Pakistan factor in Kashmir politics

Harsha Kakar
Addressing a worker’s convention in Ramban, Mehbooba Mufti stated, ‘Kashmir has been awaiting a solution for the last 70 years…there will be no peace in the region until the Kashmir issue is resolved, and for that, dialogue with Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir is imperative.’ She added, ‘Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee both visited Pakistan, but why do they (BJP) feel perturbed when we speak about it (holding dialogue with the neighbouring country).’ This is not the first time that talks with Pakistan has been raised by politicians from Kashmir.
Farooq Abdullah has brought this issue into focus on multiple occasions. In Oct last year Farooq had stated, ‘There cannot be peace in Jammu & Kashmir till Pakistan is roped in for talks.’ Earlier in Feb 2021, he had stated, ‘If we want to end terrorism, then we must speak to our neighbours.’ Omar Abdullah had commented that back-channel diplomacy between India and Pak, which resulted in the ongoing ceasefire, should be converted to formal dialogue.
The Pakistan factor has been regularly exploited by Kashmir political parties. Calls for talks with Pakistan, despite it backing terrorist acts in the valley leading to loss of innocent lives, has been part of their political agenda prior to every election. It stops when in power and resumes immediately thereafter. These politicians are aware that every leader in Delhi has made attempts for talks only to be backstabbed. Vajpayee’s Lahore yatra was stumped by Kargil, while Modi’s visit to Nawaz’s residence by Pathankot. Evidently, the Pak army opposed talks unless they were involved.
In the days when the Hurriyat dominated violence in the valley, Kashmiri politicians had attempted to apply pressure on the government to involve it in talks with Pakistan. The PDP and NC had even projected the Hurriyat as representatives of Kashmir, whereas they were anything but that. Hurriyat members were provided all state level facilities including protection, medical and travel, while they indulged in anti-national acts including killing of innocents and enforcing bandhs. By exposing the Hurriyat in ‘benami deals,’ and ‘terrorist acts,’ arresting its members and blocking flow of Hawala funds, the current dispensation has ensured that the Hurriyat is currently redundant, proving that its power was based on flow of funds from Pakistan, not ideology. It was fear of rejection which kept the Hurriyat from fighting elections and truly becoming peoples’ representatives. Even Pakistan had stopped referring to it. This had so frustrated Syed Ali Shah Geelani that he resigned from the party prior to his death.
Within Kashmir there is a change in mindset. Post abrogation of Article 370 and imposition of central rule, the state has begun witnessing an era of stability. Attacks on innocents or unarmed local police continue attempting to create an atmosphere of fear. However, mass attendance in funerals of those killed by terrorists and protests, including candlelight vigils, against Pak sponsored terrorism are on the rise. Simultaneously, nationalism is witnessing a spurt. The abrogation of the article has created conditions for investments in the region. The arrival of a UAE investor delegation to Kashmir was the first of its kind. Tourism in Kashmir is expected to break all records this year.
Abrogation of the article also sent a strong message to Pakistan, forcing it to react. Imran Khan degraded diplomatic and trade ties with India by withdrawing its High Commissioner and stopping bilateral trade. He has since been stating on multiple platforms that he is willing for resumption of dialogue provided India reinstates Article 370. The OIC summit also included a demand for restoration of article 370. India refuses to respond to Imran’s demands. It is aware that the article will never be restored.
For Pakistan, abrogation of the article was just an excuse. What concerns them is removal of statehood and possible demographic changes, both of which have been clarified by the Government. Amit Shah had confirmed that statehood would return after elections and there would be no demographic changes. However, Imran cannot withdraw from his ill-conceived statements. Pakistan regularly mentions human rights, which no Kashmiri politician backs, implying, Pakistan is way off target.
Kashmir politicians have also been seeking reinstating of article 370. The article had given them freedom to exploit the state for personal gains and accept only those Government directives which suited them. By mentioning talks with Pakistan, they appear to insist on restoration of the article as that remains Pakistan’s pre-requisite for talks. Farooq had, in an interview with India Today TV, in Oct 2020, displayed his frustration on abrogation of article 370 when he stated, ‘May Allah wish that our people get help from their (Chinese) might and our Articles 370 and 35-A get restored.’
When investments were being offered for J and K during investment summits organized by the UT government, Mehbooba and Farooq decried them claiming that J and K lands would be purchased by outsiders. They had never sought to enhance development and employment opportunities throughout the time they were in power. Now that the Central Government is doing so, they are attempting to instigate the public and slow the process. However, they fail to judge that Kashmiris understand Delhi’s intentions and hence are responding favourably.
The ground reality from Pakistan is that it desires talks while supporting terrorism, thereby pushing India to speak from a position of weakness. India’s stand on the other hand, insisting that terrorism and talks cannot go hand in hand, implies neutrality in talks. By mentioning talks with Pakistan, without any terms and conditions, Mehbooba and Farooq are playing the Pak card. No wonder their calls are ignored by the centre. What Kashmiri political leaders fail to mention is that radicalization must be curbed, and youth weaned away from drugs.
With the delimitation commission moving towards closure, political temperatures would rise. With elections drawing near such comments would become the order of the day. The political battle for power in the region would be fought on these two opposing planks, talks with Pak with pre-conditions or without pre-conditions.
The author is Major General (Retd)