries. On the other hand the process has always been affected by cross-border/LoC violations and offensives within the Indian territory. If the period between the present government of Sharif in Pakistan, and the previous one in the late 1990s, is to be taken as an example, there were multiple bilateral processes, affected by cross-border violations from Kargil to Mumbai.
Clearly, there are set of actors, especially in Pakistan do not want the political leadership to move at a faster pace and establish peace. Ironically for Pakistan, it was Gen Musharraf who killed the earlier process intiated by Nawaz Sharif with the famous bus diplomacy, later went ahead and made bold initiatives in establishing certain substantial peace initiatives on ground in J&K across the LoC. Though the previous Prime Ministers from India also played a substantial role in those cross-LoC peace initiatives, Musharraf deserves an extra credit to take an extra step.
Based on the violations and slow progress in these cross-LoC initiatives, one could infer that the military successors of Musharraf do not share the same enthusiasm. However, the silver line so far has been, neither Gen Kayani nor Gen Sharif has completely ruptured these cross-LoC initiatives. Now there is a danger to this.
The forthcoming elections to the legislative assembly of J&K have been explained as one of the reasons for the current escalation. The military leadership in Pakistan should ensure that the peace initiatives that are in J&K – across and along the LoC is kept intact. On its part, the Indian political leadership, now has made its redlines clear, should ensure that the process continues to preserve the peace that has been established so far within J&K.
Now to a larger question, can there be peace within J&K, without a successful process between India and Pakistan? There is no need to see these two in an either-or format. Peace along and across the LoC did survive the Mumbai attacks, and its subsequent breakup of the process. Both India and Pakistan can still continue with their slow pace in resuming the dialogue, without affecting whatever has been achieved so far.
In an ideal situation, there has to be a structured, inclusive and time bound process, ultimately resulting in establishing peace. Unfortunately, neither the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan, nor internal developments and civil-military equation within Pakistan has been anywhere closer to an ideal situation.
As the internal political developments within Pakistan are in the process of shaping, with no clear endgame for the major actors within the democratic establishment, Nawaz Sharif is likely to go slow. Added to the problems of TTP, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, he is also yet to stabilize civil-military relationship within Pakistan. The new government in Delhi is in the process of setting its priorities and redlines. Given this backdrop, the process between India and Pakistan is likely to remain crisis prone, at least in the short run. What is important is to ensure that whatever little has been achieved in terms of peace does not get ruptured.
By arrangement with Rising Kashmir