By Kuldip Nayar
I do not know why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif goes over the same exercise on Kashmir every two-three months. He raised the question at the UN General Assembly and again mentioned it during his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at New York.
Now he has brought up the matter before having talks with president Barrack Obama at Washington. Probably, he sought his services. America has reiterated its stand that it considered Kashmir a bilateral issue which the two countries should solve. This is what India has been saying. By insisting that Kashmir is a core issue for any conciliation with India, Pakistan is not bringing the opportunity for any solution nearer.
What does not go with the style of Nawaz Sharif is his remark that both countries are nuclear powers. Is that a threat? How can any country even say that it has a nuclear weapon or, for that matter, its opponent has? It means extinction of Pakistan and northern India. One other ominous change I have noticed on the part of Islamabad is that it has stopped the mention of Shimla agreement. The earlier statements stated that Kashmir should be sorted out according to the UN resolution and the Shimla agreement.
At that time, then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had orally told Indira Gandhi that he would see that the ceasefire line on the border became an international border. He went back on the undertaking because he could not sell the proposal to a country which had lost its eastern wing. Still Pakistan must realize that there is no solution to Kashmir except through talks. Therefore, the Shimla agreement has the greatest chance of making it to the page.
True, there is the pressure of rightists on Sharif. But this is not what an average Pakistani feels. Not long ago when I went to Pakistan and asked a cab man what he thought of Kashmir, he replied: I have to think of how to earn the next meal, not bother about Kashmir. An expert in Pakistan once remarked that what they could not win in the battlefield, they could not expect to win at the negotiating table.
Sharif’s proposal, when he was in the wilderness, is worth implementing. He said that the two countries should set up a committee to talk about Kashmir without interruption. After having done that, both counties should open up for trade and business. And the visa should be made easy for people-to-people contact. In fact, Sharif now in power should be pursuing his own proposals seriously.
In the meantime, the allegations by the former chief of army staff General V N Singh that the Indian army had been financing ministers in Kashmir to maintain “stability” in the state have taken a serious turn. The Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has asked the general to explain to the house on the charge of ministers being financed.
However, some of us who have followed the situations in Kashmir since its integration with India are not surprised. New Delhi always had a finger in the pie. Even a popular leader like Sheikh Abdullah had to be subservient to New Delhi. Once he did open his mouth to say that they would rather starve than accept India’s diktat and he had to spend 12 years in detention.
In fact, there were no elections in the years soon after the state joined the Indian Union. Sheikh Abdullah, then called the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir, accepted the fait accompli which was decided at Delhi. The practice was vigorously pursued when Ghulam Bhakshi Mohammad replaced the Sheikh when the latter was detained. The decision about who should head Kashmir was taken at New Delhi.
There was a separate department on Kashmir affairs in the external affairs ministry. Probably, it was meant to convey that since the matter was before the UN, it had to be dealt with by the External Affairs Ministry, headed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The department was transferred to the home ministry when the more sagacious Govind Bhallab Pant took charge after quitting as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The department is still part of the home ministry.
It must be said to the credit of Nehru that he did not accept Maharaja Hari Singh’s request to join the Indian Union until it had the approval of the then popular leader Sheikh Abdullah, in jail at that time. It is unfortunate that the Sheikh turned out to be a disappointment. He took New Delhi’s dictated arrangement like a duck to water.
Since then, chief ministers at Srinagar-Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of People’s Democratic Party or Farooq Abdullah-have understood that Srinagar has to tilt its sails according to the winds blowing from New Delhi. Young state chief minister Omar Abdullah makes proper noises but it is no more than a storm in a tea cup. He is rightly strengthening the state police so that the use of Indian army, stationed in the state, is as little as possible.
If insurgency in Kashmir is part of Islamabad’s policy, what was the purpose of Prime Minister Sharif’s meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? They agreed to honor the agreement reached in 2004 to make the LoC sacrosanct. The Director Generals of Military Operations of the two countries were to meet. True, no time frame was fixed. But they should have met by this time, although their meeting may have turned into a formality.
Political masters have to realize the futility of cross-border firing. Three wars should have made it clear to Pakistan that it cannot wrest Kashmir forcibly from the hands of India.