In a letter addressing the Indian PM as “Modi Sahab”, Prime Minister Imran Khan suggested a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries to resume the stalled dialogue at the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meeting. Among many issues, he categorically mentioned the Jammu and Kashmir dispute as an important subject that will be included in the talks.
To the surprise of the international community, New Delhi cancelled the scheduled meeting between Sushma Swaraj and Shah Mehmood Qureshi in New York, clearly proving that normalization of relations is not a priority for India. The call-off was attributed by India to the killing of three special police officers in Kashmir by ‘Pakistan-based entities’ and the release of the Burhan Wani postage stamps.
Though these ‘non-significant’ events contributed to the fizzling out of the bilateral dialogue process; in reality, the relationship is beholden to the strategic deadlock over Kashmir. At the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the two Foreign Ministers exchanged substandard language towards one another.
A lasting solution to Kashmir issue is based on five ‘C’s: compassion, communication, coexistence, confidence building, and consistency.
Indian External Affairs Minister in her speech blamed ‘Pakistan’s behavior’ for cancelling the pre-scheduled talks, while Pakistani Foreign Minister asserted in his speech, Unsettled Kashmir issue remains a “blot on conscience of humanity”. Pakistan’s FM’s speech was hailed as a comprehensive address in Pakistan, Sushma Swaraj’s UNGA address failed to impress Shashi Tharoor, former Indian Minister for the state of External Affairs.
Tharoor reacted “We get the sense that everything is about the political environment in India and this was a speech aimed at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voters and sending a message to them particularly on subject of Pakistan rather than constructing a positive and constructive image of India in the world,”. Allegations and counter-allegations by both the neighboring countries have vitiated the atmosphere to such an extent that it is not possible to pursue a composite dialogue process.
It is clear that the new Government of Imran Khan is looking to re-strengthen and rework the dialogue process, India is not ready to shed its status quo stance over the Kashmir impasse. To achieve great power status, India must first revise its approach toward Pakistan. As India is poised to take a major leap with big power ambitions, it needs to transcend regional challenges such as the Kashmir dispute.
Already, Sino-India rifts exist over various geopolitical calculations in South Asia, including Afghanistan, this will have huge repercussions for regional security. Expansion of China’s military power is helping Pakistan with military modernization programs to not only position itself in South Asia but also looking toward repositioning on the world stage. Hence, India must grant Pakistan some solid concessions rather than pursuing a strategic isolationist approach.
Pakistan armed with a sizeable nuclear arsenal and a battle-hardened army is not an enemy India can afford. PM Modi must follow the Kashmir policy crafted by late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee’s endorsement of the dialogue process on Kashmir must be revived to craft a tangible Pakistan policy.
India should take advantage of the changing dynamics of Pakistan’s civil-military relationship since Prime Minister Imran Khan shares candid relations with the Army.
Vajpayee was credited for reshaping the traditional structure of India’s foreign policy and rebuilding its relationship with neighboring countries. In 2003, he gave the slogan of ‘’Insaaniyat (humanity), Jamhooriyat (democracy) Kashmiriyat (culture of Kashmir)’’ for restoring peace in the valley. The slogan became famously known as ‘Vajpayee Doctrine”, which was invoked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech to the nation in August, 2018.
Former Chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and PM Vajpayee’s adviser on Kashmir Affairs A.S. Dulat in his book, ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’ narrates, “Vajpayee era was the most fruitful and productive time in Kashmir. It was a time when the foundation for future peace was laid down”.
In spite of the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, both nations came back to the negotiating table, when Vajpayee visited Islamabad in early 2004 by signaling his desire for sustainable dialogue. PM Modi needs to relinquish his muscular policy to settle the Kashmir predicament and New Delhi must recognize its role in creating the alienation and trauma among the Kashmiris.
The hard-line Doval doctrine on Kashmir must be abjured, and the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s soft line approach on Kashmir Policy must be endorsed and encouraged by the government. Singh, last year in a four-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, told reporters that a lasting solution to Kashmir issue is based on five ‘C’s: compassion, communication, coexistence, confidence building, and consistency.
To put forward the approach he appointed former chief of the Indian Intelligence Bureau, Dineshwar Sharma as interlocutor on Kashmir on October 23. Later, on May 17, 2018, Rajnath Singh’s Home Ministry took the decision that security forces will not conduct offensive operations in J&K during the holy month of Ramazan.
