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Is Kashmir Still Cause of Dispute Between India and Pakistan?

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Issue Between India and Pakistan

In 1947-48 Kashmir was the only issue between India and Pakistan. The Simla Agreement of 1972 neutralised that centrality to a large extent. Half century after making of the conflict the composite dialogue process, first ever structural engagement between two countries, reduced the importance of Kashmir to one of the eight issues India and Pakistan need to resolve.

Transforming Kashmir from 'the issue' to 'one of the issues' is a rich reflection of India's diplomatic craftsmanship. However, Pakistan continued to harp on Kashmir as the core issue. On the eve of Agra summit the then External Affairs Minister aptly summed up the national consensus opinion on Kashmir: 'What Pakistan calls as core issue is actually the core of Indian nationhood'. Really! This 'core business' needs investigation, the earlier the better for India's whole concept of Kashmir being central to Indian nationhood.

New Delhi's diplomatic craftsmanship notwithstanding, it is important to acknowledge Kashmir's internal drive leading to change in dynamic of the conflict. In 2013 there are not many Kashmiris who think Kashmir is a dispute between India and Pakistan. Syed Ali Shah Geelani is nearly close to one of them since 2010 when he dropped Pakistan out of his five-point framework of engagement with New Delhi. Geelani's agenda was clearly influenced by the ground realities of an average Kashmiri seeking to renegotiate relations with rest of India on the basis of mutual respect and human dignity. That is the point was once again grossly missed in New Delhi while planning the secretive manner in which Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was to be hanged.

Guru's truth
Afazal Guru's truth lay buried with him behind high walls of Tihar, South Asia's largest prison. Condemned to death in 2006 for his alleged role in 2001 Parliament attack case, in his prison cell Guru was a powder keg for competing sets of nationhood and different ideologies. His impending hanging promised a political fortune for different parties to eke out. That is what is simply happening since February 9. For the rightwing nationalists the hanging has come as message of India's strength and capacity to fight terrorism and for the centrists it is an answer to the rightwing clamour.

The collective conscious of the society has been talked about a thousand times in past week. If Kashmir is not part of it then one must admit that the Indian nation's collective conscious has a sense of satisfaction and gratification over the latest hanging at Tihar. The question is not on legality of the execution as in Indian judicial system we repose trust. The question here is of Schadenfreude between Kashmir and rest of India. We must understand that except Guru himself and other than claims of prosecution presented before the courts no one on earth would have known the exact status of his involvement in the Parliament attack case. Therefore, we have not heard anyone in Kashmir saying with absolute confidence that an innocent was hanged for satisfying the 'collective conscious of the society'. The questions in Kashmir are only about fair trial and the right of family to meet the convict before being send to gallows.

Injuring The Core

We have grown up hearing about alienation in Kashmir. In equal measures we have heard of all things possible done for Kashmir's emotional integration with rest of India. While sifting through the pages of history one comes across two types of questions many times over -Why Kashmiris erred? Why New Delhi erred? Six decades later same questions exist as we see things happening live.

In the latest case there were, at the most, two questions an average Kashmiri could have asked. Instead of upholding the claimed democratic traditions of India by letting them ask two questions their voices have been muzzled and they have been virtually imprisoned.

The answers that curbs, or the freedom of expression, fall in the domain of Omar Abdullah's state government are vague to the core. In Kashmir whose writ actually runs is a widely well known phenomenon. The two questions that Kashmiris could have asked are those for which two important persons have said shouldn't have happened in the first place.

The questions are about fair trial to the satisfaction of any law knowing person and family's right to know about the execution and opportunity to meet the convict before he is hanged. See, who has asked these questions. Gopal Subramaniam, the lawyer instrumental in securing death sentence for Guru, has described the secret hanging as violation of human rights. He told Times of India on Thursday that convict should have been given the opportunity of exploring the last legal option available to him. The second question comes from none other than the Prime Minister who has asked this in the form of displeasure as why the family was not informed well in time.

Fresh CBMs

With these questions staring at the face of what Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde says 'following the due process of law', no one can stop people within and outside India attributing political motives to the execution. As the communication blockade keeps Kashmiris isolated, there job is being done by the rightwing nationalists asking the Congress government of motives behind timing of execution.

The Home Minister's Hindu terror remark will always be connected with Guru's hanging. Pending since 2006 the execution was just a matter of the time but the timing has made wide sections of society to feel that Kashmir -the core of Indian nationhood -has been made use of to address some political questions the ruling regime had been facing. Indeed, a new chapter has been added to Kashmir's alienation.

CBM or the Confidence Building Measure is the most abused term in case of Kashmir. A basic right of every Indian national, for example travel document, is denied at the first instance or its issuance is prolonged. Then travel documents become set of the issues to be discussed in a peace process and directions for speedy clearance comes as 'Kashmir specific political and security CBMs'. When Home Secretary RK Singh indicated that Guru's family could come to Tihar and pray at his grave, an ace Kashmiri intellectual and former bureaucrat Nayeem Akhter remarked: 'fresh CBM -you can pray'. The Congress has accused BJP of turning Guru's hanging into a poll issue while this is being seen the one for Congress itself.

The National Conference which runs government in the state in partnership with Congress is battling the crisis in Kashmir lonely. Why is the Congress running away from the core of Indian nationhood? The elections in the State as also the LoK Sabha are not far away. Do we expect a fresh peace process for Kashmir to address the latest round of alienation?

Writer is a senior journalist based at Jammu and an Asia Society Fellow on India-Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Forum. He can be reached at zafarchoudhary@gmail.com

Zafar Choudhary is a senior journalist and Asia Society Fellow on the India-Pakistan Young Leaders Forum. He can be reached at zafarchoudhary@gmail.com Read more stories by Zafar Choudhary.

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