Pakistan tones down stand on Kashmir

By B K Chum

Is the Pakistani establishment planning to shelve the Kashmir issue “temporarily”? Perhaps yes if latest developments are any indication. For instance, Pakistan’s high commissioner in New Delhi, Shahid Malik has handed over an invite from foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to hardliner Hurriyat leader Ali Shah Geelani and the Hurriyat’s moderate wing head Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for talks. Pakistan reportedly wants to discuss with them its changed perception on the Kashmir issue which apparently it wants to put on the backburner “for the time being”. New Delhi has indicated Geelani would be issued a passport if he applies for one.
The development assumes significance in the backdrop of the resumption of backchannel contacts between India and Pakistan for resuming the suspended process of talks for normalization of relations which obviously also implies finding a solution of the Kashmir problem.
A beginning in this context was made at the last week’s meeting between the Commerce Ministers of the two countries when Pakistan decided to liberalise trade with India despite persistent opposition from hardliners and industrialists. Islamabad decided to open its market to all exports from India except for a drastically scaled down negative list of 1,200 items. By the end of 2012, Pakistan has indicated it would grant most-favoured nation (MFN) status to India.
It will not be the first time that the two countries would be making efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue through negotiations. Two attempts had also been made earlier. The first was in 1999 when in their Lahore meeting Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif reached an understanding on the Kashmir issue. It failed due to Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure. The second made by Manmohan Singh and Musharraf which had also finalized broad modalities of settlement was foiled by Pakistan-sponsored terrorist actions in India and sidelining of Musharraf after the elected civilian government took over.
The latest change in Pakistani establishment’s attitude from “hard” to “conciliatory” on the Kashmir issue has taken place for a number of reasons. It must have by now realized that Kashmir cannot be annexed by overt or covert armed confrontation with India and can also no longer be used to divert the Pakistani people’s attention from the country’s internal problems. Secondly, Pakistan may have also concluded that with referendum demand becoming obsolete and redundant, separatists successive boycott of elections has knocked the logic out of their claims of being the real representatives of Kashmir. Hence, Islamabad may ask them to participate in future Assembly elections in Kashmir.
Apart from above factors, Pakistan’s multiplying security, governance and political problems have also contributed to Islamabad’s changed stance. There is political instability in Pakistan. Tensions between the civilian establishment and the Supreme Court have grown to seemingly unmanageable level. The memogate controversy has widened the wedge between the Army and the ruling elite.
On the political front, the cricketer-turned-political celebrity Imran Khan is riding a wave of popular support for his party Tehreek-e-Insaf. Using the platform of corruption and reducing the American footprint in Pakistan, he has become a politically potential threat to the contemporary rulers.
More serious is the escalating terrorist activities which have worsened the country’s security environment. Created by the US and Pakistan’s Intelligences CIA and ISI, in the eighties against the Soviets, the jihadis and Talibans have now become Frankenstein for the two countries. Their armed operatives have been killing hundreds of soldiers, police personnel and citizens in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Waziristan has particularly become their bastion for attacking NATO forces in Afghanistan’s border areas. (After the Soviets exit from Afghanistan the armed jihadis and Talibans were pushed into Punjab and Kashmir to help the elements demanding Khalistan and Azad Kashmir. But the Indian security forces resolute counter-terrorism steps foiled their attempts in Punjab. During the last over three years, their activities have also been drastically curbed in Jammu and Kashmir virtually restoring normalcy in the state).
Another acute problem Pakistan is facing is the full blown insurgency in Balochistan. The Pakistani establishment and its Kashmiri supporters have been demanding right of self-determination for Kashmiris. Having already lost its relevance the demand has now become self-defeating for them in the wake of a US Senator’s demand for the grant of self-determination right to the people of Balochistan (though the US later officially dissociated itself from the demand). Although an agitated Pakistan government lodged a protest against the resolution, it has made the already obsolete self-determination demand for Kashmiris a non-issue.
As though these problems were not enough to rattle Pakistan’s ruling class, another source of worry for Pakistan is the widened wedge between Islamabad and the US. America’s major grouse against Pakistan is its duplicity in curbing terrorism and also use it as an instrument of state policy.
However, despite their escalating tensions, Pakistan and the US are not likely to end their “mutually advantageous friendship”. It is virtually impossible for Pakistan to survive as a single entity without US financial and arms help. On the other hand, America’s strategic compulsions will not allow its relations with Pakistan to turn unredeemable. It needs Pakistan not only to fight the jihadis and Talibans who have made Af-Pak their international breeding and operational bastions but also to check China from expanding its footprints in the region.
Although Islamabad’s ostensibly conciliatory mood provides a welcome opportunity for promoting peace and normalization of relations between India and Pakistan, New Delhi will have to exercise greater vigilance against any revival of terrorist activities. Past experience shows that whenever peace and normalisation process started, terrorists whether foreign or their sleeping cells in India strike to sabotage the efforts. (IPA Service)