Thereafter, he pushed for the extension of the ceasefire, but the Prime Minister decided to end it following strong opposition from his National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Army Chief Bipin Rawat. PM Modi seemed to be least concerned about the fact that India is losing the faith of Kashmiris in the midst of brutal military operations in the valley.
Expansion of China’s military power is helping Pakistan with military modernization programs to not only position itself in South Asia, but also looking toward repositioning on the world stage.
Alienation and simmering discontent among Kashmiris remain un-addressed both by the Kashmiri leadership and the New Delhi government, consequently, the separatist movement has shifted its narrative from being anti-government to Anti-India. Thus, the net result from muscular policies pursued by New Delhi is further frustration in the valley, so much so that the call for Azadi has, even more so, become a common slogan in the protests.
Therefore, Prime Minister Modi must make genuine efforts in the line of Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh to bring the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders to the table for talks that may lead to the sharp decline in militancy-related casualties. Even the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) imposed on Valley needs to be relaxed in order to undertake confidence-building measures.
Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act is a ruthless draconian law given its implications in the valley. The Act touted by the military as indispensable to maintain the internal security situation in the valley, is actually used extensively by the military personnel in detaining, harassing, and killing civilians based on sheer suspicion or sometimes just on the whims and fancies of the forces.
Even Hurriyat leaders of the valley decry Modi government’s hard-line stance on AFSPA and for breaking away from the legacy of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. New Delhi must revive backchannel discussions and direct dialogues with the APHC leadership about the questions of political representations or else constant separatist movements in the valley will continue to contribute to poor relations with Pakistan.
Mistrust between the two sides over Kashmir still persists and the blame game continues to hit the headlines. Public opinion and paranoia on either side may create a major roadblock for sustainable dialogue. While Pakistan must rein in cross-border militant activities emanating from its soil and clamp down on the anti-India militants, India must also create a momentum for the peace talks.
However, India’s overt ‘big brotherly interfering’ attitude in the region will create more trust deficit with Islamabad. New Delhi must give up building the narrative of an incorrigible Pakistan in order to engage constructively. The PM Modi led BJP government must recall that even after six months of 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Dr. Manmohan Singh and President Zardari met on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit held in Russia and broke the deadlock when they had agreed to re-start talks at foreign secretary level.
PM Modi seemed to be least concerned about the fact that India is losing the faith of Kashmiris in the midst of brutal military operations in the valley.
Hence, the much-spirited ‘Neighborhood First’ policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intensify the bonhomie with immediate neighbors, accompanied by the composite dialogue since 2014, has to be revived to avoid these episodic diplomatic fiascos with Pakistan.
A robust neighborhood policy should involve Track-II talks. An aggressive Track-II was pursued by Dr. Manmohan Singh in his tenure by appointing Ambassador Satinder Lambah to drive persistent backchannel diplomacy, as a result, Lambah-Aziz blueprint on Kashmir brought both countries closer to the resolution of the Kashmir crisis. Today, the credibility of Delhi in the valley is at its lowest.
At this point, Kashmir needs a healing touch, not a surgery. Therefore, both New Delhi and Islamabad must promote mutual bilateralism to resolve the Kashmir deadlock. India should take advantage of the changing dynamics of Pakistan’s civil-military relationship since Prime Minister Imran Khan shares candid relations with the Army.
As India’s legendary peace activist Balraj Puri in his book Kashmir: Towards insurgency prophesied “No Kashmir policy can succeed without taking into account the political and psychological urges of the people’’.
The Kashmir conundrum today is a major contributing factor to India’s Pakistan policy. General Elections are nearing in India, Prime Minister Modi faces tremendous pressure from the opposition parties and an undercurrent among common citizens on various domestic issues which might send the complicated project of undertaking a comprehensive Pakistan policy to the cold storage for now.
But both the countries are also aware of great power rivalry in the region and thus any normalization of relations will have larger geostrategic ramifications for the region as well. Therefore, crafting a Kashmir policy is at the core of India’s Pakistan policy, so long as Kashmir remains a zone of geopolitical chaos between two countries, normalization of bilateral relationship will remain a distant dream.
Subhajit Naskar is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata and an Alumni of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.