In calling off the Secretary level talks with Pakistan the government of India has done what virtually everyone in the country would applaud. Despite protests and flag meetings, the firing from across the border has continued without any let up. A couple of our border guards were killed and the civilian population along the border has been terrorised. They suffered injuries, their houses got bullet-ridden and they are being prevented from going about doing their normal business. Not satisfied with these transgressions the Pakistani High Commissioner invited the “separatist” leaders of Kashmir, allegedly, for consultations and went ahead and met them a few days before the secretaries-level talks scheduled for the 25th August. This the High Commissioner did despite the Indian government asking it not to meet them. Naturally, the Secretary-level meeting for continuance of the long-disrupted dialogue was called off.
One wonders what kind of consultations the High Commissioner conducts with the “separatists” and on what matters. Such meetings are against protocol as also highly improper for the High Commissioner as he thus meets secessionists in the host country. Is it to foment more trouble for disrupting the peace in the Kashmir Valley or to organise violence? Since the Pakistan High Commission chooses to meet only them and not the elected representatives of the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly it clearly tries to promote its interests through them. But they, having a minuscule following, are unable to swing opinion in favour of Pakistan. It is not known how the meeting would have, as claimed by Pakistan, facilitate the peace process in the Valley when the intentions behind it are not quite honourable. Is Pakistan really interested in peace in Kashmir? Had it been so it would not have kept the LoC hot and pumped in terrorists engaging the Indian security forces almost every day.
All these years the Indian governments have taken a generous view of these “separatists”. They have been allowed to pursue their own respective secessionist persuasions largely unhindered as long as they did not threaten the Indian State’s interests and security. They have been able to organise demonstrations and even indiscriminate strikes affecting normal life and business on the slightest of pretexts. The strikes were largely successful because of the violence that follows non-compliance of their dictat. The Indian government was so soft that it even allowed them to visit Pakistan for discussions with Pakistani leaders. Yasin Malik, Chairman Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, who advocates separation of Kashmir from India, was seen during his last visit even sharing a platform with Jehadi leader and patron of Lashkar e Toyeba, Hafiz Sayeed, who spits venom against India and considers it his enemy and is known to have organised the Mumbai terror attack of 2008. Any other country would have put Yaseen in the jug on return but he was allowed to get back to Kashmir
Obviously, the current dispensation in India is not inclined to take things lightly. It gave a tough message to the Pakistan High Commissioner to either talk to the government of India or talk to the “separatists”. It was made clear that Kashmir was a bilateral issue and no third party could be introduced into the processes of negotiations. Yaseen Malik’s belief that people of Kashmir have a right to be part of any negotiated settlement cuts no ice. The then Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir, on insistence of Indian prime minister Nehru, had to consult the most popular people’s leader Sheikh Abdullah even in those feudal days before deciding to accede to India when the state was under imminent threat of being overrun by the Pakistani Army-backed raiders in 1947. The stakes of Kashmiri people were taken into account, therefore, at the very outset and they eventually became Indian citizens. Repeated consultations with every rising generation with harebrained ideas are neither feasible nor necessary. Besides, the negotiations are between two countries; people of the state cannot figure anywhere in the talks. The meet on 25th August, however, did not even have Kashmir on the agenda.
The “separatist” Hurriyat leaders feel that in calling off the talks the government has “sidelined” the soft “Vajpayee approach”. The meetings with the High Commissioner, they said, were aimed at “consolidating the different voices, the way forward and how we can make a breakthrough”. The question, however, is who do they represent apart from themselves? They think their calls for demonstrations and shut-downs have decent response, but, most of the people obey their dictat not voluntarily but out of fear for their lives. None would join their demonstrations or participate in their calls for complete shut-downs if the element of force of a few misdirected goons controlled by the Pakistan Army’s intelligence wing the ISI is taken away from them. A vast majority of Kashmiris desire a peaceful and normal life to carry on their respective activities in a tranquil environment. In election after election they have voted in their representatives in the Legislative Assembly where none of these “separatists” ever registered their presence.
It had always been felt that by being indulgent towards the “separatists” the Indian government was attempting to strengthen the hands of the civilian government in Pakistan. It was also felt that it would, in all probability, open up roads to a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. Unfortunately, it is not so. From what Prem Shankar Jha, a very senior journalist and a one-time intermediary of the government of India with the Hurriyat “separatist” leaders, has written (Op-ed, Times of India, August 21,2014) it is clear that they are nothing but pawns in the hands of Pakistan’s ISI. One of them had confessed to him while not pursuing the line suggested by Jha that if he and others met the Indian prime minister before meeting the visiting Pakistani prime minister at Delhi (in 2005), he would be killed. Jha has asserted that whoever among them ever talked of return of peace in the Valley or of resolution of the Kashmir problem within the Indian Union had been eliminated by ISI agents.
Despite the affront, the then Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, did not oppose the “separatists” meeting the Pakistani Prime Minister. Nonetheless, it is absolutely clear that being foot-soldiers of the ISI, the “separatists” would never allow resolution of the so-called dispute simply because their masters in Pakistan’s ISI do not wish it. They are proxies for it in Kashmir and the High Commissioner gets the directives from it to meet them. Backed as they are by the ISI, they would in no way be able to strengthen the civilian dispensation in Pakistan and if they wished to do so they would just not be allowed.
Having regard to all that has evolved over the years, the tough action of the current Indian government cannot but be praised. It had extended the hand of friendship even as it took office and yet the same has been veritably spurned. A rethink in the matter, however, should only be on its own terms – putting the “separatists” in their own place.