By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid’s recent wish that: ‘it is high time India and Pakistan move forward together hand-in-hand’, is rather captivating. Recent overtures from both sides clearly indicate that two neighbouring countries want prosperity in the region and for that they agree that resolution of all disputes, including Kashmir, is a priority.

Pakistan has all along been pursuing this objective. It is unfortunate that some of very meaningful peace processes between the two countries went astray on one reason or the other. As Pakistan is likely to be a beneficiary in case of equitable resolution of most of territory related disputes, Pakistan is always keen to see the conclusive phase of the efforts aimed at resolving these issues. Unfortunately, the two countries have not been able to achieve anything worthwhile in territory related disputes.

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has recently said that India wants to resolve all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, with Pakistan through dialogue. Indian Independence Act had laid down clear terms of reference for the rulers of princely states. They were given the choice to freely accede to either India or Pakistan, or to remain independent, while doing so they were to take into account the aspirations of their people. Ruler of Kashmir failed to do so, and while under duress, he invited the Indian armed forces to invade his own state.

Kashmir is certainly at the pinnacle of India-Pakistan disputes — an issue recognized by the UN, and on which settlement framework has also been specified in the relevant UN resolutions. To remind the world about the continuation of the conflict, UN Observers mission continues to be stationed in the region. The first group of United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) arrived in Jammu and Kashmir on 24 January of 1949 to supervise the ceasefire between India and Pakistan. The UNSC resolutions remain arguably the best and judicious way out for settling this dispute. While addressing the 67th session of the General Assembly, President Zardari had rightly attributed the non-resolution of Kashmir dispute to the failure of the UN system.

Therefore, to succeed, any durable peace initiative between Pakistan and India must cater to break the stalemate on this important issue. It would have been in the fitness of thing had the Indian foreign minister put forward any fresh proposals on the Kashmir issue as well. Without demonstration of political will to tackle the Kashmir depute, even fairy tale wishes remain, at best, just noble desires; devoid of implementation tools.

Spells of Kashmir intifada, in their scope and scale, visibly get out of India’s control despite Indian army’s heavy presence. There is now considerable resistance from the Indian mainland as well, where conscientious members of the civil society have started to censure the central government for continued occupation of Kashmir. World watches with dismay that even by stationing of around 600,000 combatants for over a decade, India has not been able to subdue the spirit of Kashmir’s of the IHK.

IHK has the unenviable distinction of being the most militarised zone in the world. The hardest hit victim of the conflict has been the socio-economic fabric of the Kashmir. Agriculture which forms about 48 percent of the state domestic product is witnessing a negative growth. Tourism involving the livelihood of thousands of people has also been badly hit by the conflict. During October 2012, two reports were released pertaining human rights situation in the IHK. Reports by Amnesty International (AI) and Citizen’s Council for Justice (CCJ) were released in a quick succession. Both dossiers have adequately exposed the deplorable Human Rights (HR) conditions in IHK.

To make the people of Kashmir feel secure, it is necessary to scrap all the draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Public Safety Act, Disturbed Areas Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act etc. Moreover, as confidence building measure, it is essential to retrieve the armed forces to their barracks and let the police take care of the law and order. IHK government should also release all prisoners of conscience.

Pakistan has consistently maintained its stance on Kashmir. It wants the resolution of Kashmir issue in line with the wishes of Kashmiri people, as ordained by a number of UN resolutions and as envisaged by universally accepted democratic principles of the right of self determination. Pakistan will continue diplomatic and political support of Kashmiri people in their struggle to achieve their right to decide their future.

In this backdrop, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has extended an invitation to 8 members of the executive council of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), to visit Pakistan from 15 to 22 December 2012.  The initiative has been taken to begin a consultative process between the political leadership of Pakistan, AJK and pro-movement leaders of IHK. This initiative is expected to jump-start the process for peaceful resolution of Kashmir issue. Kashmir experts believe that such visits by the Hurriyat leadership suit both sides. Pakistan envisages that APHC could act as a catalyst in bridging the gap between the respective government’s standpoint and public aspirations of the people of Kashmir.

From Kashmiri perspective, leaders of both side of Kashmir should be facilitated to meet each other frequently to narrow down their perceptional gaps. And at the same time, India and Pakistan should continue with their good-will initiatives kick-started during President of Pakistan’s non-state visit to India, because this could enable both the countries to discover common grounds for conflict resolution. Pakistan feels that the Kashmiris of both sides should take advantage of the current improvement of relations between India and Pakistan, and it is in this context that APHC leadership has been invited.

Rumours have it that under pressure from India’s hawkish politicians and media elements, hurdles could be created to disrupt the process. Some elements of Indian media have started a negative campaign against the visit of APHC leaders branding them as ‘Separatists’. Understandably, some elements from India are not sincere towards resolution of Kashmir issue through consultative process.  They do not want Kashmiri leadership to visit Pakistan and interact with Pakistani and Kashmiri political leadership. Their motive is to jeopardize the consultative process initiated by Pakistan. These disruptive elements are focusing at creating divide within the pro-movement camp by allowing only a few leaders to visit Pakistan. It would be unfortunate if India lets this opportunity slip by through administrative manipulation to deny right of travel to all the invitees. This will indeed be the first test of the new foreign minister of India.

Writer is Consultant, Policy & Strategic Response, IPRI.
Email: Khalid3408@gmail.com