According to media reports very recently close associates of BJP prime ministerial candidate Mr. Narendra Modi made a secret trip to Pakistan to confer with leaders of that nation. There was also a claim by hard-line separatist leader Mr. Ahmed Shah Geelani that he had been approached by emissaries of Mr. Modi. This claim was disputed and it transpired that two Kashmiri Pandit leaders did approach Mr. Geelani but were not sent by Mr. Modi. There seems to have been a communication gap and this claim may therefore be ignored.
Nevertheless it does seem that among the army of advisers conducting Mr. Modi’s campaign some thought is being given to addressing India’s relations with Pakistan and Kashmir. Although Mr. Modi himself had earlier stated that a debate on Article 370 should be held it is neither clear nor too relevant whether the latest secret visit to Pakistan was cleared by him or was a fact-finding mission by his advisers acting on their own. After all, Mr. Modi is deeply immersed in the campaign and his army of advisers provides inputs and to a large extent dictates his policy agenda.
It is welcome that a prime ministerial candidate is devoting thought to India’s future relations with Pakistan. This is one of the key problems deserving solution for the nation’s progress and stability.
Although welcome, the approach being adopted thus far seems deeply flawed.
For any realistic and serious policy initiative the first requirement is for a consensus within the party on the proposed policy. Obviously Indo-Pakistan relations hinge heavily on the Kashmir dispute. But immediately after Mr. Modi made his statement on Article 370, and more recently after the Geelani claim surfaced, there were strong reactions from BJP leaders that there would be no change of policy regarding Article 370 or policy towards Kashmir. BJP leader Mr. Ravi Prasad Singh stated: “On the Kashmir issue, the BJP’s stand is very clear - that Kashmir is an integral part of India and there cannot be any room for deliberations on this.” Mr. Prasad went on to say that the Kashmir issue would be solved through providing good governance to the people.
If this is all the policy initiative that the BJP can deliver on the Kashmir issue its contribution is truly pathetic. Would good governance bring back all the territory claimed by India and occupied by Pakistan in Kashmir? Would good governance help peoples and families divided by the partition of the state to reunite? Would good governance defuse the terrorist threat against India emanating from Pakistani soil ignited by perceived injustice over the unresolved Kashmir dispute?
Trumpeting resolve to stabilize the status quo will not address the legacy of a complex historical dispute that has continued to haunt the subcontinent for over six decades.
If India is at all serious about addressing the Kashmir issue it must take a holistic, macro view of the problem and formulate a practical policy to address it. That is the first requirement. Indian politicians are quick to state what they oppose. They are tongue-tied about stating what they do support. Mostly they do not even know what they want.
The second flaw in Mr. Modi’s approach is his reaching out to leaders in Pakistan or in Kashmir to explore prospects of a compromise. A policy that will succeed in relation to this problem will not be created merely through compromise or give and take between India and critics of its Kashmir policy. Chatham House think tank in Britain after a detailed and thorough opinion poll conducted through the whole of Kashmir concluded that people of POK wanted to stay on in Pakistan, people in Jammu and Ladakh wanted to stay on in India, while only people in the Valley sought change. However people in both India and Pakistan occupied Kashmir did want free movement of peoples and goods across borders. In the Valley the vast majority wanted independence, a very few wanted to remain in India, and the smallest number wanted to merge with Pakistan. Mr. Geelani represents this smallest number seeking merger with Pakistan. What, then, is the purpose of seeking compromise with him?
The views of the much larger number who participate in the elections and vote for the National Conference or Peoples Democratic Party are much more relevant. But even when addressing them it will not do to hammer a compromise after a dialogue. To establish peace and stability in Kashmir and in the remaining subcontinent much more would be required. The concerns of all stakeholders have to be addressed.
A Kashmir formula to succeed must eliminate terrorism in India and in Pakistan, remove the trust deficit between governments of both nations, and establish an arrangement that allows peoples of both nations to live in harmony and peace that helps restore their common cultural identity. The creation of such a formula would be the start. Its publicity and propagation among both political leaders and the public would be the next step. Efforts to persuade all stakeholders to accept the formula as the best option would be the final step. The Kashmir dispute will be resolved by the strength of the formula, not by tactical compromises among politicians.
This writer will not reiterate his concrete and specific formula to resolve the Kashmir dispute and relations with Pakistan. Briefly, an overall and lasting solution will only be achieved in the context of a South Asian Union. One may agree or disagree with it but there is nothing vague or ambiguous about it. It is for political parties and prime ministerial aspirants to project their own concrete solutions for the Kashmir dispute and allow all stakeholders and the public to respond. That is what leadership is all about. And resolution of the intractable Kashmir dispute demands nothing less than decisive leadership. Is any politician on either side of the border willing to stake his claim for displaying leadership?