The stage is set for the visit of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who is scheduled to travel to India in few days (April 8). His itinerary as reported in the media indicates he is scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during a luncheon meeting, before he departs to Ajmer to visit the famous Sufi shrine of Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.
Though not much progress is expected during this short interaction between the two leaders, Zardari’s visit assumes significance in the backdrop of a series of positive developments in the bilateral relationship.
Particularly Kashmiris would be eagerly watching this visit, given the recent talk of both countries relegating the Kashmir issue to the backburner, so as to facilitate forward movement in other areas. While the centrality of the Kashmir issue to Indo-Pak relations is something which needs no reiteration, it is equally true that both sides have used the Kashmir issue for their mutual convenience, leaving ordinary Kashmiris high and dry.
Given the relatively peaceful 2011 in J&K and a simultaneous decline in militant violence, Kashmiris hope that both countries, would find it prudent to discuss the Kashmir issue and take decisive steps for its resolution.
Kashmir Separatists Part Of Solution
In this context, the recent invitations extended by the Pak Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to the Kashmiri separatist leaders of Hurriyat Conference, to visit Pakistan, to discuss the Kashmir issue, is also a welcome step, though similar invitations have been extended earlier also.
While the Pakistani leadership and establishment have reiterated their ‘moral, diplomatic and political’ support to the Kashmiris, it has in reality not done much for the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Though India is somewhat reluctant to talk to Hurriyat leadership, particularly the hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani faction, New Delhi has to realize that the longer it avoids talking to Hurriyat, the more protracted the resolution of Kashmir becomes. Hence, it is imperative that India initiates the dialogue process with the separatist leadership of all hues.
The separatists too, have realized that in order to remain relevant in the Kashmiri political discourse, they have to show a little flexibility and the recent statements from Hurriyat leaders talking about local development challenges facing Jammu and Kashmir, are indicative of a trend in this regard.
It is in this background that ordinary Kashmiris are perturbed by the recent media reports which have speculated that both India and Pakistan have decided to put the Kashmir issue on the backburner. If indeed this is the decision by New Delhi and Islamabad, then the repercussions of this would be terrible for Kashmiris who were expecting to derive benefits out of the thawing relations between India and Pakistan.
Kashmir Youth Want Resolution
Concomitant to this is the dawn of realization among the younger generation of the Valley, which has seen the worst of militant violence and excesses of state power, that even as the rest of India is making strides in terms of economic development, their state seems to be stuck in a time warp. This generation has realized that it can no longer continue this kind of life. Though there is a general disdain towards politics in most of the Valley youth, that has not prevented them from venting their anger and frustration on social networking sites like Facebook.
While there are many vested interest groups, who would like to keep the status quo on the Kashmir issue, one has to discern the fact that a meaningful resolution of the Kashmir issue would play a significant role in bringing durable peace between the two South Asian neighbors, and more importantly to the lives of Kashmiris. Even so, there are many militant groups in Pakistan/PoK who keep on reiterating that they would not rest until they bring Freedom to Kashmir People.
Though there are no immediate indications or signals coming from either New Delhi or Islamabad about whether or not the Kashmir issue will be discussed during the Singh-Zardari meeting, it is imperative that both leaders pay cognizance to the feelings of Kashmiris. Though both countries may prefer to talk about other issues which define the relationship, it is important to understand the fact that people in the Valley are tired of instability in Kashmir and want to live a life which is full of economic prosperity and in a peaceful environment.
Pertinently, the statement of J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in the J&K Assembly also needs a mention. Although Abdullah had only suggested to have a fresh look at confidence building measures related to Kashmir which according to him would boost cross-LoC trade and travel, it is noteworthy that the mainstream leadership in the Valley does not want to put the Kashmir issue on backburner.
Opportunity to move ahead on Kashmir
For both India and Pakistan, this meeting presents an opportunity to move ahead on the Kashmir issue. Who knows if a forward movement on Kashmir may bridge the trust deficit between the two countries, and Kashmir can become the foundation on which the rest of the bilateral relationship flourishes.
This story was edited by NewsBlaze Editor, Alan Gray. An unedited version of this article was first published on www.countercurrents.org.